In the centre, though slightly to the left, of Ribcage City, right on Pulmonary Avenue, and next to Aorta Street, there lay my secret garden – a garden that I had not visited since childhood. I remembered fondly of the summer days spent playing with the daffodils, swinging gently from the tire swing that hung from the oak tree. My garden, back then, was no secret, and my visitors were endless. Some watered the flowers and sung to the leaves; others ran away with lilies and roses clutched in their hands, the roots still attached.
As I walked up Vena Cava Lane, slower than my normal pace, I began to wonder if anyone had visited my garden. Though I had abandoned it years ago, I wanted to know if the flowers were in bloom, if their birds sang as beautifully as they did in my memory.
I stood in front of the stone walls hiding my garden; I hadn’t realized the walls had been built so high. The stone looked formidable and foreboding – nothing like the childhood garden I remembered. I traced the cracks in the stone with my fingertips, marvelling at the divots and at the firmness beneath my hands.
“HEART” was engraved on the stone – the name of this garden. I had to brush some of the overgrown moss and hanging vines that covered the word to read it. The letter “T” had been scratched out – almost to the point of illegibility – so now, it only read “HEAR.”
The door to the garden was small – about four feet in height. Child-sized. Sixteen locks decorated the door, one for every year since I was born. I unlocked each of them slowly, hesitantly; every lock demanded a different key. Taking a deep breath, I pushed the door open, which was creaky from disuse. I slipped into the garden quietly, afraid to let others know that I had returned.
I stared at the silent wasteland before me. The vibrancy and life of the garden had been replaced by dark browns and sickly yellows. The flowers had wilted; there were no birds to be found. The branch that once held my favourite tire swing had rotted and snapped, leaving a pile of rubber, rope, and wood on the ground.
There was no one around.
“I was wondering when you would return.”
I whirled around, and to my horror, the Gardener stood at the open door. The Gardener had tenderly planted each seed, watered each plant; his song brought the birds. He carved every wooden bench, built every fountain. He had entrusted me with my garden, and I failed him.
“You never gave me the keys,” he said. His voice held no accusation, but I wished it did. I wanted his anger, his dismay – his patience was much harder to bear.
He looked at me with infinite grace, infinite mercy, infinite compassion, as he waited for my response.
“Out,” I said. I couldn’t meet his eyes; I didn’t know how to convey the shame I felt.
“The walls won’t keep me out,” he said simply, with the same unfathomable kindness.
“Out,” I repeated. I turned away from him, facing the ashes, the remnants of a garden that had once rivalled Eden in beauty.
When I heard the door close, and the sound of sixteen locks clicking into place, I sank to my knees, and I wept for the HEART that was now nothing – sealed away in stone walls as tall as the eye could see.