Autumn rainclouds blot out the morning sun; by late afternoon, the entire sky is one big mass of grey over the rugged Kiwi coastline.
Speckled sunlight on her face, Marina digs along the fringes of the flower bed, gloved fingers caked in mud. The wooden edging lies inert on her left. To her right, between the tiny three-pronged fork and the watering can, is a large plastic container. It’s packed with the tulip bulbs she’d purchased a couple of weeks earlier. She had left them to ‘pre-chill’ in the refrigerator, just like the geriatric sales assistant told her.
“Keep them away from the apples m’dear, you don’t want the bulbs to rot!” the old woman had said, winking at Brent as he shuffled around distracted and brooding. Even as Marina paid for the bulbs and potted winter blooms heaped up in her trolley, Brent had merely stared at the porcelain eagles and Jemima Puddleducks that smiled back at him with some sort of stony understanding. As if he were a kindred spirit of some sort, a petulant bird that moulted feather feelings before turning to stone every now and then.
Brent has left home on a few occasions in the past six months, his new Toyota (an old Kia trade-in), with its new-Toyota smell and leather bucket seats speeding away into the distance. But each time, he’s been gone for a couple of hours at most. Until now.
Marina finishes setting up the wooden edging as vague rumbles threaten to invade the coast. The air suddenly feels cold against her cheeks, her ears. Her arms break into tiny little goosebumps, with the mere thought of the approaching rain, of callous droplets touching her without her consent.
The sky is getting murky now, she must hurry with the tulips. She empties a bag of compost into the flower bed and adds a dash of sheep pellets as well. Foul-smelling things, rough to the touch.
Marina spreads the bulbs evenly across the bed. She thinks of Brent and his crooked smile, the way his lips turn up on one side, just before he breaks into a throaty guffaw. How he can never sleep without blanketing her in his arms; how his alpine socks strewn on the bedroom floor always feel warm and sincere. She imagines him working hard on the garage interiors they’ve planned together–Toyota-ship dock, he calls it. Someday they’ll plan a child’s nursery. Giant stuffed giraffes with silly smiles and droopy eyes, rainbow wallpaper, glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. A proper wooden crib with an origami bird music mobile.
The bulbs feel coarse under her fingers, striking in their flaky potential. The thunder gets a little louder with every bulb she pats into the fertile soil. Windy rains finally arrive in a mist from the south. Satisfied with the effort, Marina packs up her gardening toolkit and walks back to the house, a silent prayer buried with the soon-to-be flowers.
Shreyasi Majumdar is fairly new to New Zealand, having lived in Mumbai and more recently in Singapore. She has degrees in the life sciences and has worked as a writer and editor since 2008. She enjoys reading and writing fiction–particularly short, impactful stories that pack a punch. Her work has also appeared in Shortbread Stories, Writing Short Fiction, Flash Frontier, and Microfiction Monday Magazine.