The Gardener's Sons

Lauren Bride


On the first day of summer I am most pleased and most nervous. Sometimes it works out that my brother can stay with me, in the cool of the basement. This is one of the reasons that the summer has always been my favourite time. The warmth that drives him there is only indirectly good. It proves good for me, to have my brother so close to me and stay in the closed and glowing basement world, and good for me again to see the grass growing green over the windows and my father, pleased, pulling the weeds.

If my brother stays at just the right temperature, he can still move his fingers and arms enough to play his oboe. This is a joy for me. It is so rare that the room is cool enough for me to be safe, and warm enough for him to be mobile. Often I am content to listen to him from upstairs. I don't want him to feel that I am spoiled for having him play for me so often. It is just that it is so good to have him play in the same room as me.

It is not easy for our father, with two sons like us. There are days when he curses himself and what he has wished for. He worked very hard to have us, and to make life possible and as comfortable as he can for us. My brother has become angry at times because our father will go into the farthest point in the back garden and mutter to himself for awhile, and curse and weep. My brother will watch him and he will say he is such a fool, that he should enjoy us while he has us, that our lifespan is absolutely unknowable.

Our father has been trading in things around the home so that he can fill his secret shelf in the shed with bottles. For my brother, it is annoying not only because he then must be responsible for our numbed, bloated father, but also because some of his most prized and favoured possessions have been pirated off and transformed by some creature with many booze-dispensing taps instead of fingers into secret bottles that clank on their way to and from the shed. More money spent on bottles means less money to maintain his fingertips and his chin and lips, the places that wear away the quickest on him.

You see, my brother is made of wax.

Neither of us can go to the shed; it is much too hot for either of us in there these days. In the winter, I could. My brother could possibly visit it in the autumn, especially in the evenings, or on some early spring days when the weather is right for him. Too cold and he will go entirely stiff, and crack. Too warm, and the same thing will happen to him as would happen to me.

I might invite my brother to watch a film with me. There is a whole mini-theatre, set up to work in the cold of my room. I can open the curtain that gives me privacy, and my brother can look through to watch with me. He does not like the films I choose; he would prefer to see many explosions and high action chases, or murder or triumphant war. He does not like sadness in his stories, or at least the kind if sadness I choose. He does not like to see films where there is romance. It causes in him a great need to say out loud the kind of bodily functions such fuss would cause in him, things that cannot ever really occur for him. Perhaps this sort of imagined vomiting, or defecation is something he longs for, just the way I might long for a foolish romance, a lover.

I could not ever have a proper lover, not like my brother could. If he were to be with a lover, it would make him his most perfect. He would keep his shape, but be pliable and be able to move almost like a person of flesh and bones and real hair. He curses women in his most foul language.

"Their bodies are practically all water," he says, snorting. He knows better than I do, having once owned a great collection of pictures of their bodies. That too was turned into bottles. I have a framed insect collection, but my father must know it won't get him much from the people he trades with.

Once I heard this, about their watery bodies, I wanted to know more than anything. Since I am the son made of ice, I am all water myself. I wanted to talk to a woman, to send her letters and to have her send them to me. I imagine that the insects I have in frames on the wall could deliver them to her, and bring back her replies to me. They would wait patiently until it was sealed and ready to go.

I have clippings from the newspapers that our father sometimes brings down for me of different people. I think I would like to know a woman who is a regular woman, born in the regular way, with a mother and father. I look in each paper for some sort of story about a woman who lacked the sense of touch in her skin. Once I found a story about a baby born with part of her nervous system gone, and she had no nerve endings in her skin. The paper called her a miracle baby. She died a few weeks later, as did her miracle though I kept the article.

A secret that I keep is the library of unsent letters I have hidden in my cold room. I write them to people like the miracle baby, though she is grown and she has somehow found out about me. It is true, though I am ashamed of it, that I also write letters from the miracle girl to me. We are friends sometimes, and that is enough and it is so fine. Other times she secretly misses me and wishes I would write to her more often. In a few letters she has kissed me and we must never speak again.

There are a couple of letters where the miracle girl and I are in love and we touch. In one letter it is perfect. Only one letter though, and this is enough, and in this letter it is most true that she is a miracle girl. In another I touch her and she freezes. In another we kiss and then my face is gone, and she runs.

Our father leaves the house in his car and is gone for hours. My brother sits outdoors in the night and squeaks a bit on his oboe, nothing much. He wants to see explosions, much fire and light with everyone around, fearing him and begging him for mercy.

My brother says that when he dies there will be a sooty spot and some residue. It is true, I am sad to agree. He tells our father there will be a legend to follow him. Sometimes he claims there will be millions of charred skeletons as well. For now he squeaks on his oboe. When I die, there will be a puddle, only for awhile, and that too will be gone.

When our father returns he has a new reed for my brother. I hope he has brought some new films for me. I have touched the screen and that is very good to me. There is a frost spot on the screen afterwards, and then a wet spot. I can only touch it for a moment.

In the winter one year, my father made a snow woman for me to see in the night. I shoved the letters into a purse he had made crudely for her, but there was never any reply. I thought then that my brother was right, she had far too much water; even I had heart enough to say thank-you when I was given something. After the thaw came her shape went and I couldn't visit her anymore anyways, nor did I want to. It was better with the letters on my own. It is better when I keep my correspondence to myself.

My brother plays for the moths. Once in awhile one will get lost and come to my cold little room. I am sad for it, but so pleased, regretfully, as I always have a place for one more in my little framed family collection. I am a gentle son. If the moth dies with me, I will keep it perfectly preserved.

After the work of fitting a moth into a frame, my fingers will wear away a bit. If I blow on them, there is a fine snow.

Text copyright Lauren Bride 2005

Illustrations copyright Joel Stewart 2005