THE WATERING CAN
by Miles Greaves
In her old age Ruth took up gardening, and did, for several years, in her backyard—even buying exotic seeds and gardening magazines. But one afternoon, while walking down an aisle of flowers with a watering can, a tremor ran from the nose of Ruth’s ankle up to a point on her skull, where it bloomed outward, like a burning ripple, and Ruth abandoned her watering can, upside down, in a large clay pot, and shambled into her house. The next time Ruth was able to observe her garden again she was bound to a wheelchair, and attended by a nurse, making Ruth’s overturning of the watering can her one last act of gardening, and there was the can, there, Ruth could see it, still upside down in its pot.
From that day forward Ruth would come outside on temperate days and sit in her wheelchair and look at her garden, which she watched descend into wildness; and she watched, too, the upside-down watering can, which was slowly wedded to its pot by the weeds flaring out of it, until it became a single, unified polygon of matter, incessantly reminding Ruth of her last, imperfect act of gardening, and her inability to ever correct that imperfection again, ever. And as the months passed the watering can loomed larger and larger in the landscape of the garden, eclipsing its various flowers, until it became, for Ruth, the default center of the garden, like a cavity that her vision had to crawl into, and the watering can began appearing in her dreams, and she would wake, cursing at it, in a frightening language.
Then, one afternoon, while out in her garden, on a hotter day than normal, the watering can appeared greener than it had in years, and plumper, like a groaning bee sting, until it was bursting at the skin of itself, and Ruth—overcome—whispered, to her nurse, to wheel her the fifteen feet to the watering can, which she did. Then Ruth told the nurse to start lunch, and once the nurse was gone Ruth leaned out over her wheelchair, gasping, and gripped the watering can by its inverted handle, and then, gasping, she leaned back into her chair, pulling at the can like a tooth, with her tendons like harp strings, gasping, until Ruth heard a great, popping tear, and Ruth sensed the watering can easing out of its bed, like a heart from its chest, and Ruth dragged the watering can over the side of her wheelchair, like a marlin, and laid it in her lap, and saw then that a woman was holding the opposite end of the watering can. Where this woman’s skin should have been there was only grass, and she had no eyes, only sockets, and she was protruding half-way out of the pot, like a mermaid out of the ocean. Ruth turned her mouth away from the woman, to scream, but before she could the woman laid her head in Ruth’s lap, and wove her arms around Ruth’s shins, as if holding a child, and instead of screaming Ruth looked down at the woman, who raised her head, and looked at Ruth, and began speaking, in a language that sounded like one carpet passing over another carpet. The woman explained to Ruth, wordlessly, that the watering can needed to remain in the flowerpot, for some profound reason, and that, in exchange, the woman would make Ruth young again, and healthy. Then the woman produced a snail shell filled with wine, and let Ruth know that, if she drank it, for seven straight days, on the seventh day she would garden again. Then the woman handed the snail shell to Ruth, who drank it, and immediately felt her nerves stirring, as if yawning, as a slow fork of pleasant lightning began to work its way southward down her spine. Then the garden woman slipped backward off of Ruth’s knees, like a snake in reverse, into her pot, and replaced the watering can as she receded, like a plug into a drain.
And so, the next day, and the next, and the next, Ruth asked to be wheeled into the garden, and then to the watering can, and she’d tell the nurse to start lunch, and then she’d raise the grass woman, and drink her wine, and then recline against her wheelchair, and observe the garden, as the wine pooled in her hips, which pricked, like ears.
Then, on the fifth day, after the nurse had left, Ruth politely tapped the watering can, and the grass woman rose from the soil, smiling, and Ruth ripped the can from her fingers, and stowed it on her lap, and wheeled desperately back to her patio, with the woman crawling after her through the garden, screaming, like one toothbrush violently brushing another, but Ruth reached the patio first, and turned, and splintered the watering can against the stones, and watched as the garden woman melted, mid-crawl, into a shapeless haystack. Then Ruth sat back in her chair, gasping, and looked out over her garden, which was finally free of the watering can, and which now reclined over the earth, as if convalescing, like a chest steadily ceasing to pant, until it finally lay flat and water-can-less: mathematical, planar, clean, and cool. Two minutes passed like this. Three minutes passed. Four.
Then the pot that had held the watering can quivered, and Ruth saw, rising out of it, what looked like a radiant ball of cellophane, the size of a rose bush, and in the slight shape of a moth. Ruth remembered, then, what the garden woman had told her about the watering can, and why it was necessary, and Ruth angled her mouth at the sun, to scream again, but she was only able to generate a meandering squeak, and watch as the moth cleared the pot, and then levitated above it, as if orienting itself, and then seemed to see her, and coasted over to her, and paused, just above her knees, radiating violence, like a scarlet cloud of wasps. Ruth twisted away from the abstraction, as if from an approaching mechanical saw, and forcibly shut her eyes, as far as they would shut, and preemptively wept, but then the moth began to explain, in wordless beats of light, that Ruth was right to remove the watering can, and that, in exchange for the can’s continued absence, the heavenly wad of lace would grant Ruth four wishes, in three-day’s time. At that Ruth blinked once, twice, and then rose up in her chair, as if climbing out of a well, and smiled at the moth, flushing with the shame of her initial fear, and then with the magnitude of her fortune, and the unspeakable generosity of the gift, and she bowed her head once, in a sign of thanks, and consent, and humility, but already she was secretly crushing black grape after black grape in the pith of her bones, and swelling with her own immortality, expanding vigorously against the air encasing her, and roaring internally, like an escalating chorus of screaming horses, as she began to secretly hate her garden again, and lament its lack of a watering can, and plot the death of the moth.
MILES GREAVES is an attorney living in Brooklyn, New York, with his fiancee and their two young boys. A story of his won first place in Zoetrope: All-Story's 2018/2019 annual short-fiction contest, and others have appeared in Tin House and Jersey Devil Press.