This story is by Michelle Daly and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I finish sweeping the last of the grass clippings into a neat pile on the driveway.
“Vrooooom!” shouts Carl’s muscle car as it reverses too fast down the driveway past me. I feel the air pass over me in a dusty wave, lifting the clippings to settle on my face and lips.
“Don’t forget to dust the door frames!” Tiffany trills out the window, as she and Carl go speeding backwards. The car halts abruptly on the street, then takes off with a screech of tyres.
“Have a good time” I say quietly.
I’ll clean the door frames later. All the other tasks on the list, all twenty of them, are done in time for the inspection happening while I’m out of the house. Agreeing to do all the chores for cheap rent was worth it in the beginning but I hate how it’s crushed my self esteem and robbed me of my time. I’m tempted to use my spells to help me but remember my mother’s warning against it. There would be “consequences” she’d say but now I wonder if she did it to control me. I sigh and release the daydream as I head to the bathroom.
I shower and put on my black waitress uniform. I have something important to do on my way to work.
The weather is mild and calm when I leave the house. The sky is pale blue with wispy white clouds. My favourite kind of day. I start off down the road, lined with gum trees, and breathe in the freshness of the eucalyptus scented air. It revitalises my very core, my cells, deep inside, when I take in a breath on a day like today. At this moment, it feels like something’s in the air or someone’s on my side and things might start to change for the better.
I’ve arrived in Botanic Park, part of the majestic Adelaide parklands, and spread out in front of me are tall, strong pine trees and green lawns. The smell of pine floats over me and I instantly calm. I’m home. I walk between the towering pine trees toward the Adelaide Botanic Garden entrance, feeling the familiar sense of sadness mixed with happiness. I make my way through the entrance and into the garden, heading for the unassuming place where my mother’s spirit lies amongst the caring fronds of her favourite plant, Tradescantia zebrina. I round a corner and it comes into view. A wandering sea of dark green leaves with the slightest tinge of purple. From a distance, it’s an indistinct, yet lush carpet but as I come upon it, the small, bright purple dots of flowers become more visible. Like glowing gems embedded in a dark seabed, they call out bidding me welcome. A tall tree stands as sentinel on the edge of the green expanse.
I feel my mother’s presence strengthen as I draw closer until I reach the edge of the plant’s wandering tendrils and focus my gaze on its centre where I scattered her ashes. The light breaking through the leaves creates shadows, tricking my eyes to make me glimpse her face in the pattern of the leaves.
I came here alone to scatter her ashes three years ago today. I returned on the first anniversary as she requested but the pain of grief was still very strong and I couldn’t stay too long. The second year, too, was a struggle and I felt nothing. Today feels different. The pain has lessened and I feel a sense of calm. A sense that I’m ready to connect with her. Or that she’s ready to connect with me. I don’t know if it’s even possible but she assured me that she’d give me an assignment, my purpose, at her resting place on the anniversary of her death. She just couldn’t tell me which anniversary.
I stand on the bitumen path facing the plant and feel too exposed, too conspicuous and a little strange. I’m aware that talking out loud to a plant may make me seem crazy if someone happens to walk past. Moving into the garden, though, may seem even more out of place so I remain on the path. I stare at the plant and notice patches where the leaves are more purple than the rest, like someone dropped purple ink here and there, making the green and white leaves appear to glow.
“I miss you” I say to my mother after some time, “Why did you leave me?”
I pause and imagine her answer.
“I know, I know. It wasn’t your fault” I reply to her apology.
“Everything’s been so shit since you left” My voice breaks slightly with the words.
“My job’s awful. I work so hard and never seem to get ahead because I keep doing silly things that cost me. And my flat mates, my cousin and her boyfriend, never give me a break from housework and insults”.
I notice two people, obvious tourists, strolling my way. A young, fresh faced woman holds a map in one hand and the hand of her male partner with her other. They walk past me, at holiday pace, oblivious to my pain. The man gives me a cursory glance and forced smile and they continue on. I wait for them to be out of earshot.
“You know” I continue, “I’ve followed your plan to work these waitressing jobs and wait for the sign that my “vital assignment”, as you put it, is ready, but so far that hasn’t happened. I’m sick of waiting and am really frustrated!”
I feel I’m getting worked up so I pause, half expecting my outburst to prompt something to happen. The sentinel tree’s limbs sway slightly and some of it’s leaves float down onto the white, green and purple hazed leaf carpet.
“So, Mum… what is the assignment? When is it going to happen? When are you going to send me this message you promised? Please!” I cry, tears now streaming down my face as the anger has turned to despair.
Silence. Nothing. All I hear are the birds calling in the garden, the breeze passing through the tree canopies overhead, and the faint sounds of bagpipes playing somewhere.
After the swell of emotion subsides, I feel the sense of calm return to me, then my hair begins to fly around my face as a sudden breeze, out of place on a calm day, rushes around me. I turn, putting my back to the wind reflexively to shield my eyes. The wind stops.
“My darling” says that voice I knew so well, “You’re here”.
“Mum!” I turn to see my mother.
I lunge forward to hug her but stumble straight through her.
“We don’t have time for that” she says, “even though I’d love nothing more than to hug you, my sweet Cleopatra”.
My mother continues, “Your assignment is ready for you”
I feel my heart leap with joy.
“Your assignment is simple, Cleo. A baby is being born shortly and your mission is to kill it with magic.”
My mouth drops open in shock and my stomach tightens.
“This baby will end up causing an apocalypse. Use your magic to suffocate it when it’s born. It’s the only way to prevent the human race from dying.”
“Mum, I can’t. Why? It’s not right” I say.
“You’ll have to trust me. It’s your destiny” she insists.
I nod weakly and my mother smiles as she disappears back into her plant.
On cue, I hear a baby crying out. I run toward the sound, ready to carry out my mission.
I come upon the scene. Hidden in some thick shrubbery, a thin woman, alone, lying on her back, her head lolled to one side and her eyes still. She’s dead. The tiny, bloody baby lies screaming on the dirt between the woman’s legs. I kneel down, pick her up and she calms. I look into the baby girl’s dark eyes and know I can’t kill her. She’s been born in the worst of circumstances and deserves a chance to change her destiny with my help. In that moment of maternal instinct, I defy my mother and possibly damn the human race to an unthinkable demise. I use my magic to clean up the scene like it never happened.
The next day, I begin clearing out Tiffany and Carl’s room for the baby. They haven’t come home from their night out and I’ve got a feeling they’ll be gone awhile.
I check on the baby, peacefully sleeping in her brand new crib. The purple flowers I took from my mother’s plant and transformed into gems, cast a soft glow over her small form, keeping her safe against my mother’s wishes. I’ve waited so long and now have my purpose. It’s a pity about the human race, but maybe it won’t happen. I place my hand lightly on my baby’s chest and silently promise to keep her safe forever. Maybe she’ll spare me. In the end.