FICTION: A Failed Meeting with Madam Rose & The Incurable Garden in the Body

I knew Sushi was lying when she tucked bits of her pearl-pink hair behind her ear studded with cross-bones along the c-curve edge of an ear that had heard me say I love you to another woman for the first time.

It was Tuesday. We were tucked away in an alley off Avenue B, both sipping Boba tea between glancing at the ground and each other’s noses. I was wearing my new pink Vans, the ones she helped pick out just two weeks prior, but the weeks before a personal catastrophe can stretch behind you like a cruel magic trick, bending time and space.

After first meeting Sushi, I recalled my husband saying pink shoes didn’t look good on anyone, as though they came like that, dirty, out of the box. I had laughed it off while watering the Philodendron hoping my laughter would penetrate the soil like magical sound-waves shaking the roots alive. It was dying.

Sushi said she was moving back to Idaho. She had a bougie husband and a dog named Gryffindor, or Gryf, who I met the same day I first met Sushi after answering a Craigslist add calling for domme girls written by a woman named Madam Rose.

I stood in front of an Upper Eastside high-rise, head tilted back, hoping to see the window of the room where Madam Rose waited. Maybe she’s holding a tiny puff of a Pomeranian, I said out loud to no one. I noticed a woman beside me laughed, said, What? I told her I was supposed to meet a lady named Madam Rose and I was unsure if I wanted to go through with it. Same, she said. That’s how I found myself erupting into a fit of nervous giggling with a stranger on the sidewalk.

We ended up getting coffee together, having both confessed we concocted stories of job interviews for our respective husbands. I told her I liked her skull ring. Very witchy, I said. She beamed a proud Thank You across her unusually delicate face. I noticed a vine unfurling in my stomach, trying to reach my ribs, then heart. Call me Sushi, she said, as the vine tried to reach its destination.

I spoke quicker than usual, attempting to match her manic pace. I’m Cate, I said. She told me I had good looking skin. I asked if she put the lotion on. It went like this until I realized we were flirting.

Underneath my feet, the tall grass began to grow through the concrete of the coffeeshop. She said she could see it, too.

Are you allergic to dogs, Cate? She asked. When I said no, she told me we were going to her place. Her husband was out having happy hour with collogues. Look! I married for safety, she exclaimed, waving her arms like a bird in all directions as we walked into her apartment.

Next, she stripped to her underwear and asked me to do the same. I had left my place prepared to meet Madam Rose so I wasn’t wearing my every-day, boring collection of underthings but a black lace matching pair and, having attended spin classes regularly since quitting drinking, felt pretty okay with the rest of me. Why not? I thought, pulling the black T-shirt off and unbuttoning my jeans.

Sushi’s face grew into a concentrated glare, penetrating the edge of what I was comfortable revealing. I had a brief moment of panic, thinking, Is this how I die?

You can handle this, she said, clearly reading my mind. I think you woke up this morning prepared to venture into the unknown. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have attempted to answer the same add I did. But we were destined to meet. I conjured you.

Her body moved like a tree with purpose. For the first time, I noticed she smelled like sweet cedar and vanilla.

Sushi took my hand, gently, as though holding a baby bird, and led me past the spare apartment kitchen to a bedroom door, pausing before pushing it open. She turned back to me in a slow wave, pearl-pink hair brushing her thin shoulders, and said, I think you’ll understand me now.

The door pushed open. Her skull ring reflected a glint off the kitchen track lights, briefly blinding me before I could adjust my eyes to what she needed to show me.

I love every house plant inside the body. If this was a dream, does it matter? A broken lip pictured in glass. All of her photos, bruised. I told her I’d help her so no one else could break into her again. Not like that. Not ever. I remember thinking, If I wrote the story of this day, no one would believe it.

She was lying about the diagnoses, the reason for moving back to Idaho, the fact that he’d not been the one to touch her like that. I was lying when I said it was better this way, less complicated.

As I walked back towards the park, I imagined drowning in a pool of champagne. I imagined defying my brain, my genes. For once, I’d be able to dance toward a safe-drunk. I’d laugh all the way home, forgetting the plant that finally reached for something closely resembling light.

Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick's work has appeared in Salt Hill, Versal, The Texas Observer, Devil's Lake, Four Way Review, Sugar House Review, Huffington Post UK, among others. A graduate from Sarah Lawrence College's MFA program, Hardwick serves as the poetry editor for The Boiler Journal and her first full-length, Before Isadore, was recently published by Sundress Publications.

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