A rail thin mannequin looks frumpy in a sunflower smock and a ratty straw hat, so I decide to do her a favor and find a better outfit, but I’m at a complete loss and I make this discovery only after I’ve left her naked on the showroom floor. Nonetheless, I hold up jeans, silky blouses, and jackets in front of the naked model, but everything just looks so cheap and I feel tired, so I sit on the crumpled smock, which I’ve let fall to the floor. Then, I unwrap a chocolate bar from my purse. The urge to shop is gone and now, I just want to eat candy and fall asleep beneath the mannequin. In fact, I can feel my eyelids closing—my head jerking to the side as I fight sleep, but then I give up the fight and start to stretch out on the floor. When I hear the store manager ask, “Can I help you?” I realize I should just get back to shopping.
The first rack of sales clothes is near a wall of shelves filled with sweaters and pants. Hangers poke out from the rack, both at the top and at the bottom. I end up snagging my sneaker on a hook and dragging a camisole top clear across the carpet as I walk, but my eyes are drawn to the pants and sweaters on the shelves. Compared to the racks of destruction, they’re neat and orderly. I don’t need anything fancy. After all, I work from home, so just a few comfortable things—like pants and sweaters—could be just what I need. I unfold a pair of pants and touch the fabric with my fingers. It’s sturdy, yet soft—with a few discreet pockets that don’t manage to make the hips wider. So, I buy five pairs of pants—one in each color—and five sweaters of the same style, but also in different colors. In just over three hours, I’m actually going home with clothes that are on sale and that fit. I’ve also had a candy bar and a three-second nap, so I’ve done well today.
Sinking into the softness of the comforter and mattress, I turn over and close my eyes to sleep in—truly believing it’s Sunday, but the alarm goes off and I remember it’s the start of the work week, so I try to remember why it is I get out of bed each day. What makes me grateful? What do I look forward to? I make a list: lunch, dinner, two beers a day, the weekend. Then, I also remember: new clothes. I get to dress in my new clothes, sit at my computer, and read student papers and give them comments for $12 an hour all the way up until lunch. Then, I can start my $10 per hour job as a customer service representative for a catalog company. Oh, the luxuries of working from home! That’s the reward, right? No commute? No pressure? No “real skills needed?” I guess that’s what CEOs must tell themselves when they dream up these jobs.
In the bathroom, I pull on the pants, which slide on effortlessly. I pair them with a green sweater and do another twirl in front of the full-length mirror—and I decide that yes, indeed, I had good reason to get out of bed today. Then, I see the pockets and unzip them to tuck my hands inside. My fingertips hit the edges of something folded and papery. Figuring it’s just some kind of tag or tissue that comes with new clothes, fresh off the assembly line, I walk over to the trashcan and begin to let the paper fall from my fingertips, when I catch a glimpse of a brightly colored pink crayon flower drawing. When I unfold the paper, I see that it’s a tiny child’s drawing and the flower belongs to an entire garden of flowers. Above, the sky is blue and a few curly clouds hang in the air, letting thick drops of rain fall onto the petals. I’m not sure how I feel about my discovery. I suppose I should at least be curious as to how this drawing got into my pocket, but lots of women shop with children and shopping is boring, even for adults. I could imagine a child making a drawing and sticking it into a pants pocket, wondering which lucky adult gets to go home with a picture—and I smile. It’s a sweet, sweet joke, but also a bitter one. Maybe, just maybe I could have shared a laugh or two with a clever child of my own, but the promise of finding “true love,” is fading away in a daily digital routine that keeps me safely behind closed doors, escaping only once in a while to shop. I take one last look at the picture and toss it into the trash.
Once seated at my desk, I find it difficult to concentrate. Words on a screen bend and shift their shape so that I only see stems and petals. The spaces in between are pink. At lunch, I heat up my microwave meal and throw the plastic container into the trash, but when I lift the lid, I see a spot of pink inside and refuse to believe it. The child’s drawing from this morning is in the trashcan upstairs in the bathroom, not here in the kitchen. But I can’t resist reaching into the trashcan and retrieving the paper. Again, it’s folded. Again, I unfold it and blink several times to make sure I’m seeing straight. And I can’t deny what I see. It’s the exact same drawing from upstairs. So, I rush to the bathroom on the second floor and check the trashcan, but the drawing is not there and it’s not like I have such a complicated schedule that I can’t remember what I did this morning. I know what I did. I am in my right mind. This paper—this drawing—is somehow meant just for me—and it follows me, wanting me to find it and look at it. So, I hang it on the refrigerator with a magnet, like I would do for a child of my own. Then, I get back to work.
The following morning, I look forward to wearing my second outfit. In fact, for the next three days after this one, I have something new to wear. I have no idea what I’ll look forward to next week, but this one is set for now. Again, the pants slide on smoothly. Once again, I tuck my hand inside the right pocket and find another slip of paper—another child’s drawing. This time, the rain that falls on the flowers is thicker, heavier, and darker. I know better than to throw it into the trash this time, so I hang it on the refrigerator with a magnet.
On the third day, the drawing I find in the pants pocket is more complex. The roots of the flowers are revealed as they grow beneath the soil. The drops of rain are still thick and heavy and dark. I place it with a magnet on the refrigerator, just beneath the first drawing I saw and I marvel at the progression—as if the child who drew these pieces were my own. If I were the mother, I’d be so proud. Every artist needs to progress or evolve—and this one is evolving.
On the fourth day, I know to reach immediately into the right-hand pocket the minute I slip on the pants—even before putting on the sweater. I have so much to look forward to now. Sure enough, my fingertips find the edges of the paper and I unfold another drawing of another garden of pink flowers, but what lies beneath, in the soil, is disturbing. There, in the soil, I see the utensils of death or perhaps a murder: a knife, duct tape, and rope—each one dripping with fresh blood. Arrows flowing from the blood seem to indicate a cycle of something—as if the blood, not the rain, were nourishing the roots.
Once the fifth morning arrives, with the sun streaming in past the edges of the curtains, I start to dread what I might find, but I rush to the closet to retrieve the last pair of pants. In the pocket, I see the drawing has evolved further—in a way I could have easily predicted, but didn’t want to. My heart stops cold in my chest when I look directly beneath the soil of the pretty pink flowers. The instruments of death are still there, but the soil has layers and something remains below the knife, the duct tape, and the rope. One small body stretches out below and from the tiny mouth, she screams. A cartoon bubble speaks for her: “Dig here!”
Hanging the pictures on the refrigerator with a magnet seems so incredibly useless and irresponsible. Someone put these drawings here for me to find. I search my memory for headlines I’ve read or heard on the news—of people finding notes and messages inside newly bought clothes—messages that say, “Help me! I’m working against my will”—and it occurs to me that maybe I should check the labels on the pants and sweaters and find out who makes the clothes I wear. One label on both the pants and the sweaters says, “Made in the USA.” Another label says, “Barbara’s Sunny Creations.” So, I look up the company on the internet and discover that “Barbara” is an entrepreneur who has always wanted to make clothes for “real women” and sell them in department stores. The factory, it turns out, is just a 20-minute drive from my house. So, I send Barbara an email thanking her for the pants and sweaters and for giving me a reason to get up in the morning. Then, I tell her about the drawings I found in the pants pockets and I attach a photo of the drawings that have been hanging on my refrigerator. When I finish the email and send it, I realize that the appreciation for the outfits and the drawings that I found would seem completely unrelated. It’s as if I had written: “Thanks for the pants and sweaters. I love them. Here are some pictures I found in the pockets.” What is Barbara supposed to do with these unrelated ideas? However, I don’t have to wait long to find out. She replies right away with an invitation to meet her at her house.
Inside the stone cottage-like dwelling, etched with gingerbread trim, Barbara pours me a cup a tea from a pink-flowered teapot. Her hands shake as she serves me my drink.
“I was quite surprised to see those drawings. Did you bring them with you?” she asks.
I pull them from my purse, carefully unfold each one, and place them on the coffee table before her. Barbara’s eyes glisten with tears and her lower lip quivers. She draws in a deep breath to steady herself as she speaks.
“This one,” she says, as she takes the first drawing I found—the one with the garden of pink flowers and the “happier” raindrops. “This one my child, Patty drew almost ten years ago—after we got back from the Strauss Botanical Gardens. She insisted that I hang it on the refrigerator with a magnet and if I took it down for any reason, she’d put it back up again.”
It’s difficult for me to fully absorb what Barbara says—difficult to believe that a child’s drawing, from nearly ten years ago, ended up in one of my pockets. And the look on Barbara’s face—and the tears—tell me that the child, Patty, no longer exists. The message sinks in: I’ve been receiving the drawings of a child who is dead and has been for ten years.
“She . . . she disappeared, you know.”
And Barbara goes on with a story I only partially hear, because something inside the room is competing for my attention—something like footsteps that hurry from the living room and make a loud, pounding sound as they move up to the second floor.
“Do you hear that?” I ask her.
She stops mid sentence and looks confused.
I leave the sofa where we’re seated and I follow the sound up the stairs. The sound stops at the end of the hallway, near a closed door, which I open. Barbara has followed me and is explaining that I’m entering Patty’s room, which she has left perfectly intact in the hopes that she would find her—that she would be returned safely—returned to her pink, frilly, flower-filled room. A tapping sound directs my attention now to the window and when I look outside below, I see a garden of pretty pink flowers.
“I planted them for her—for Patty. I wanted her to have something to look forward to,” Barbara says quickly, tearlessly, immediately. And I begin to wonder about Barbara.
“You have an answer for everything, don’t you?” I say.
“I beg your pardon?”
I’m just about to ask about the flowers and how they grow and what they need to survive and if the daily regimen includes things like duct tape and a small child’s body, but I’m quickly pulled from my thoughts by a doll that’s thrown across the room, flying on its own and hitting the wall with such force that the painted plaster splits. The lights in the room instantly flash on and off, while dresser drawers open and close loudly. Barbara resorts to hysterical screaming and crying—telling me to leave the room—the house immediately, but I can’t quite hear her over the screams that rage inside my mind—screams that only I can hear. They are the pitiful cries of a little girl who asks, “Why, Mama?” And now I know. I know where to dig.
Cecilia Kennedy earned a PhD in Spanish literature from Ohio State University. Her speculative fiction works have appeared in Theme of Absence, Gathering Storm Literary Magazine, Down in the Dirt Literary Magazine, and The Sirens Call Ezine. She lives in the Greater Seattle area with her family and details her “scary” attempts at DIY projects in her blog, “Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks.”