An eight-day feast sprawls on the wild side of my yard. A buzzard dragged it to a shady corner where only flies, of all flying things, can find it. The perennials remain stunned by their introduction to earth. Mulch forked over from the pine tree’s foot is not enough to hold moisture in the sandy dust. I need a garden that does not reek of death.
The patio stayed clear for months, from the dawn of lockdown to the high sun of brutal boredom. No needles, no twigs, no cones, through two storms and the following drought. Last week I saw a pine cone, then gone, then back again, perched in the center. That cinder gray cat stretched nearby.
I knew then. That cat had been collecting needles. For bedding? For litter? And playing with cones. I’d seen no tidying up. But since the lockdown, the cat rested often under the four limbs of mimosa.
Who gazed at me when I came out to arrange soaking hoses in a prayer to sustain the plants, bought in a back alley, from masked strangers at an arm and a leg’s distance. Did not flee. Stared at me and my nurture of the five plots spread out like fingers. Coral bells and burgundy glow. Paprika yarrow, purple smoke, stonecrop. Cat paws nearly buried in the ground, head, uncatlike, tipped to the earth, eyes stuck to me as I pried up long-entrenched weeds while the ooze tried to dampen the earth.
The next day and the next, no cat sprawled on the concrete. Pine needles gathered, scattered twigs zigged and zagged. I had spoiled the garden peace. I thought the absence was a victory. I will not cede my land to a cat.
A guard on the patio, even if ever-reclining, even if the color of a shadow, keeps birds away. My feeder’s only visitors were three cardinals, a couple and their baby. The pair had lived all their lives in my trees, and the baby would soon wear red.
Sunday, as I swept the collected needles to prepare for a visit, I thought I had found a carrion flower. I traced a death smell, found a vine, pulled, and oh, the odor. I exiled seven vines across the yard. But my sister said no, that’s Virginia creeper. Adhesive, an irritant, but not malodorous. This, she said, is the essence of an exotic carnelian starfish that flourishes in mulch. She poked around in the rotted needles.
A light rain danced up, so we stayed an hour under shelter. When we went back to the garden, she said, “Why didn’t we see that?” Because it was a shadow’s color and twisted to another form. On the mulch, though not of it.
After months of dead dryness, a soaking storm, nearly tornadic, rinsed the skeleton clean. It softened the heart of the earth. Her bones lie, clean, in my garden, in the refuge she chose for her ninth life.
Britton Pontoux writes stories, plays, and songs. She was a finalist in the 10-minute-play competition “10 by 10 in the Triangle,” and Rudderless Mariner Poetry has published the lyrics to one of her songs. She lives in Charleston, South Carolina.