Back to the Garden

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden.

– Joni Mitchell

There seemed to be brown clothes all over Evelyn’s orderly garden. Brown shorts muffled the begonias, a brown shirt was flung tent-like over the roses, heels of mahogany shoes peeked out of the petunias, and chocolate socks squiggled across the manicured lawn. The hat with the UPS insignia was floating in the bird bath. Evelyn thought of the slogan of the ubiquitous delivery company (“What can brown do for you?”) as she looked at the strange man who was staring at the sky beside her, and she vaguely wondered what he had come up the drive to deliver.

Billy started singing, but the canary still hadn’t left his cage. After she had heard the newscasts and convinced herself it was not a hoax, Evelyn had brought the cage out to the patio and opened the door wide, but the poor canary had only cowered in a corner of the floor of his metallic home furthest from the gateway to freedom. He must be warming to the idea of an open sky, she thought. He was now on the perch and pouring his heart out in trills and turns. A swan song from a little yellow bird, she mused, and marveled that her mind was both lucid and capable of amusing itself at this moment. Of course, Billy did not know what was about to happen. Or maybe he did. They said animals knew about earthquakes and natural disasters long before scientists could even pick them up with their equipment. Maybe Billy was getting the idea and was, indeed, singing out his swan song.

Evelyn knew because Diane Sawyer told her. There had been some hints in previous weeks. Astrophysicists had been recording some strange things out there on the edge of the universe, but when wasn’t that true? But this morning, Diane had interrupted the Rachael Ray Show to tell everyone that due to some major disintegration of the electromagnetic fields in space – or some such scientific tragedy– the universe was going into immediate entropic dissolution. They were predicting it was only a matter of hours before it reached the solar system. At first, Evelyn thought it might be one of those end of the world hoaxes and switched to ABC, only to find the same news being delivered by a just slightly more steady David Muir. She switched back to a weeping Diane Sawyer who was telling viewers she was sorry, but she could not stay on the air. There was a chaotic moment while cameras focused on Diane’s empty desk until someone Evelyn did not recognize stepped in and tried to make small talk about the end of the world. It occurred to Evelyn that these moments with Diane would be the kind of TV history – like Walter Cronkite announcing Kennedy’s death or the moon landing – one might always remember. But then she realized there would be no one to remember. It did not matter that Diane had cut and run. Nothing mattered at all. That was when she took Billy’s cage out to the patio.

Evelyn thought about calling people. Her husband Ron was on the west coast on a business trip. She punched in his number but the call did not go through. She tried her mother in Florida and got a fast busy signal. The lines were jammed. Or maybe the frequencies were already being affected by whatever was going on out there. It did not matter. What would she say? And there was really no one else to talk to and nowhere else she wanted to go. The house was in the country, not close to the abutters, and on a weekday morning Evelyn doubted if any of her busy younger neighbors were even home. She decided to work in the garden. She wanted to be outside. For some reason, she wanted to put her hands in the dirt, even though she knew the bulbs she was planting for next spring would never come up. At least they would be decently buried – unlike the rest of us, her mind noted with black humor. She mechanically went to get her sun hat and gloves and then stopped and threw them on the floor. Let the sun burn her face, let the dirt get under her fingernails. It did not matter. She wanted to feel everything this time, this last time. It was an awful sensation and at the same time so powerfully freeing. Nothing mattered. Could one have lived like this always?

When the UPS truck came up the long drive, it was moving very slowly. When the driver got out and looked across the yard to where she was on her knees digging holes for tulip bulbs, she could tell from the look on his face he had heard the news. It never occurred to her until later to wonder why he had continued with his deliveries. He came out of the truck without a package in his hands and straight toward her. She did not get up at first, but just kept digging holes and plugging them with bulbs while he stood over her in silence. When the basketful of bulbs was encased in the dark earth, Evelyn brushed off her hands, stood up, and turned to the man in brown. She was surprised to see there were tears coming down his cheeks, because she was quite sure that she was smiling.

They lay in the grass, undressed each other, and made slow love. Evelyn calculated the man was significantly younger than she was, and there was something strangely maternal in their sex – not quite incestuous, but nurturing in a way she was not used to. It was pleasant, and reminded her of gardening. By now it was mid-day, and the sun shone directly down on them, heating up the exposed sides of their bodies, while their undersides were prickled and cooled by the grass which was still slightly damp from this morning’s dependable (but final) operation of the underground sprinkler system. As they got too hot or itchy on one side, they shifted around, always being very careful not to look too deeply or too long into each other’s face. Other than Billy’s crescendoing song, it was absolutely quiet.

Evelyn realized the UPS man was no longer weeping. She herself felt a strange contentment. It all started in a garden, she thought, and now we are going to end here. No snake though. Just me and a singing canary and a man with a truck. Not a bad way to go. And nothing matters. They hadn’t renounced the Tree of Knowledge – it just became inconsequential. If only I could have lived my life this way, Evelyn mused, if only every moment could have been like this. Is this what Eden was like, she wondered, before the Fall? She looked over at the UPS man again. If the first man’s name was Adam, she thought, what is the last man’s name? Sol, she answered. Sol for Solace – not for Solomon, not for wisdom, not for the soon to be obliterated sun. Sol. She smiled to herself and thought about addressing him with this final moniker, but decided to keep her bad jokes to herself.

They lay there under the sun until the midday shadows started to lengthen and Billy stopped singing. At the very first rumble, Billy flew out of his cage, and Sol pulled Evelyn into his arms.