The Art of Gardening, by Madison Dorsey



Will said something about an explosion. He was lying in the Chrysanthemums in the sun while his partner was blown to pieces. He stayed for the full tour anyways even though Cara said she wouldn’t be there if he made it home. Six months later she showed up at the airport, with an apology stuck in her ribcage, oozing out like the sickly sweet scent of a Lilac.


Will sat at home in the living room reading the “Art of War.” Hoping it would mention what to do when you feel like you have no fight left and you’d rather wage war on yourself. It didn’t say, so he put the book down and watched the sun move as trees interrupted its stream of light.


Six weeks after the airport, Cara found herself at a plant nursery. She vaguely remembers something about gardening for PTSD victims and how it was “soothing.” She knew Will wouldn’t have anything to do with it, but she wanted to try anyways. Cara looked at Lavender for sleep, Gladiolus for the soldier in him, a handful of Forget-me-nots, Protea for when he wants to cut his chest open to be someone else, and Aloe to heal him again. Lastly, she picked up Chrysanthemums. She hoped it would add a little sun in his life.
She paid and took them home, setting them in the back yard and quickly running inside to get Will.


He was asleep on the couch. The Jeep rocked along the barren ground. Will bounced in the passenger seat, holding onto the sling of his M16. He heard his partner yell something inaudible, but he followed his finger to where he was pointing due west. He took a sharp turn to where a group of flowers were growing and parked.

“Will! Look at this! We haven’t seen flowers in months.” His partner lay down in the flowers and stared up at the sun. Will sat in the jeep and laughed at him.

“Peter, get up. We’ve gotta get goin’.”

“Hey, didn’t anyone ever tell you to stop and smell the roses! C’mon just get out and sit here for a second. It’s really nice.” Will begrudgingly got up, leaving his gun on the seat and went and sat in the flowers.

“Do you think if I pick some for Cara they’ll survive till my tour is over?”

“Nah, wait till you’re home and can pick her some real flowers. These are just stupid Chrysanthemums. Gotta get her somethin’ good like-like, white roses!” Peter hopped up and began walking back to the jeep. “Who said we had time to stop and smell the roses, you idiot?” Peter laughed, but stopped when a sharp, high-pitched beeping filled Will’s ear. He yelled to Peter just before the scene exploded in a metal bloody mess, crashing over Will and the flowers. He and the stupid Chrysanthemums, now splattered with blood, lay there. Will shot up out of his sleep.


Cara sat down next to him and took his hand, leading him outside. “C’mon baby, come sit in the sun. Come see the flowers I got you.” She held him next to her and pointed at the flowers. She felt him shake like a leaf.


“I-I am not gardening, Cara. No.”
“C’mon, please. Didn’t anyone ever tell you to stop and smell the roses?” She laughed, but Will pulled away from her. He watched her smile fall.
“I’ve got-gotta go. I’ll be back later.” Will ran to his truck, knocking over the Chrysanthemums in the process and peeled out of the driveway.


Cara locked the door behind him.


He pulled into the cemetery parking lot and walked the very familiar path up to Peter’s grave marker. There were teddy bears from Peter’s kids, a case of beer from his dad, a photograph, and an assortment of flowers. Will started digging. When he was done there were seven holes surrounding the grave. He took each plant out of its pot and placed them in their hole, filled the dirt back in, and wiped his hands on his jeans.


Cara left the house and locked the door behind her, placing her key under the mat.


Will walked the path back to his car and sat in it until the sun went down. He drove home without the lights on and when he arrived he found the forget-me-nots in a vase on the counter. He considered going to bed, but went out to the back yard instead. He cleared the ground of sod, and started adding compost. He built his garden under the moonlight, waging war with soil and seeds, spelling out “surrender” with his spade, carefully placing each Chrysanthemum in the ground.


This is the night Cara said she wouldn’t be there if he made it home.