Secrets and Silent Callers
Dark velvet petals with a collective backbone of thorns that pricked those who dared to touch it.
This flower had always fascinated Sauri the most, ever since she was a little girl. She spent so much time around them, her skin was sun kissed by now. Often she felt she related to the rose, and found comfort in tending to these beautiful flowers. To her, they embodied a piece of herself. Guarded, with a keen provocation of daring.
Ever since she was a little girl, her grandmother had her work in a little rose garden in their little back yard. Over the years, it had become her second home.
The way her name was spoken always made her name sound special. Her dark green eyes scanned over the roses she tended to, reddish brown hair tied up. As someone who liked to dress for comfort, she wore jeans with a flannel t-shirt. With her jacket tied around her waist, she knelt in the dirt, sprinkling new rose seeds into the soil in the open patch to her left. She’d oftentimes think about things as she worked in the garden. One of those things were her parents. She never knew her parents, and as she was living only with her grandmother, she knew she never would. It had been 22 years since her parents died, and there was no point in wishing anymore.
Straightening up, and cracking her neck, she stretched with satisfaction as her muscles un-tensed from her kneeling position. She set the spade down and wiped her gloved hand across her sweaty brow as the rich summer heat bore down on her. She looked behind her towards the garage and sunroom, but she was alone out in the garden. She turned away, remembering once again that her grandmother had taken to staying inside in her older years. She took a deep breath and she leaned towards one of the beautiful red roses, and closing her dark lashes, she breathed in the aroma offered through its soft petals.
Everything must die.
Snip. Snip. The gardening scissors removed the rose’s stalk from it’s roots, and she stood up, holding it in her gloved hand. How beautiful it looked, and yet she knew that the rose’s lifeline was already cut and that the memory of it would wither and fade.
Sauri commonly mused about the length of life and the empty nothing of death, and she knew that neither tales of strange magical beasts nor wishing were enough to prevent death’s grasp, or a harsh reality of powerlessness from existing. There were no such things as ghosts--though there were those who found comfort in their delusions-- and no such things as psychics, magic, or fairy godmothers. This world was very plain. But in its own way, it had its perks.
“Sauri, can you make me a cup of that good Irish tea? I do love it so,” her grandmother asked, knitting a blue scarf slowly with her knobbly fingers, sitting in her rocking chair, her aged body hunched. But her eyes, despite the wrinkled folds around them, remained as bright and cheerful as ever. But despite her slouched shoulders, sagging skin, and liver spots here and there on her face, Sauri’s grandmother had a poise of certainty and defiance. Sauri nodded.
“Of course, coming right up.”
She smiled for the sake of being cheerful for her grandmother. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d smiled for anyone else. Keeping mostly to herself, she didn’t have friends, and she found more comfort in her little garden that she tended to for her grandmother. Looking out of the kitchen window and towards the street, she took a moment to let her imagination wander. Instead of the street, she saw a dirt road and a beautiful green forest at the edge of it. Instead of houses up and down her block, they were replaced with green fields, and in the distance, a castle rose up on the tallest hill.
The sound of a carriage coming up her dirt road was disrupted by the tea kettle’s sharp scream. Now alerted to reality, she bustled to make the evening tea, wincing as she accidentally burned her finger on the kettle’s hot side.
“Holy ---” she hissed, sucking her heated finger, and in the process managed to bite down her profane choice of reflexive response. Soon it cooled and, bringing the freshly stirred tea with sugar and milk, she set the tray down on the coffee table in the parlor, handing her grandmother a cup. She smiled graciously as she took it, tucking a wispy silver lock behind her ear. Her hair remained tied back into a bun for the most part, minus a few stray strands that rebelled from it. She tugged her blue shawl around her shoulders. The cool breeze wafted through the slightly open windows in the kitchen and the room behind her chair, leading out past the dining room and into the back room that lead to the outside garden.
Her cane rested against her knee, in case she got motivated to walk from the fridge and back to her chair-- an endeavor she was willing to make for the sake of good food. She used to joke that her Halifax side of her family often found the will to act with their stomachs before anything else. Now that she was eighty-six, she needed assistance with daily activities--though certain ones she most certainly refused assistance with. “It’s my duty to take care of myself, thank you very much, and that’s the end of that,” she would say whenever Sauri offered to help her with the tougher aspects of hygiene. Fortunately, living where they did was comfortable. In this nice cozy two story house with a brown shingled roof, blue painted exterior, and inviting vibe, Sauri had felt welcome here for as long as she could remember.
Sauri’s phone buzzed in her back pocket of her jeans. She excused herself from the presence of her grandmother, and, leaving the parlor, she walked into the kitchen. “Hello?”
There was no response on the other end.
Sauri checked the caller I.D. and frowned. The number was listed as unknown. With a shrug, she hung up the phone.
“Who was that, dear?” her grandmother inquired upon her return, with caterpillar brows furrowed together. Sauri smiled at her, able to do so genuinely for her grandmother the most. There wasn’t much for her to smile at otherwise.
“No one,” Sauri replied, her tone conversational and dismissive. She pat her grandmother’s veined wrist, her eyes tracing over the aged wrinkled lines of her hand. Contrasted to her own young and youthful one, Sauri felt a little sad.
“Oh, it wasn’t a friend of yours?” her grandmother nosed curiously.
“No, I don’t go out too much. I don’t really have that many friends,” she sipped her own cup of tea, sitting on the couch across from her grandmother’s chair.
“Oh, you should go out more. Don’t worry about little old me,” her grandmother chided, but her grip was warm and tight.
“I like spending time with you, Grandma,” Sauri replied, used to responding to this by now.
“I love your company, too, but that doesn’t mean you should sit in this old house all day long,” her grandmother sighed.
“Oh, but I like it here. We have the nice garden in the back, and the new roses have just bloomed. Oh, and the hummingbirds have taken a liking to the new bird feeder,” Sauri replied, hoping to distract her grandmother’s attempt to urge her out of her comfort zone.
“Oh, is that so, that’s nice,” her grandmother responded, but she sounded distracted, and she knit quietly for a few minutes. The old grandfather clock ticked behind them, against the wall, next to the entrance to the kitchen.
Sauri bit her lower lip, wondering what was going through her grandmother’s head.
Her grandmother paused in whatever it was that she had been knitting. Sauri watched as the sun’s rays slid across the floor and through the windows, letting light into the cozy room. Sauri noted the detail of the couch near her grandmother’s chair. The fading eggshell carpet lead to the brick fireplace, while the other white couch set against the wall by the fireplace faced the tall windows.
“Sauri, I think that it would be nice...if you, if you take a trip,” Sauri’s head snapped to her grandmother as her grandmother cautiously and carefully chose her words.
Her response was immediate. Confused even. She had no need to travel. The world was a terrifying place and she quite liked being a homebody. In addition, she was concerned for her grandmother’s recently declining health. Her grandmother didn’t have pets, so Sauri had been her main source of company. She had planned to maybe travel in the future; just not right now. She was working towards a degree in her community college, hoping to get a job like others her age, and was getting through life day by day. Her birthday had just passed on June 6th, and with the summer month heating up and kids getting out of highschool, Sauri just felt old.
“Well, I know you haven’t had much of a chance to meet your father’s side of the family,” her grandmother continued.
“Meet them? I didn’t know any of his folks were around…I mean, you said so yourself that my dad hadn’t really spoken much about his side of the family.” She found it strange to be talking about her parents so casually, after all this time had passed. Sure, she used to inquire after them when she was much younger, but after she turned sixteen, she had just stopped. She missed them terribly, though she’d been very small at the time they passed away in the accident.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner,” her grandmother murmured. Sauri squeezed her grandmother’s arm, kneeling next to her and giving her a smile. “At the time, I thought it best that you not meet them. They live in Europe, it’ll be a fun experience, I’m sure.” However, her grandmother didn’t sound so sure, and this was very troubling.
“Not meet them? Why?” Sauri was surprised and a bit taken aback. Her grandmother looked guilty, and this pushed Sauri to try to amend the situation that she felt was causing her grandmother’s unhappiness. “I don’t really have an interest right now, but maybe sometime later,” she replied dutifully.
“Sauri,” her grandmother rested her warm wrinkled palm upon Sauri’s hand, and she spoke with an air of almost calming finality. “I beg of you, please go see your father’s side of the family. It is time you inherited the Keye’s family secret.”
Sauri remained quiet for a moment.
“Why now? After all this time?” She was puzzled to say the least. Her grandmother shook her head.
“There is a time for everything. And your time has come,” responded her grandmother with an earnest urgency. This archaic talk was wigging Sauri out. Her exterior remained calm, but internally, she was wondering why this sudden change in her grandma’s normally relaxed mood.
“I don’t want to see my father’s family, wherever or whoever they may be,” she stood up composed, her jaw set, hands hanging by her sides like limp noodles. She didn’t like disagreeing or arguing with her, but why would she leave when they needed each other?
“Sauri dear, please, this will be good for you,” her grandmother said in an encouraging tone. Sauri’s grandmother smiled reassuringly at her, though her crinkled cyan eyes looked a little misted. “I have been hoping that you’d see my son-in-law’s family for a while now...and I’d like to hear about your adventures through what is that you call it...g-chat?”
“Grandma, I don’t want to leave you. Not right now, when you need me,” Sauri remained straight-backed and level, though she felt her heart breaking at the thought of something happening to her grandmother if she left.
“I have my son to take care of me,” her grandmother said, and waved a hand dismissively. “Please, do this. Do this for me.”
Sauri bit her lower lip.
“I...let me think about it, please,” she muttered.
But in her heart, she felt like the decision was finalized.
Her grandmother looked relieved. “Oh, you’ll think about it, that’s great,” her grandmother smiled. “That’s my good girl. Sauri, why don’t you finish telling me about the garden? I do love hearing your stories...”
Sauri nodded, and she sat cross legged in front of her grandmother, on the carpet. Internally, thoughts of her father’s unidentifiable family were now gnawing at her brain. Why had her grandmother waited till now? She was so old. It looked as though a puff of wind would knock her over like a house of cards, and Sauri couldn’t entertain leaving her behind like this. Besides that, and she didn’t want to sound rude, but Sauri harbored the slightest resentment, that her grandmother, whom she trusted whole-heartedly, was out of the blue, asking her to go to people she’d never met. Asking her to travel to another country.
“The...the avocado tree is going to give fruit soon… we have a family of rabbits living in the garden, trying to eat whatever green they can find, and the roses are doing well,” she started, trying to sound upbeat, though her voice wavered slightly from being upset. Weird silent phone calls she could handle, but her grandmother sending her away to her father’s side of the family whom she’d never met? She was nervous. She didn’t want to leave this safe haven.
“Tell me about your friend, Mr. Merry Pip,” her grandmother interrupted with a relaxed yawn, closing her eyes, and resting her head against the soft back of the chair. Her hands rested over the half finished scarf that was in her lap.
“Mr. Merry Pip? It’s been years since I’ve talked about him,” Sauri gazed upon her grandmother, her surprise unmasked. “That was just a children’s story I made up growing up.”
“I feel in the mood to hear one of your stories. They used to be so cheerful,” she replied, smiling at her, her eyes opening to gaze upon her granddaughter’s face.
“I can tell plenty of cheerful stories,” Sauri pouted. “I was telling you about those hummingbirds just now and I can tell you about the family of rabbits...” She trailed off there, watching her grandma’s face for any note of interest. There wasn’t.
“I would like to hear a story about the guardian of the garden,” her grandmother’s eyes twinkled, like a lantern that was faintly glowing and refused to go out.
Sauri’s face warmed from embarrassment. It had been a long time since she’d told her grandmother that tale. In fact, she would tell the story to the flowers, or to the birds, the animals, but that was because they were a far kinder audience than what she’d experienced in the past. Middle school was tough for almost everyone, and being a bookworm hadn’t helped her social life any. It gave her great pleasure to be alone with a good story, though.
In fact, middle-school had been around the time that her outgoing personality had shifted to one of peaceful quiet reservedness. She found that it was bothersome to make friends that didn’t have interest in her, and she had no desire to lie to make friends. Perhaps that is why she felt her own company was best.
“I don’t think I remember that story,” she fibbed, feeling self-conscious. She liked making up stories, but talking about Mr. Merry Pip made her feel childish. She still had stories, of course she had plenty of them. However, she kept them locked up in her head, because she didn’t think anyone would care about her stories. She only shared them with her grandmother, who was her best listener, and the most loyal. Still, Mr. Merry Pip was an old story, and one that for some odd reason made her embarrassed now to tell it. She didn’t know why. She just didn’t want to talk about him.
“Ah, is that so? That’s really too bad,” she mumbled. Sauri’s grandmother sounded so disappointed that, in the end, she decided to suck it up.
“Alright...I’ll tell one story, but after I’m done, you have to get ready for bed,” she said, ever motherly.
“Once upon a time, there was a secret garden,” she began, feeling corny but hey, her grandmother liked it, so she wasn’t going to break tradition. “There was a secret garden, and within that secret garden, there lived a guardian spirit named Mr. Merry Pip, and Mr. Merry Pip wasn’t just any guardian spirit. Disguised as a tabby cat with green eyes, he was a spirit of birth of and renewal, though he did often like to play tricks in the garden. But this garden was his, and he was the one who watched over it. Even the mischief he caused would result in the garden’s nourishment...”
As she spoke, her grandmother closed her eyes, a peaceful smile on her face, and Sauri knew the elderly woman was no doubt starting to fall asleep. Regardless, she continued her tale.
“And, as a guardian spirit, Mr. Merry Pip liked to have an offering of apple pie and sprinkled atop it, catnip. However, if the offering was not placed near the Great Tree del Avocado once a month, this cat spirit would breathe cool air over the plants, and take their nourishment instead.”
Sauri honestly didn’t really like her storytelling skills. She knew this one sounded odd as hell, too, but her grandmother liked her weird stories. Even though it had been a while since she’d told this one.
“Mr. Merry Pip would protect the balance of the garden, and thus the plants rarely ever aged, rarely ever got sick, and rarely ever withered...but one day, the cat spirit disappeared from this secret garden. No one knows why or how. But if you leave an offering, it is said that your garden may be touched by the paws of his feline grace,” she said, trailing off. She thought she had a different ending at one time, and yet, this was the ending that first came to mind.
By now her grandmother had fallen asleep, and she pulled the blanket over her shoulders, tucking the blanket comfortably around her. Sauri then stood, leaving the room to clean the dishes and prepare dinner, but her brows knitted as she went about it. Her thoughts were troubled by the odd mention of her father’s family, and she hoped her grandmother would let that subject go.
The moon’s waxing rays stretched over the garden as she sat amidst her flowers, leaning against her Great Tree del Avocado. Not yet dressed in her pajamas, she pulled her jacket onto herself, looking up at the clear night sky, where only a few pale thin clouds lined the canvas of the night sky. Mr. Merry Pip seemed like a childish thing to remember. How long had it been since she’d played make-believe in this garden? In this small backyard that’d become her own secret garden. Though it didn’t have a swing, and though it wasn’t great or fancy, it offered her an escape. A portal to another world. A world with peace and quiet that she didn’t have in the craziness of the real world. Her blank journal lay next to her, as she was inspired to try to write. At least, she wanted to write. But she didn’t know what. She was better at creating ideas rather than recording them on paper.
Well, it was worth a shot.
Taking the cold pen with a slim fingered hand, she began to write in curly, scrawly penmanship:
June 6, 20XX
I’m not very good at keeping a journal. However, I’m going to try. My name is Sauri Keyes, and I’m almost 23. I live with Riley Halifax, my grandmother who’s going to turn 87 this year. I like to read a lot of stories. I’m not very picky, unless it’s graphic or too explicit. I consider myself to be a story dreamer, sort of like a storyteller, but I think of them, I don’t share them. Why? I’m not interested in having people judge me I suppose. It gets tiring after a while. Having the voice in your head be the most company you have all day.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my grandma’s company, but I guess she’s the only one who cares to put up with me. I tried to make friends once. Once. I don’t really know what writing in you will do, either. I’m not really even sure what direction this will take. Grandma started to talk today about Mr. Merry Pip and sending me away to see my dad’s side of the family. I don’t know what that’s about. I always thought I would be alright on my own. That it would be just me and grandma. Like we were on a nice little island. Yes, I like that a lot. It’s upsetting that she kept my dad’s side from me for so long. I don’t know what she means by the Keye’s family secret either.
I don’t seem to know anything about my dad. She always knew more than I did. But I never thought she’d keep things from me. What about my mom then? What if she’s hiding something about my mom’s side, her side? I have no one to talk to about this. ...Dearest Journal, I wish that you could speak to me. It’d be so nice to have a friend. So very--
Her thoughts were interrupted by a rustling to her left in the bushes, away from the roses and against the tall faded blue wooden fence that was nearly as tall as a basketball hoop. She hadn’t realized that her eyes were misting, but she wiped them quickly on her sleeve, and stayed where she was. She eyed the bushes for a while before the rustling eventually stopped.
She frowned. Was it a small animal? A rabbit, perhaps? She set her journal down next to her, crept on her hands and knees on the white squares of cemented stone towards the bushes, and peered underneath them. Her eyes squinted in the lack of light, but nothing looked back at her. She pulled away, squatting on her haunches, and tightened her ponytail. Without warning, the butt pocket of her jeans began to vibrate.
Some expletives managed to jump out of her mouth, and her body jumped with her.
It took her a while to calm down, but she did, and she registered now the sound of her phone. It buzzed again in her pocket.
She took it out to answer it, seeing that the number on it was unknown--again. It rang as she thought, the generic tone vibrating the device. Should she answer it?
It rang again. There was no point if it wasn’t anyone she knew. And she definitely didn’t know this caller I.D..
It rang once more.
...What could possibly go wrong? Maybe it was time she started to take a risk with her life. Not that answering an unknown caller would be a big risk. She was typically so low-key; it was sort of pathetic that this phone call was pretty much the most risky thing she was willing to take on.
She took a deep breath. The last ring echoed and faded out. She bit her lower lip, started to pocket her phone.
But something in her gut told her to answer. Something in her gut told her that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary call.
So she answered.
“...Hello, who is this?”