“The day after his funeral, Mother and I had to attend an Independence Day fair in town. They were presenting Mother with an award for her charity work and she didn’t want to disappoint anyone by not attending. I left her in the company of sympathetic friends and wandered through the small fair, and then I saw her: a girl, wearing a butterfly mask made of feathers and passing out little feather and silk rose petal butterflies to the children who came through the silk maze. She was so vibrant and bright, so very alive, it was hard to believe that butterflies could ever die.
“When I smiled at her and went into the maze, she followed me in. It wasn’t hard to get her home from there. I kept her in the basement at first, until I could build the garden to be a proper home. I was in school and I’d just taken over my father’s business, and before too long I was married, so I think she was very lonely, even once I moved her into the garden, so I brought in Lorraine for her, and others, to be her friends.” He was lost in memory, but for him it wasn’t painful. For him, it only made sense, was only right. Rather than bringing his Eve to a garden, he’d built one around her, and served as the angel with the flaming sword to keep her in. He rearranged me on his lap, tugging me against his chest until he could lay my head between his neck and shoulder. “Her death was heartbreaking, and I couldn’t bear to think that brief existence was all she would ever have. I didn’t want to forget her. As long as I could remember her, a part of her would still live. I built the cases, researched ways to preserve her against decay.”
“The resin,” I whispered, and he nodded.
“But first the embalming. My company keeps formaldehyde and formaldehyde resins on hand in the manufacturing division, for clothing if you can believe it. It’s easy to order more than they need and bring the rest here. Replacing the blood with the formaldehyde retards decay, enough for the resin to preserve everything else. Even when you’re gone, Maya, you will not be forgotten.”
The sick thing was, he genuinely meant it to be comforting. Unless an accident happened or I pissed him off, in three and a half years he would run formaldehyde through my veins. I knew just enough to know that he would stay with me the entire time, maybe even brushing my hair and pinning it into its final arrangement, and when all my blood was gone, he’d place me in a glass case and pump it full of clear resin to give me a second life no mere electrical fire could end. He would touch the glass and whisper my name every time he passed, and he would remember me.
And sitting in his lap left no illusions as to how he felt about all of that.
He gently pushed me off his lap, spreading his legs to make me kneel between them, one hand tangling in my hair. “Show me that you won’t forget me, Maya.” He pulled my head closer, his other hand busy at the drawstring of his pants. “Not even then.”
Not even when I was long dead and gone, and the sight of me would still be enough to make him hard.
And I obeyed because I always obeyed, because I still wanted those three and a half years even if it meant this man telling me he loved me. I obeyed when he damn near choked me, and I obeyed when he yanked me back onto his lap, obeyed when he told me to promise I wouldn’t ever forget him.
And this time, instead of writing someone else’s poems and stories against the inside of my skull, I wondered about the boy on the other side of the kitchen counter, listening to it all.
The thing that convinced me my long-ago next-door neighbor was a pedophile was more than the looks he gave me. It was the looks the foster children gave each other, the bruised, sick knowledge they shared between them. All of them knew what was happening, not just to themselves but to each other. None of them would say a word. I saw those bruised looks and I knew it would only be a matter of time before he put his hand up my dress, before he took my hand and put it in his lap and whispered about a present for me.
The Gardener kissed me when he was done and told me to make sure I got some rest. He was still pulling his pants back in place as he walked out of the dining room. I walked back to the other side of the counter, picked up the rest of my orange, and sat down next to Desmond, whose face was wet and shiny with tears. He stared at me with dull eyes.
I ate the rest of the orange in the time it took him to find something to say, and then he didn’t say anything at all, just handed me his sweater. I put it on and when he reached for my hand, I let him take it.
He was never going to go to the police.
We both knew it.
All that the past half hour had changed was that now he hated himself a little for it.
“You haven’t asked who survived.”
“You’re not going to let me go see them until I’ve told you everything you want to know.”
“So I’ll find out when we’re done, when I can actually spend time with them. My being there now can’t change anything anyway.”
“Suddenly I can believe you haven’t cried since you were six.”
A faint smile flickers across her face. “Fucking carousel,” she agrees pleasantly.
Bliss made a carousel, did I mention that?
She could make damn near anything out of polymer clay, baking sheet after sheet in the oven with Lorraine scowling at her the entire time as supervision. She was the only one of us with oven privileges. She was also the only one who’d ever asked.
The night before she died, in those long hours we spent curled together on her bed, Lyonette told us stories about when she was younger. She didn’t give us names or locations, but she told them just the same, and the one that made her smile, the one that she loved more than any of the others, was about a carousel.
Her father made the figures for a lot of carousels, and sometimes little Cassidy Lawrence would draw some out and her father would incorporate the designs into the next project, let her choose the colors or the expression on a face. Once her father let her go with him to deliver the horses and sleighs to a traveling carnival. They placed the figures all around the disc and she sat on the rail and watched as they ran the wiring through the golden poles so the horses moved up and down, and when everything was done, she ran around and around the carousel, petting the horses and whispering their names in their ears so they wouldn’t forget. She knew every single one, and she loved them all.
The Gardener’s traits don’t exist in isolation, just in extremes.
But the horses weren’t hers, and when it came time to go home, she had to leave them all behind, probably to never see them again. She couldn’t cry because she’d promised her father she wouldn’t, promised she wouldn’t make a scene when they had to go.
That was when she made her first origami horse.
In the cab of the truck on the way home, she made her first two dozen origami horses, using notebook paper and fast-food receipts to practice until she could make them well, and when she got home, she graduated to using computer paper. She made horse after horse after horse and colored them all to match the ones she’d left behind, whispering their names as she did, and when she was done, she carefully painted thin dowels and stuck them through the middles with a little bit of glue.
She drew out and colored the patterns on the floor, all the paintings on the sloped ceiling, even the pictures framed in the elaborate curlicues that ran along the base of the tent top, and her mother helped her put them all together. Her father even helped her make a crank for the base so the whole thing could slowly spin. Her parents were so proud of her.
The morning of the day she was kidnapped, when she left the house for school, the carousel was still sitting in pride of place on the mantel.
After Lyonette died, I had the nameless new girl to keep me occupied.
Bliss had her polymer clay.