Pasatiempo

ELAINE’S LAST GARDEN

- Janna Lopez, Santa Fe

Elaine’s garden was as colorful as it was precocious. In a wild sensibilit­y, orange and blue and yellow flowers burst through the earth during seasons they should have slept beneath soil. But how else would a garden belonging to Elaine behave?

The morning of Elaine’s passing was sun-kissed and frosty. A river of neighbors ebbed and flowed to stoke a steady fire simmering in the cast iron pit. Through the half-opened slider I saw swirls of lavender smoke rise above heaps of glowing wood. An occasional crow landed on the willow’s bare limbs.

Elaine was fixed in the portable bed stationed in her cozy living room. Traces of piñon incense mingled with gently dancing dust sparkles that passed through light beams seeping in the window. The flimsy hand I cradled felt pulpy. When Elaine’s eyes were closed (which they’d been for many hours) I attempted longer glimpses. To search for recognitio­n of an Elaine I’d known — the shiny cheeks of my neighbor, my friend, a soul sister — through the collapsed gray her face had withered to.

In a town like Taos, news spreads faster than mayonnaise on a warm toasted bun. While in the yarn store a few weeks ago, Elaine shared with Chandra she was leaving treatment behind. She was through with everything tasting metal, and the agitated sensation of poisoned veins.

When I heard the news, I laughed. Such news required us to be more civilized than human shock enabled.

Elaine had ordered a white wicker casket, which arrived ahead of schedule. That day a few of us were helping her sort through some boxes and papers. We were having a good time, sipping wine in the middle of the day, as if she was merely moving.

“No poor bastard has to care if I saved $6 dollars on toilet paper,” she mused as she tossed the receipt into a brown paper bag. Then we heard the knock. We stopped mid-sifting and looked at each other. I got up to open the door and there stood a UPS delivery man with a clipboard. Behind him was a long narrow box that resembled a canoe. “Elaine Fields?”

“Uh, yeah.” Bewildered, I glanced to Elaine. She offered a resigned half-smile then nodded.

“Sign here,” he said.

I scribbled onto the slip held by the clipboard as he ripped the yellow copy free, handed it over, and departed with, “Have a good day!”

“Well, lucky me.” Elaine sipped her chardonnay and sighed. “That’s my casket. It was supposed to arrive later. I wanted an advantage of seeing what eternity looked like.”

The facade of her cross-town move evaporated.

I called Roberto, Serge, and Ed to help us relocate then dismantle the long box. After it was unpacked, we stood around staring at the white wicker casket. It was pretty? Imaginatio­n couldn’t bend to pictures of such a before and after.

Elaine lifted the loosely hinged cover, and as if a cat seduced by a box’s mystery, she crawled in. Roberto, Serge, Ed, Lillyanna, Chandra, and myself awkwardly hovered over Elaine playing dead. “Wow,” she said with arms tucked tightly. “Not a lot of room.” Snapping gravity, I asked, “Were you hoping to get a roommate?” “Yeah, that’s all I’d need — to be trapped with infinite bullshit.” Serge stuffed his hands deeper into his pockets. Roberto scanned the ceiling.

Ed stepped back from the coffin basket.

I reached for Lillyanna’s hand while Chandra slipped to the kitchen to boil water for tea.

“Do me a favor,” Elaine said. “Close the lid and carry me around. I wanna know how heavy I’ll be.” We stiffly glanced to one another. Knowing Elaine’s bold beauty as intimately as my own heartbeat, knowing this moment would sear into memory of her aliveness, knowing life dispensed unrelentin­g glimpses of her death, I reached to lower the top. It crunched and creaked the way fresh woven wood does when shifted.

“Ok, my dear, here we go … ”

With my eyes I cued the group to pick up a protruding handle.

“One, two, three, and LIFT!”

We raised Elaine waist high. Indeed, beyond weightless skin and bones, was overwhelmi­ng density from a past and present and future and regret and confusion and imminence and memories and love and fear and anger that swarmed the box.

“How ya doin’?” I asked.

“Oh, there’s a little light,” she said, then with an exaggerate­d British accent cackled, “God save the Queen!”

Maybe it was Elaine’s unexpected outburst, or the absurdity of a faceless box talking, I began to chuckle. The weight of it all became unbearable.

“We better drop it,” I said through what was devolving into uncontroll­able giggles. We rested the coffin on the ground, and my insides, shredded by grief, bellowed out unrelentin­g snorts. Wave after emotional wave besieged. Everyone stared, including Elaine who sat up in the box, as my laughter seamlessly tumbled into a tsunami of a lost child’s tears …

Now Elaine’s breathing was sparse. Seconds expanded between her chest lifting and lowering.

Anticipati­on kept me both transfixed and wholly afraid. And like the enduring mysterious gift of flowers that shined in winter, Elaine feebly woke up. She recognized I was there and managed a frail smile. We locked eyes. Hers were green and radiant and familiar. She softly spoke and asked if she could have more coffee, as if she wanted to stay awake just a little longer …

Elaine delicately lowered her lids, never breaking her gaze with my eyes, until they shut.

No chest lift followed.

Moments later I unceremoni­ously released Elaine’s cold hand from mine to step outside.

Her garden was cheerful. I wondered if her beloved spring flowers could somehow make it, remarkably bloom in winter, for the next person who called this home?

Facing the back was Taos Mountain. Elaine once said that watching the moon shyly rise above the massive ridge — the reason she bought her house 18 years ago — was better than sex.

With several neighbors and friends milling around the fire who would learn the news, I remained silent. I trudged to the garden’s edge. With a lost child’s might, I transmitte­d the message across the chilly turquoise sky, all the way up to the majestic mountain top: Hey! Moon to rise! Soon you’ll have a beautiful new friend to greet you …

 ?? ?? Janna Lopez is Santa Fe’s current poet laureate ambassador. She’s a book coach, creative writing teacher with an MFA, and published author. She uses psychic intuition to guide individual­s in transformi­ng their lives through fearless writing, reimaginin­g the power of poetry, and unlearning false beliefs about writing’s purpose. Her next book, Writing Freedom Forever ,is based on work with hundreds of clients.
Janna Lopez is Santa Fe’s current poet laureate ambassador. She’s a book coach, creative writing teacher with an MFA, and published author. She uses psychic intuition to guide individual­s in transformi­ng their lives through fearless writing, reimaginin­g the power of poetry, and unlearning false beliefs about writing’s purpose. Her next book, Writing Freedom Forever ,is based on work with hundreds of clients.

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