Down By Garden by Leo V.

Down By Garden
Leo V.

Sylvie trotted down the cobblestone path, balancing the basket on his arm. The night breeze grew stronger and he pulled the large blanket closer to him. He turned to Arlene, who followed beside him, and smiled.

“Never too cold for a picnic,” he said, turning his chin up high. Arlene matched his grin and jabbed her thumb towards her chest.

“Never for the two of us!” Sylvie laughed and readjusted his grip on the heavy blanket. “Are you sure you don’t want me to carry something?” She held out a gloved hand.

“No, no, I got it. Besides, we’re nearly there.” He nodded his head towards the bridge at the end of the path. It was an old wooden thing, with splotches of red and purple from when Arlene had suggested the two of them paint it. It didn’t take long for them to realize that they hadn’t brought enough paint, so they added color at random.

When they reached the bridge, Arlene stopped at the edge, staring towards the stream. Sylvie had already begun crossing, taking a few steps before he noticed. He turned and followed her gaze. “Oh, no, it’s okay. The stream has frozen over. See?” He pointed down as best he could towards the layer of shining ice beneath the bridge. “No need to worry.”

“Alright, if you say so.” Arlene took a careful step onto the bridge, her lips stiff. After a moment, her smile return and she and Sylvie made their way across.

The bridge lead down to the garden. Arlene’s mother was the one had nurtured it, since she was a little girl. But in the past few years she hadn’t had the strength to come down. Sylvie decided he’d take it upon himself to maintain it, once he took the time to learn anything about gardening.

Luckily, despite Ms. Greene’s lack of work and Sylvie’s lack of knowledge, one group of flowers were blooming to greet the two when they arrived: the avalanche lilies. Their yellow petals curled above the thin layer of snow, reaching towards the starry night sky. Sylvie set the basket down and began stretching out the blanket.

“I always did like these flowers,” Arlene said, crouching down to brush her fingers across the tops of them. Snowflakes trickled off, sparkling slightly in the moonlight.

“That’s why it’s the best spot.” He finished securing the blanket and sat down in the center. He patted the spot beside him, and Arlene took it. Sylvie reached for the basket. “Do you want your food?”

“I think I’m okay for now.”

“Suit yourself.” Sylvie took his peanut butter and jelly out from its wrapping and took a bite. He looked at Arlene. Her copper hair stood out against the purple and white. It reminded Sylvie of fire; he was always warm around her. He hoped she was warm enough around him.

They sat their quietly. Looking out for the field of white, and over the hill to the twinkling lights of the rest of the town below. Sylvie finished his sandwich and scooted closer to Arlene, so their knees were touching. “Are you warm enough?” he asked, a tickle in his throat. She nodded. “I’m sorry.” He looked down at the flowers. Arlene stared ahead.

“It’s okay.”


Ms. Green pulled her coat around her tight, tucking her chin down as she walked from the porch steps onto the stone. The snow was light, but enough for her to follow the one set of foot-prints towards the garden. She hadn’t been down this way in years, but Sylvie’s mother couldn’t think of any other place he could be.

When she reached the bridge, she had to take a second. The sloppy brush strokes and random splatters created a tightness in her chest. She hugged her waist and rushed across.

It didn’t take long for her to spot him, sitting on a blanket in front of the lilies. She stopped, far away enough for him not to notice. He turned to his left and spoke into the air. His head turned back to the flowers and she began to cry.

Leo is a sophomore majoring in English with plans to teach at the high school level. Assuming, his writing career doesn’t take off, that is.

God don’t give no one any more than they can bear by S.E. Joyce

God don’t give no one any more than they can bear
S.E. Joyce

It was 10 A.M. on a Sunday in King’s Watch and nobody knew why the train stopped dead on the train tracks ten miles short of the station.

It was midway through the second morning service. The choir had just finished belting their hymnals and Pastor John was introducing the Story of Job when the screeching started, the earsplitting whine of metal on metal.

The building, a mere 632 feet from the tracks, shook with reckless fury. Stained glass slivers wavered in their once firm holdings, the loosest pieces falling to the ground in a crashing clatter. The church bell tolled in the bell tower and the wooden cross hung above the pulpit fell to the ground and split clean down the middle.

The God-fearing congregation braced themselves in their pews. The Ladies grasped the arms of their men as if they were liable to float away, their white-gloved hands trembling in anticipation of all the dirt they would soon be able to dish. Oh, how they loved a bit of drama—loved flipping through intercepted letters intended for mistresses; loved turning the pages of the latest and greatest romance novel, the kind filled with scandal, sex, and secrecy hidden behind unassuming covers with unassuming titles; loved talking about the latest divorce, engagement, or affair. But this, this was new, a fresh drama they could breathe in like air and spew out all over town like an oppressive smog, making everybody else cough themselves dizzy.

Outside, the brakes, squealing like pinned hogs, screamed to a halt.

The train never stopped there. There was no station in King’s Watch; there was no need for one. No one ever came, and no one ever left.  They prided themselves on that.

So, the engine coming finally to a stop outside could mean only one thing: Something was wrong.

With a tired breath, the train’s momentum gave way to gravity, allowing silence to supplant its screaming resistance. But, within an instant, this silence was superseded by a new sound more miserly and vulgar than the last. The Ladies of the congregation let loose their squawking shrieks, the humblebrag of birds begging the world to marvel at the glory of their mere existence. The children cried, the women soothed, and the men leapt to their feet, seizing the opportunity as their moment to be valiant martyrs so they could, at last, know fame.

At the back of the chapel, the town loon fell to his knees, unkempt hair falling over his face as he cried into his hands. “Lord, forgive me. I have sinned,” he said through stuttered sobs. “Take me home. Oh, Lord, please.”

One of the men turned around, the needlessness of his valiancy realized in the apparent calm that had returned to the world around them. He slammed a beloafered foot into the loon’s side. “Get off your knees, fool. It’s a train, not the damn Second Comin’.”

“Don’t speak like that in the house of the Lord, James,” the man’s wife said, a feigned look of surprise spreading across her face as if she were not thinking the same thing.

The whole congregation was in shock. They just couldn’t believe the horror of it all. But it was the nature of the town to find the Lord’s blessings in the most depraved of happenings. Thus, the Ladies were all glad of one thing: at least that girl hadn’t come to church that day.

A few Sundays prior, during the Easter service no less, that girl had come to the church. Alone, unannounced, and utterly underdressed, she walked in a quarter past ten, fifteen minutes late. The doors slammed shut behind her and the entire congregation turned to glimpse the spectacle. The Ladies sat aghast, exchanging glances from beneath their feathered hats like a murder of crows eyeing a trapped mouse. She took a seat on the back pew—the sinner’s bench—and cracked open her worn leather bible.

“Why is she here?” the Ladies all wondered in unison. Sure, the sign outside said, ‘Everyone is Welcome,’ but that didn’t mean everybody. “Maybe we should change the sign…” the Ladies would suggest to one another later in hushed voices. “We can’t have people like that just waltzing in. We’ll have to start dry cleaning the pew cushions.”

Peering out over fish hook noses, throwing stones with gravestone eyes, the Ladies assessed the intruder.

“I swear that dress wasn’t even past her knees,” they would say. “Ankles out for the world to see… looking like the Whore of Babylon, I tell you… We can’t have the children seeing … Oh, think of the children….”

The following Sunday, the Ladies gathered round a card table with the preacher’s wife, pouring grape juice into tiny plastic cups for communion. Silenced with anticipation, the Ladies looked back and forth to one another, begging each other to speak the thoughts everyone was having. The oldest Lady cleared her throat, “Dearest Petunia, do tell us that Pastor John talked to that poor girl last week.” Her lips pursed into a bind, cracking deep lines into her lipsticked lips.

Petunia hung her head, hushing her voice to a solemn rustle, “He did.”

“Oh, do tell us.” said the boldest Lady, “We’ve all be praying, of course. But the praying don’t work if you don’t know what you’re praying for.” She looked around for support, wagging her head up and down like a doted dog.

And Petunia told them. She told them about the demons in the girl’s brain. That she said she felt just like Job, forsaken and afflicted, asking God to dig down deep in his pockets for any blessings he has left– the scoured scraps, anything at all. But her hands had come up empty. For months, she had tried to swallow her death each morning, bright blue pills with a Dixie cup of tap water, but nevertheless, she emerged and relaxed, and emerged and relaxed, and emerged and relaxed. That she had reached out for help, but no one ever tells you that people caring about your grief has an expiration date.

“What do you say to a girl like that? So far gone.” the oldest Lady chimed.

“John told me he looked at her, looked at her dead in the eyes, and told her the truth. He said, “God don’t give no one more than they can bear.”

“Mmmmm,” the Ladies said in unison, shaking their head up and down like jostled bobbleheads, as if this was some groundbreaking philosophical manifesto.

“And then what happened? What did she say?” one Lady probed.

“Disrespectful bitch didn’t say nothing. Just walked out. Don’t know where she went. Probably gonna do away with herself.”

“Well, if she does it’s for the best.” said the oldest Lady, “God helps those who help themselves. Besides, there’s nothing we can do. No one can change what He has destined.”

It was 10 A.M. on a Sunday in King’s Watch and nobody knew why the train stopped dead on the train tracks ten miles short of the station.


S. E. Joyce is a junior at UNCG majoring in English and minoring in Biology.