design your own container garden

hey friends! i'm writing alpha couple fanfic again. shocker. the real shocking bit is that i finished it!

It’s been days and the place still smells like smoke. She does, too. It’s clung to her clothes and her hair and her skin and now the earth around them, and she doesn’t think it’ll ever come out. People will come by this place in a thousand years and know. She wants them to. Being alone makes her itch.

Or maybe it's the heat. The fire is long gone, of course, but she swears it’s still warm, still smoldering somewhere. It’s evening, it should be pleasantly cool, but it isn't down here. He would say she’s just worked up, and maybe she is.

The site is all covered in yellow tape now, forming a perimeter around where the house once was. It's small. It was always small, but without all the things that make it a house, it feels even smaller. Seeing it like this, she understands why it was so claustrophobic. There had been no housewarming party, and the excuse he gave was that the place wasn't big enough. That was just an excuse, but it was also true, and it was one thing she had let slide. 

Part of her regrets it. The place had been almost livable then. "We'll fix it up," he said. "Definitely salvageable." She remembers it like she's still there: his long, slender hands, how he'd trailed them along a railing on the porch. The moonlight on his shining black hair, the buzz of cicadas, the smell of rain on the horizon. She had a mosquito bite on her left wrist that night, and she instinctively reaches to scratch it.

Of course, they never fixed it up. It was probably a good thing they torched it; it was hostile to human life by the time they were done with it. The walls had gouges in the drywall from thrown plates, there was a terrible ant problem, and the couch was practically shredded, to name a few issues. The cellar stairs were downright deadly. She used to fantasize about one giving out and sending her husband 8 feet to the floor below, where he'd crack his head on the concrete and bleed to death. It was such a pleasant idea. He'd pass her by while she was thinking about it and ask what she was smiling for. If he sounded sweet she'd snap at him, and if he sounded cruel she'd act dreamy and unfocused until he was sufficiently riled up. They had a good thing going, honestly. Really balanced each other out.

She reaches into her bag and draws a silk handkerchief. The intricate red and gold designs catch the evening light like fire, and it almost glows. A gentle breeze ruffles the folds invitingly, but she's not ready to open it yet. No need to get ahead of herself. 

She triangulates the approximate location of the daisies. They were right in front of the bedroom window. The flowers were his real passion, and she'd made it hers, too. Before they met - a distant, hazy period she frequently forgets existed - she had no care for plants at all. He wanted to work at the nursery by their old place in California. He talked and talked and talked about it, but once he finally applied, he held the job for about a month before he quit. It made him happy but she made him happier, he said, and he'd have liked to spend more time with her. It was all very charming and sweet in the moment. The place had given him some daisies as a kind of parting gift, and he planted them in the front yard.

Whatever kind they were, they were hardy. Once they were established, they required next to nothing. They sat among other flowers, red and orange and white ones, and it really was lovely. When things were quiet, she'd weed with him and he'd tell her all about the specifics - the soil, the breed, whatever other things distinguished a plant from another. It was all the same to her. She just liked to hear his voice sometimes.

Other times, she didn't. They had their first big fight in that house. He called her a cold, sadistic bitch, so she ran outside in the pouring rain and ripped up all those pretty flowers. She ran back inside to tell him what she'd done, but he already knew. She could tell. At that point, he still had it in him to be gentle, but the look on his face right then could have burned through steel.

The daisies, those damn daisies, those escaped her wrath. And when they left the house, because they couldn't afford it but really because they didn't deserve something so normal, he put the seeds in a little bag and took them to Vegas. She was certain they were lost until she saw them sprouting in the yard in Tallahassee.

It’s a good spot for her little funeral. Timber has collapsed onto part of it, but a piece pokes out. Perfect. Back to her bag, but for a trowel this time. (Not one of his, of course, just something from the Dollar General. He was too precious about his tools to leave any of them.) She kneels in the crisping grass and starts to dig.

The wind blows. The branches of their half-dead oak creak. The insects buzz. By the time she's done, she has a hole six inches deep, and she's ready to begin the rites. 

The moon shines high and cold in the yellow sky as she opens the handkerchief. Inside, there’s a cassette tape, a cedar bookmark, and a porcelain teacup. She’s been thinking about the order since she started driving out here, and the bookmark’s going first. 

He got it for her when he fucked off to Yosemite for what felt like forever. Never told her why. She’d spent the whole two weeks silently plotting her escape, writing drafts of goodbye notes and counting and recounting and re-recounting her cash. It would be best to leave before the damage was too deep. She was about to slip out when he walked in the door, bearing a teddy bear and an expensive bookmark and an engagement ring. The whole thing was romantic enough to sweep her up. He had these big, brown, vulnerable eyes, kicked puppy eyes. Bleeding heart eyes. How could she say no? 

The teddy bear went with them to Nevada, then to Tallahassee, and was enshrined on a cardboard box next to the television. It died a hero’s death in the flames. The ring fell off her finger while they were fleeing the cops in Louisiana. All that remains is the bookmark. She used to be a reader, had a hundred heavy books that they left in California. She was smart. She could have made something of herself, that’s what her friends said, but they said that about him, too, and, well. He was never much. 

She runs her fingers along the wood, feels the texture and the grooves. She’d hardly used it. Cautiously, gently, she lowers it into the ground.

The cassette is next. It’s got a recording of their song, or used to, anyways. He recorded a whole playlist for her and they used to dance to it together, laughing. She’s not sure when the tape wore out, but it had to have been sometime before they got here. Maybe in Nevada? That sounded likely; on the rare occasion she was alone in the hotel room, she would lay down on the floor and listen to the same music on repeat for hours at a time. The dull horror that thudded at the back of her mind had been new and uniquely terrifying then, and when he wasn’t there, she needed to cling to something else she knew. Now, she doesn’t even remember what it was. The last time she tried to play it, it sounded like garbled static, and the label just has her name in his handwriting, surrounded by hearts. But she doesn’t need to know anymore. It lays atop the bookmark.

She reaches into her bag, drawing a small bottle of whiskey, the good stuff. Her standards (and budget) plummeted long ago, but she’s made an exception for tonight. The second stage begins.

The handkerchief goes into her pocket. She steadies the teacup in the grass, then pours in a little bit of the liquor. It holds maybe two shots, probably less. It’s small, almost doll-sized, but still clearly meant to be used by an adult. It was a wedding gift from a friend, and its presence irritates her. She only has faded, blurry memories of the reception. A bite of sweet cake here, the rush of dancing there, the idiot she’d just shackled herself to for the rest of her life throwing up in the bathroom. The photos were missing and had been for… a long time. One thing she remembers for certain, however, is that she did not ask for a goddamn tea set like a fucking Victorian maiden.

And the honeymoon. Dear God, the honeymoon. They’d gone somewhere on a whim, up north in the freezing cold, and neither of them were prepared in the slightest. A blizzard hit on the first night and put them beneath 4 feet of snow. They’d forgotten the box with the tea set in the car, which turned out to be a good thing, because the cabin didn’t have any cups or plates. So they sat on the threadbare Oriental rug drinking gin from teacups and eating canned vegetables off of fine china, and he had made it seem magical, as he made everything magical in those days. Ordinarily, she would’ve exploded, but he’d calmed her to a mere restlessness, like a therapy dog. What an image, that bastard being useful for once.

The nip of a mosquito brings her back to herself, from frigid Oregon to hot, humid, ugly Tallahassee, Florida. It’s on her ankle, and she watches it without comment. It drinks its fill, then flutters away lazily. The fuckers always loved her. “Your blood must be as sweet as you,” he used to say, or “Like attracts like,” depending on the mood. But him, he never got bit, the lucky bastard. She more than made up for it.

She used to draw blood sometimes. He never could - too much of a coward - but she would set upon him like a wild animal, clawing and growling and sinking her teeth in as far as they could go. Once, something in her told her to tear back, and she did, taking a little chunk of his leg with her. That made for a fun emergency room visit. She smiles at the memory. She usually came out on top (in her opinion, anyways), but he could punch like a motherfucker, she’d give him that.

“Cheers, you stupid bitch,” she says, and toasts in the direction of the house. “To never coming back to this fuckin’ hellhole again.” She splashes the teacup’s contents on the ashes, then chugs a solid third of the bottle before it’s too much and she slams it on the grass. A laugh falls out of her. It feels good to laugh, good to almost live in the world again. 

Joy emboldens her and gives her the push she needs to tear her wedding ring off and throw it in the hole. Damn thing was always too tight. The cup goes next, and she uses her hands to scoop the dirt and ash back on top. She tosses the trowel and the liquor back in her bag, then stands, tamps down the earth with her shoe. Then she leaves. Saying goodbye the first time was hard; this is easy. 

She slips into her car. It used to be white, probably before some caveman thought something round might move a little easier. The inside is warm, just on the brink of stifling, and she shivers. It’s a shock from the cool outdoors. Her hands don’t move for the keys. 

She wants them to, she really does. It’s over. Her past is no longer a part of herself. It’s buried in the ground, 50 feet away, where it will remain until the end of time and she never has to think about it again. She’s wanted him and everything they did together out of her life for long, desolate years. All she needs to do is drive away.

So she opens the door and gets out of the car, walking back to where she’s pretty sure she buried her trinkets. 

She kneels. The scorched grass crunches beneath her jeans. Cautiously, she paws through congealed ash and charcoal in the red light. There was never any brick here, except in the cellar; the people who built the house were too poor. As she fears, she finds nothing.

But she keeps digging. She digs until she hits dry earth, digs until her fingernails break, digs until her bleeding fingers meet cool, damp foundation. Then she screams. She screams bloody murder, out where trees grow tall and the crows fly and there's no one around to hear her. 

It wasn't meaningless. It couldn't be. They were destined for each other, star-crossed lovers. She told him once that "star-crossed" didn't mean two people were soulmates, that "crossed" meant cursed in Shakespeare's time and Romeo and Juliet had always been doomed. But the longer that goes on, the less she sees the difference. No matter what, there's something there. There’s something, there’s something to hold onto, something she can look back at and smile wistfully and tell herself about the good days. 

That was the thing, though. There were no good days. There were times when everything clicked into place, for a second, an hour, an evening if they were lucky. A little stretch where it was just right, where she could live somewhere beautiful if she squinted or drank a few shots or let him kiss her or just closed her eyes and imagined it outright. She couldn’t look at it straight-on. When she did, all she’d see was a burnt-out mess. 

But some part of it was real, right? That’s what kept her sane. Maybe, even just at the beginning, something there was stable and pure and true. Even if it was unrecognizable. How else could she feel the foundation under her hands, after everything was cinders? How else could she, despite every damn thing he'd ever done to her, still feel this way? Like a piece of her was missing? No, not a piece, her whole self. Everything she was is tangled up in what they had like kudzu. And now it's been ripped out, all the deepest parts of her, and taken somewhere she'll never find it. Just like him to be cruel. 

She lays down in the ashes and cries. It’s her first good, deep cry in longer than she can remember. It’s been a few days, she’s had time to breathe and live and get at least a little bit of whatever spell they cast on each other out of her system, and now she’s going through withdrawal. She keens like a wounded animal. Normally, when she lets herself sink into a hole of emotion and memory, it feels violent. Probably because she had someone to take it out on. Right now, though, it’s just pathetic. 

She doesn’t come close to falling asleep, but the intensity is blinding, and it’s all the same to her. When she opens her eyes, it’s almost fully night. The sky glows navy above her, crickets chirp, and it’s as close as it can get to cold down here. She is distinctly aware that she is covered in mud and snot and ashes, but can’t really muster any particular emotion about that fact. She feels no inclination to move until she sees it. 

It’s nestled in a corner, in the protective embrace of fallen timber and old stone. It missed her mania this time, too. A small white flower with deep green leaves pokes its head above the ground. It's as tall as her hand is long, and it peers over at her, as timid as a daisy can be. 

She pushes herself up out of the dirt and to her knees, staring at it. It stares back. Something in her hindbrain motivates her to crawl forward slowly, something like a very cautious zombie, and close her fingers around the stem. He always said to pull from the bottom, so she does. The roots come up with the rest of the flower, and they’re scrawny and fine. She’s not sure if she’s ever held something so carefully in her life. 

She pulls the handkerchief out of her pocket and wraps it up, carefully, leaving the flower itself dangling out. She’ll get a cup of water at some fast food place and dip it in there. He taught her that trick. It’ll keep it alive until she can find a pot for it. It probably wouldn’t live for long - she’s always been dogshit with plants - but she can try to make it work. She rises on unsteady legs. Then slowly, deliberately, she walks back to the car and the outside world.

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