The Garden of Cobb
A widowed Ms. Cobb hung from a 2x4 by her neck, dangling like an inactive puppet on strings. Theresa and Bill Cobb stood within the tumult(1) that raged below. Bill's arm wrapped around his sister's shoulder, her pallid(2) expression drenched in tears. Bill wore an inscrutable(3) look on his face, as if struggling to understand what had drove his swinging, lifeless mother to such enormity(4).
For the better part of a year, Ms. Cobb lived alone, separated from the townsfolk that believed her to be a witch. Nights by herself were so often nights without rest, the hours spent to worry helplessly. Time was slow and time was her enemy. When Ms. Cobb did drift off, she dreamt of death.
Bill did not care for his mother. As it turned out, he was convinced " along with the rest of Banksville " that the woman who'd birthed him was, in fact, a skilled student of witchcraft. Thoughts of his mother's “satanic genetics” passing down to him drove Bill to the brink of insanity. What he would dread most would surely be the agonizing length of the funeral, watching the devil spawn being lowered into the ground and immured(5) by the earth's blood and guts. A process that would rob Bill of twenty minutes with no intention of returning it to him. For Bill, watching his mother's hanging was the easy part.
Theresa was Ms. Cobb's favorite and it was an openly known fact. Bill paid this no mind, as he was his father's preferred child. Being the oldest by three years and two months, Bill learned from his father what it meant to be a man. With his father as a companion, he attended many fishing trips and hunted game deep within the wood behind the Cobb estate. Meanwhile, Theresa and her mother tended to the Cobb's garden. The flowers' efflorescence(6) was as beautiful as a brothel's finest.
Weeks before her hanging, a string of poor decisions were made by Ms. Cobb, including: the poisoning of her cat, Felix, an incident at a bar that climaxed with her vomit spraying a bartender, and even an attempted suicide. Her therapist suggested that she check into the ward, for only a few days, but she bluntly refused in fear of being punished. “Punished for what?” the therapist had asked. Ms. Cobb fell silent.
Shortly after, a now middle-aged Theresa received word of her mother's actions. Theresa owned a tightly-spaced convenience store that almost nobody knew about but her. Despite the lack of activity, she would always tell the one customer that did show up, “Business is a-boomin;” she just liked the way it sounded. The customer would then " and they always did this " turn their heads slowly toward the store shelves with a hopeful expression, like they were anticipating a “surprise!” from excited birthday celebrators. The customers pitied Theresa, and it was due to this pity that an enmity(7) ignited in her tone throughout the remainder of the transaction.
On a busy Friday evening " if six customers in three hours could be referred to as busy " Theresa was helping a half-deaf elderly woman, speaking through gritted teeth in frustration, when a man that couldn't have been past fifty interposed(8). “'Scuse me, Theresa? Theresa Cobb?” he said, removing his bowler hat. A spectacle covered his right eye and his bottom, pink lip shown from underneath a gray-black mustache. His bald head's effulgence(9) was extraordinary.
“Yep, that's me,” Theresa replied. “What brings you to 'Theresa's'?” The sign outside read “Black Lagoon Pantry,” however Theresa gained strange contentment in calling the store after herself, almost as if she'd earned it. She deserved that much.
“My name is Dr. Chult; I'm your mother's therapist. I'm under the impression that you took it upon yourself to request my type of services " which was very bold, very bold indeed. A-after all, you are listed as her emergency contact.”
“Yes, my brother and I are responsible for payments and fees. She was very distraught after the disappearance of our father.” Bill had taken no part in his mother's enlistment to therapy; he wished not to. The inclusion of him in her explanation was merely to seem like less of an overprotective problem child. Evidently, the money being used to pay for the therapy was " secretly " being taken from Ms. Cobb's own wallet.
“Yes, well, Ms. Cobb is in great emotional distress " which I'm sure is-is not your fault " and she is beginning to worry me.” Dr. Chult spoke rapidly and officiously(10), tripping on his own words in order to not offend Theresa. She found his kindness rather suspicious, if not annoying. “Technically I'm not supposed to tell you these things " their rules not mine, dear, as I wouldn't mind sharing the details with you if it was up to me " but it is up to a therapist of my stature to report dire concerns such as this.”
“Pardon me,” the elderly woman who had been interrupted said indignantly(11). “Have you no respect for your customers?” Theresa's face suffused(12) in embarrassment.
“Sorry, madame, I'll be out of your hair in just a moment.” Dr. Chult explained Ms. Cobb's last few therapy sessions. It had appeared that Mr. Cobb's disappearance had driven Ms. Cobb into a severe state of depression. She'd even spoken of harming herself. To Bill, this “depression” that lived within his mother was nothing more than furtive(13) insanity.
“I oughta storm out of here this instant!” the old woman at the register said stridently(14). She grabbed the items she intended to buy off the counter: a bag of apples and pears, a carton of milk, and a newspaper. “'Business is a-booming' my a*s,” she mocked under her breath as she put each item back on the store shelves.
“I'm deeply sorry for the intrusion,” Dr. Chult apologized when the old woman had left.
Later that day, when “Black Lagoon Pantry” a.k.a. “Theresa's” closed up shop, Theresa decided she would pay her mother a visit, maybe even put her “booming business” on hiatus(15).
And she did just that.
For the next week, one week prior to her mother's execution, Theresa lived in the very home she'd grown up in. The house was specious(16), deceivingly inviting inside-and-out, however for Theresa, hateful nostalgia brewed within her upon reentry. To Theresa's utmost surprise, her mother was pleased to see her daughter after so many years of being apart. That's what life does to us; if love is still present, people eventually reconnect.
Ms. Cobb and her daughter spent nearly every waking moment together for those last few days. They spoke for hours over tea and tended to the garden when they weren't having discussions, just like old times. All was the same except everything.
“What I've done is nothing short of unforgivable,” Ms. Cobb mumbled with her gaze to the tablecloth. Theresa cupped a hand to her ear. “Come again?” Her mother slurped her tea in silence. Theresa had gotten used to these hints of a revelation during each of their talks, however the desire to uncover what her mother was trying to tell her was eating at her.
“They're falsely accusing the guilty,” Ms. Cobb had whispered the next day. Theresa pressed her to continue with no success. She watched her hands tremble as they brought the faded mug of tea to her lips.
On the third day, Ms. Cobb broke down.
“Mother, what is troubling you?” Theresa asked comfortingly.
“I didn't mean to, I didn't mean to,” her mother whimpered between weeps. She buried her face in Theresa's stomach and cried harder, her entire body shaking.
On the fourth evening, after a long moment of silence, Ms. Cobb cracked.
She led Theresa behind the house, to the garden that they had cared for countless times before. The flowers, efflorescent just as they had been all those years ago, decorated the dirt in reds, whites, pinks, and blues. Ms. Cobb grabbed a shovel and began to stab at certain spots in the ground. When she'd found what she was searching for, her head lifted slowly, and she began to dig. Ms. Cobb finished and walked back next to Theresa. Theresa stared long and hard at the open pot of dirt; a face poked through: Mr. Cobb.
Ms. Cobb smiled with tears brimming. “He is what makes my flowers bloom.”