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The Garden

The Garden by Renee Angers
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With their school friends residing miles away in neighboring Ponoka, two kids are seemingly trapped in the expansive isolation of rural Alberta, Canada to spend the summer vacation in each other's company.

Thirteen-year-old Cameron Keller finds welcome relief from his boozing father's physical beatings in classmate Ani Sauvé's presence. The summer heat spreading across the acres of prairies and grasslands only feed the curiosities, heartbeats, fireflies and unexplained feelings that blossom between the two.

As they grow into adults, a dark cloud of ill luck follows Cam around mercilessly, as does his unconditional love for Ani. Unable to shake the first and not willing to shake the latter, he fights to survive.

Alcoholism, abandonment, abuse, betrayal, and murder cannot keep Ani and Cam apart. The Garden is their refuge, and its memory pushes them past whatever penance they must endure to find each other again.

Mushroom Publishing; December 2011
ISBN 9781843198413
Read online, or download in secure EPUB or secure PDF format
Title: The Garden
Author: Renee Angers
Chapter 1 June 1986 — Ponoka County, Alberta Every sound in her world seemed to have faded: every peep, every rustle, every chirping bird — all exiled to some far off, unreachable reality, each replaced by the sounds of her own heavy breathing, her escalated blood pressure swooshing through her head, the thudding of her footfalls against the dry earth, and tall weeds brushing against her as she raced through the field toward safety. She glanced back over her shoulder as she ran to see if he was following her like he would sometimes, taunting her, but she couldn’t see him. As she continued running, a thick weed stock struck her face roughly, stinging her skin and sending a cloud of seed fluff every which way in the warm afternoon air. Seeing her house in the distance — the image of it bouncing up and down as she ran — she checked behind her once more before slowing her run to a trot, then to a winded walk. He hadn’t terrorized her on her way home for several months, but there was no way she was going to take any chances, not after what he had done today. The humiliation she felt right now was more than enough for a lifetime, let alone one day. The screen door slammed behind her as she headed by her mother and up the stairs to her room. She dropped her weight down on the edge of her bed and allowed the tears to come, each gushing freely from her eyes and rolling down her flushed cheeks. Francine clicked off the vacuum cleaner, her eyes following her obviously upset daughter as she stormed up the stairs. She pushed a straggling strand of her fire red hair back to curl it around her ear and made her way up the stairs to her daughter’s bedroom. Standing outside the door, she could hear her daughter trying to stifle her sobs. She knocked on the door lightly and then opened it, peeking inside. “Ani, sweetie, can I come in?” she asked, stepping inside anyway. “What’s the matter? What happened?” “Nothing,” Ani sniffed. “Well, something must have happened to make you cry like this.” “Cameron Keller,” Ani hissed, trying to control another wave of tears. “I hate him. I really, really hate him!” “Cameron Keller? The boy that teases you all the time? That boy on the bike with the long sandy hair?” “Yes... I hate him,” Ani answered, nodding her head and sniffing. She wiped her face and winced from the sting of a salty tear as it worked its way into the inflamed welt the weed had left on her cheek. Francine crouched down, examining the wound on her daughter’s face. “Ani,” she started, sounding suspicious. “Did that boy do this to you? Did he hurt you?” “No. It happened in the field. A weed hit me.” “OK, well, let’s go to the bathroom and clean it up, OK?” She took Ani by the hand and urged her to the washroom where she sat her down on the edge of the bathtub and gathered a few first-aid items. Ani held the bottle of alcohol while her mother dabbed at the small swollen gash with a cotton ball. Ani jerked away. “It’s not as bad as it looks,” Francine assured, applying some ointment and then a small bandage. “It’s just a little puffed up. So, what did this Cameron do to make you hate him so much this time?” “He’s just so horrible. He’s mean and nasty and horrible.” “Why? What did he do?” “At lunch,” Ani began, her eyes still sparkling with the threat of tears, “he sat down with me and my friends at our table and says ‘Ani’s wearin’ a bra today’,” she explained, her impersonation of him using a much thicker and quicker Albertan prairie drawl than he really had. “Then he says, ‘It’s about time, Ani-boob. But me ’n Jamie don’t think ya should wear it in gym class... might stunt yer growth’,” she mimicked. Francine felt a slight giggle bubble up inside her, but held it down. As cute and harmless as the joke was from the little pubescent boy, her heart still ached for her daughter’s embarrassment. “Then after school,” Ani continued, after sniffing, “he took my bag and said he wouldn’t give it back unless I lifted up my shirt and showed him my special training bra. I said no and told him to leave me alone and then he said that if I didn’t do it, he would do it for me. I didn’t believe him, so I grabbed for my bag. He pulled it away so I couldn’t reach it and threw it over to Jamie, and then he pulled my top up. Everybody saw it, Mom. All the boys were laughing and calling me Ani-boob and stuff. Jamie threw my bag back at me, so I grabbed it and ran away.” “Oh, Ani, it’s OK. So what, some boys saw your bra? It’s just like a bathing suit top. It wasn’t very nice of them, but they’ll all forget about it soon enough.” “No, it’s not like a bathing suit top. It’s my underwear!” “Well, doesn’t that Cameron boy always tease you?” “Yeah, but not like today. Why does he hate me so much?” Her large dark eyes welled up with another surge of tears and it broke her mother’s heart. “It sounds to me like he likes you,” Francine observed. “He wouldn’t do things like that if he liked me.” “Oh yes he would.” “He would?” Francine nodded. “Absolutely.” “But why?” “Because that’s what twelve-year-old boys do. I think he just wants your attention Ani. He wants to be near you. Teasing you is a convenient way to be near you,” she explained, stroking her daughter’s hair. “You see, he’d rather embarrass you to be near you and get your attention, than not get your attention at all.” “That’s stupid,” Ani spat. “Yes it is, but that’s the way boys work. Don’t worry though; they change as they get older. They start doing nice things to get your attention... well, most of them do.” “Do you think Cam will ever be nice to me?” “Yes I do. I bet you’ll see a big change in him next year.” “I hope so.” “So, other than Cameron, how was your last day of school?” “OK I guess,” Ani mumbled, staring into her lap. Francine tilted her head down to see her daughter’s face. “Ani, do you like Cameron Keller? Is that why you’re so upset?” “No!” Her mother smiled at her. “I don’t believe you.” Ani couldn’t hold in her own smile any longer and she blushed a cute pinched pink. “Maybe a little.” Francine sat on the edge of the tub with Ani, her own comforting smile surfacing. She pushed Ani’s long, waved, auburn hair out of her face. “It’s OK to like him,” she affirmed, still playing in her daughter’s hair and noticing that something was missing. “Ani, where’s your barrette?” Ani reached up to feel her hair and realized that her barrette was indeed missing. “Oh no, it must’ve fallen out when Cam... when I... I’m sorry Mom, I don’t know where it is,” she panicked. “That’s OK, sweetie, it’s just a barrette. Why don’t you come downstairs — I made some strawberry Kool-Aid.” * * * * Cam rode his bike up the front walk and dropped it down onto the lawn. Immediately as he entered the small dilapidated house, his father Jared Keller began shouting at him: “Where the fuck have you been all day?” “School,” Cam replied. “Just like every day.” “Don’t you get smart with me, boy,” Jared barked. He glared at his son judgmentally for a harsh instant while he took a sip of beer. “School. Like it does ya any good.” Cam turned away from his father and headed to his room. Jared stood up from his sloth-like posture on the sofa and followed his son down the hall. Cam turned around to face him again. “What?” he asked. “Didn’t I tell you not to throw your God damn bike on the front lawn?” “I’m goin’ right back out, Pa.” “I don’t care what the fuck you’re doin’!” Jared barked, smashing Cam across the face and sending him backwards into the wall. Cam lifted his head up to look at his father and prepare himself for the next blow as Jared took a step toward him... “School. Why do I even send ya to school? You’re too stupid to ever amount to anything anyway,” he slurred, poking his son in the chest with his beer bottle. “C’mon little man, answer me. Why do I send ya to school?” “I dunno, Pa,” Cam muttered, hoping he might defuse the impending bomb by giving a diluted answer. “You don’t know? You don’t know? See? I told ya you were stupid,” Jared said, a sickening grin spreading across his unshaven and weathered face. “Don’t ya got nothin’ to say, boy?” “No Pa,” Cam said, pushing his hair back over his head. “No Pa,” his father mimicked cruelly. “No Pa. No Pa. You’re some sorry kid, ya know that?” he further remarked, yanking up one side of his pants. Cam stood silent thinking it was a rhetorical question and hoping Jared would simply turn around and leave him alone in his room, but no such luck. “ANSWER ME!” he screamed, bashing Cam in the face again, but this time with enough force to drop him. “Yeah Pa, I know that,” Cam muttered, tasting blood in his mouth. “My own kid and he don’t got a back bone,” Jared seethed coldly. He stared down at Cam for a long time, occasionally swilling from his beer. “You’re a pathetic shame,” he finally said as he turned and left Cam’s room. Cam remained on his knees for a few seconds, pawing at his jaw, his shoulder length hair hanging in his face. When he was sure his father was gone, he stood up, steadied himself, and then snuck out of the house quickly before Jared could decide he was pissed off about something else. After spending the next four hours wandering around town and playing a few games of pinball at the old pharmacy, he made his way over to Lou’s Diner. He had made a deal a year earlier with owner and cook Louis Walker, that Cam would get a meal in return for doing the dinner rush dishes and mopping up. He had learned in the past that staying home was just asking for trouble from Jared. He was forced to come up with alternative means to survive, since Jared was not someone he could count on for anything other than a real nice shiner. His father was usually passed out on the couch by the time he finished at the diner and went home, which allowed him to avoid more beatings. Cam locked his bike up in the ally next to Lou’s and stepped inside, the smell of food welcoming him. As always he worked hard for his dinner, which came at around 9 p.m. Louis always gave him a generous plate knowing that it would probably be the only meal he would have until the same time the following day. “Hey there, how ya doin’ Cameron?” Louis asked, sliding into the booth across from him. “Alright,” Cam answered, glancing up from his plate. “Ya did another fine job back there tonight, kid,” Louis stated while eyeing him, but Cam didn’t say anything in response; he just gave a nod of appreciation. Louis folded his hands in front of him on the table and took in a deep breath. “He hit you again, didn’t he?” “No.” “I know you pretty well by now boy. I can tell that he did.” “Whatever,” Cam mumbled through a full mouth. “It’s not right, Cam,” Louis declared, sitting back and lighting a cigarette. “Him doin’ what he does to ya all the time and you comin’ here to eat every night.” “You got any better ideas?” “Turn him in. What he does to you is against the law, and it just straight isn’t right. I tell ya, I got a good mind to go over there and kick the living...” “Yeah, well, don’t!” Cam interrupted. “I know what’s right and what isn’t, Lou, you’ve told me a million times. But if I turn him in, I’ll end up in some stupid foster home that’s a lot worse. No thanks. Things are just fine the way they are.” “Cam, I don’t wanna have to turn him in myself.” Cam sat back in the booth and put his fork down. “Look, I won’t come around anymore if it’s a hassle for you, but it isn’t like I’m begging or anything. I work for my supper, don’t I? And I do a good job, don’t I? I’m not turning my pa in, and if you do, I’ll just run away.” “OK, OK. I’m sorry. I just hate to see this going on, that’s all. You’re a good kid.” “Yeah, well, tell my pa that,” Cam murmured, picking up his fork again. “Ya want some milk with that?” “Yeah, please.” * * * * After Ani and Francine finished their dinner, Ani stepped out into the backyard to see if any new blooms had appeared in the garden while she was at school that day. Francine followed with her habitual evening cup of tea. “We’ve got some red columbine opening up.” “Wow! But all the other columbine are finished, aren’t they?” “Yes, the red ones are a bit late,” Francine replied. “I guess they wanted the stage all to themselves.” “I didn’t even know we had red ones.” “You chose them, remember? Last year when we went to that roadside nursery in Bluffton...” “Oh yeah, I did. Well, how come they didn’t bloom last year?” Ani asked. “I don’t know. A lot of plants won’t flower their first year, or if they’re planted a little late in the season,” Francine said, crouching next to her daughter. “Ya know, my mother told me if you crush the seeds of a columbine while making a wish and then blow the powder into the wind, your wish will come true.” “Really?” Ani asked, her eyes filled with fascination. “That’s what she said. Problem is the seeds are so tiny and so hard that they’re almost impossible to crush.” “Then how do you make your wish?” “That’s just it, I think,” Francine said standing up. “You work so hard trying to crush them that you forget your wish and you end up wishin’ you could crush the darn things.” Ani laughed and rose from her crouch. Her smile quickly faded and she looked down at the ground thoughtfully. “Mom, is my chest too big?” Surprised by the question, Francine gazed into her daughter’s face and saw that the day’s events were weighing very heavily on her mind. “No! Sweetie no, not at all. You’re just blooming a little early, that’s all; like this columbine is blooming late. I was just like you when I was a girl.” “Well, none of the other girls have them like this.” “Oh they will, you’ll see, I promise. Next year when you go back to school, all the girls will have them.” “I hope so. I don’t much like these things.” “Well, Cameron Keller sure does,” Francine teased. “Mom!” Ani gasped, nudging her mother’s arm lightly with embarrassment. * * * * Cam pedaled home in the dark hoping beyond hope that his father was asleep. He coasted quietly up to the side of the house and leaned his bike on the old and weathered siding just under his bedroom window. He walked around to the front of the house and as silently as he could, pulled the screen door open and stepped inside. Jared was passed out on the couch and snoring loudly. The stagnant smell of his alcoholic breath seemed omnipresent in the house and an empty scotch bottle rested on his chest. The TV set was on, its blue flickering glow filling the otherwise darkened room. He snuck past the living room entrance and into his own room. He closed the door without a sound, wedged a chair up under the handle, and then loosened the screen in his window for easy escape; his bike waiting ready for him just below. Still fully clothed — he even kept his running shoes on — he lay down on his bed and switched his walkman on, leaving the volume low and one headphone behind his ear so he could hear if his father was coming. His jaw hurt but not too bad and not nearly as bad as his heart did when the memories of his mother decided to start poking at him. He remembered his mom, how beautiful and gentle she was and how things used to be sort of better when she was around, or at least when his father wasn’t beating on her. The memories came flooding back to him... * * * * Camknew he didn’t like what was happening. It was scary to hear his father’s big, booming voice hollering at his mother. It was scary to hear his mother crying and begging for Jared to stop, and it was really scary to hear him punching her but it had been going on for as long as he could remember and it was all that he knew. It was just the way things were, scary or not. As long as he stayed in his room when the screaming started, everything was OK and he was safe. It was one particularly frightening night two years earlier when Jared came home from work late and very drunk. Cam’s mother sent him to bed twenty minutes before his usual time, giving him her walkman and telling him to shut the door and listen to some music until she came to tuck him in. Cam did as she said, just like he always did, and then it began: the yelling, the sound of glass breaking, and the sound of his mother being slapped, punched, and kicked repeatedly. As similar as it was to all the other times, this night was somehow different. Usually it didn’t go on for very long and after all the anger and a short silence from his parents bedroom, his mother would come into his room, click off the walkman and kiss him goodnight. This night, it just went on and on. There would be some breaks in the storm outside his door when Cam would believe that it was over and expect his mother to come in, but just as he would drift off to sleep, it started up again, waking him. It was very late when the sound of the screen door slamming and a car door shutting outside prompted his curiosity. He pushed the covers off and placed his mother’s walkman on the pillow, then quietly crept out of his bedroom and to the front door, peering out. A taxi cab was pulling away with his mother in the back seat. She looked out at him vacantly but made no effort to tell him where she was going, say goodnight to him, or even wave. “Your mother hurt herself,” Jared informed from the living room, startling Cam. “She’s goin’ to get herself fixed up. I’d take her myself, but your pa’s real tired right now.” Cam looked into the room at his father who was sitting on the sofa staring back at him. “Is she hurt bad, pa?” Cam asked, tugging up his pyjama bottoms. Jared’s strong hands rubbed at his face. He sighed, letting his red eyes meet his son’s. “Nah. She’s OK. Go back to bed, boy.” “How’d she hurt herself? Where’s she going?” Cam asked. Jared’s stare changed quickly from tired to bothered, and burned right through Cam. “I told ya — she’s goin’ to get fixed up,” he said, his voice shaking slightly with his escalating rage. He sat up straight, his eyes not leaving his son. “And I told ya to go back to bed, boy! NOW!” Cam backed away a step from his father’s thunderous command as if its force had pushed him, then he trotted back to his room and closed the door quietly behind him. The next day, Cam headed off to school feeling exhausted and confused. His mother had not returned home and Jared just barked at him to wake up for school as he left for work, leaving all of Cam’s questions unanswered. He had taken a bath the night before like his mother had told him, but because she wasn’t there to greet him with juice and toast when he woke, he left for school with only the juice. Little did he know at the time that it would be only the first of many mornings without breakfast. At school Cam took his desk and dug into his school bag for his arithmetic book. He pulled it out along with a piece of paper he didn’t recognize as his own. He unfolded it and began to read, realizing that it was a note from his mother. It was printed clearly for him... Dear Cameron, I have gone to visit a friend in BC for a while. I’ll be back soon. Your pa will take good care of you. Love Mom Cam stared at the note for what felt like a long time. The rest of the class had already begun their lesson but Cam hadn’t even opened his book. He couldn’t quite understand why his mother’s note and what his father told him the night before were two completely different things. Why would his mother lie to his father like that? Or, why would his father lie to him like that? Why didn’t she say good-bye to him last night? Why couldn’t he go with her? The teacher’s voice sounded as if it were under water and ages away. Cam’s attention was firmly adhered to his mother’s note and all of his questions began to overlap one another. Finding the whole thing to be too much and too scary, he shoved the note back in his bag, got up, and left the classroom. His teacher began calling out to him as he headed into the hall but Cam picked up his pace to a jog. He rode his bike to his private thinking place down at the creek and sat by the edge, throwing rocks into the water and trying to figure out what was happening. He wondered if he had missed something that might explain why his father said one thing and his mother said another. He wondered about British Columbia. He knew it was the province beside his own and as big as any, but he had no idea how far away it was or how long it might take someone to get there. After running over his questions so many times that his head ached, he wondered what time it was. He knew he must have been sitting there for quite a while because the sun was very high in the sky and unspeakably hot. He gave up trying to understand what had happened the previous night, electing to ask his father what it all meant. He would show him the note and just flat out ask him. Feeling firm with his decision, he hopped on his bike and rode home to wait for his father to return from work. He fell asleep on the couch an hour before Jared walked in the house. It was late and he was drunk again, kicking the leg of the sofa to wake his son. “What are you doin’ out here?” his father asked, tossing his keys on the table along with his cap. Cameron sat up, wiping the groggy feeling off his face, then reached for the note on the table and handed it to Jared. “I wanted to show you this. Mom put it in my school bag. She went to BC. That’s pretty close, right?” “Well, well. Looks like your ma left us, boy,” Jared snickered. “That bitch.” “Left us? Why? Where is she? When is she coming home?” Cam asked, beginning to feel a little worse than worried. Jared checked the reverse side of the note, and continued to grin. “Vancouver, no doubt.” “Where is that?” Cam asked. “That’s where your stupid old cow of a grandma lives,” Jared muttered. “Is it near here? Is Mom OK?” Jared crumpled up the letter and tossed it back at Cameron. “No, it ain’t near here. Don’t they teach you this shit in school? Don’t I pay taxes for them to teach you this?” Cam uncrumpled the piece of paper and peered down at it again, struggling to comprehend. He looked up at his father, wanting nothing more than an answer. Jared’s unreadable smile beamed down on his son. “You ain’t too sharp, are ya kid? Go to bed, I don’t want to talk to ya anymore.” He turned and headed for the kitchen. Cam obeyed, not wanting to be yelled at the way he had been the previous night. He went to his room, closed the door and sat on his bed, staring at his mother’s note. A wave of panic swelled in his belly as he realized and feared that he knew exactly what was going on. His mother was gone, and she wasn’t coming back — ever.
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