In the Garden
by C. J. Rowan
f what strange
accidents is life composed! How many and varied are the chances that lead a man to his
friends, his loves, his livelihood! The very fabric of life seems madly confused, with a
design so arcane, so infinitely complex, that only one standing far from the tapestry
could hope to find the pattern in it. Once in a great while, we seem to perceive some
semblance of a design in our local circumstances; some coincidence too great to be truly
chance, and then the threads part, all comes unraveled again, and we are left
It was the afternoon of the eve of the new millenium, an unseasonably warm day which
many spent in preparation for the debauched celebrations that would come that night. I sat
alone on a bench in the justly famous rose garden of the old mission, at the foot of a
most curious fountain. It was the stone image of a young woman wearing a long cloak. The
hood was drawn back, revealing a cascade of long, slightly wavy hair. She gazed down on me
with a kindly, slightly dazed expression, so that I took her for a saint, or perhaps the
Virgin. Her left hand was held a little away from her side, palm inward. Her right hand
was extended forward in a gesture of offering, and from the palm of her hand, the water
gushed forth toward me; falling short, however, into the pool around her feet, where it
splashed and gurgled in a continuous but ever varying melophany.
As I sat musing on what this wordless figure was intended to convey, I saw another
tourist enter the garden through the corner gate. She paused and seemed to glance around
rather hesitantly before proceeding down the path. I had a momentary impression that her
eyes had lit upon me in the moment that ended her hesitation. But she proceeded not toward
the fountain, following instead the perimeter path that leads through the vine-clad rose
arbors, the sculpted bushes, and the bridge over the miniature valley with the forest of
bonsai. These movements I observed while attempting to appear not to, though as she was
the only other human being present, it would have been difficult not to notice.
At length her path passed behind me, so that I could no longer watch without appearing
too obvious, and so returned my attention to the carven figure ahead. I had supposed her
to be pouring forth some type of benediction. Now it struck me that what she was giving
was inspiration, and that she must have been the presiding genius of the artist who
created her. Although moss-grown, the stone was not worn enough to be very old, and yet
the style seemed too classical for it to be a modern sculpture.
The tourist reappeared then to my right and sauntered forward to regard the fountain.
She was a dark-haired youngish woman of slight build. At length she turned to me and said,
"I dont remember this statue being here before, do you?"
She had regular features, rather a sharp nose, and unusually bright, dancing eyes. But
there was also a cast to her expression that led me to believe that she had known more
than her share of suffering. I had a troubling sense of familiarity. "No," I
said at length, "I remember this place without the statue."
She seemed to gain confidence from this assertion, and sat down beside me on the bench,
a little distance away, but turned so as to face me. I felt a vague sense of conspiracy.
"You remember all those field trips they used to send us kids on? To the natural
history museum, and the ecology pond . . ."
I cast my mind back, to when someone half my size used to board the school bus for
parts unknown. "Yes, and the La Brea tar pits, with those cool statues of the giant
sloths, and the skeletons of the dire wolf. And the circular pit that goes down and down.
And outside in the park, that black muck seeping out of the grass here and there, as if
the earth had sprung a leak."
She laughed. "Yes! I had nightmares from that one for weeks! I used to
dream that I was some poor stupid animal, like a pterodactyl or something, that had come
down to the pond for a drink and gotten stuck. There I was, flopping these great wings
around and trying to escape, and just sinking in further." She shuddered.
"Quicksand was more my thing. I saw a Tarzan movie when I was little where some
guy sank into quicksand, and after that I distrusted all sand, like in the playground at
"You never told me that!" she exclaimed.
"It wasnt very manly," I explained, and then stopped. Was I supposed to
know this person? I racked my brains for some memory. People do change a lot over time. I
inspected her face again.
She was babbling on. "And you remember how Mrs. Somerfeld used to read us all
those Narnia stories after lunchtime? And the time we made butter in class? We must have
shaken that jar for an hour, and it never did make proper butter. More like
mayonaisse or something, all white and soft."
I laughed. "Yes, Id forgotten that. And the chorus teacher used to visit
class and teach us all these silly songs, like Ive been working on the
"Yes! And you were such a bad singer!" she said. I winced. Obviously, she did
know me. But what was her name?
"Those were fun times," she sighed, "just being a kid. Being an adult
hasnt always been so fun. It gets pretty lonely sometimes." She gave me a
I couldnt think of anything to say.
She continued, "Kids have such funny ideas. I still remember when we promised to
meet here again, in 20 years, on the eve of the year 2000. But why werent you at the
bridge over there? Remember we were to meet there, and we called it The bridge to
the new century."
I was startled. "Twenty years ago? Why, it must be twenty-five years since I was
in Mrs. Somerfelds class. And, um, . . . I dont seem to be remembering this
conversation. What did you say your name was?"
She stared at me blankly. "Stephanie. And youre Stephen. Thats why we
said we must be twins inside, because our names were practically the same."
I groaned. "Listen, this is really embarassing, but my name isnt Stephen.
You must be thinking of someone . . ."
On her face there appeared startlement, followed closely by a look of betrayal. She
jumped to her feet, and I saw that her little fist was clenched. "I get it. So now
Im not good enough. Whyd you show up, then? I knew that tramp Cindy would only
break your heart. She did, didnt she? And now youre just a sad, broken man
with nothing better to do than torment the people that really care about you!"
"No, really. Im actually someone else." I cast about for some means of
convincing her. "Here, let me show you my drivers license."
She leaned forward a little to regard it. I said, apologetically, "I guess
everyone in Mrs. Somerfelds class used to get sent on field trips here."
Her hand went up to her mouth. "Oh my God. You must think Im a
"Actually, I was kind of enjoying talking to you . . ."
But she turned abruptly and fled toward the exit.
Well, it was New Years Eve, and I still had nothing particular to do. I sighed
and stayed for awhile, regarding the pigeons that wandered around the base of the
fountain. The woman in the statue continued to gaze down on me with the same vacant
expression. I felt vaguely irritated with her, as if her divine intercession should have
gone a bit further. Perhaps I was hoping that the young woman might come back, so we could
resume our conversation.
Instead, after some time, I noticed a man standing on the little bridge, looking
uneasily around him. I hadnt noticed him enter the garden. He began to meander along
the pathway, absently regarding the exhibits. His mouth seemed to be moving, as if he were
talking to himself. At length he stood before the statue, and I heard a faintly audible
muttering. Abruptly he sat down on the other end of the bench, and rested his head in his
"Women!" he exclaimed. "She said she loved me. She said I was the only
one. And now I find out that she was screwing my best friend the whole time."
His hair was disheveled and his eyes had a manic gleam. I shifted uneasily and began to
think about leaving.
"That bitch Cindy. She was just after my money. I was just her ticket to the easy
life. Sure, she had a body to die for. But she never loved me. I know that now. Women are
the worst, arent they? They were just put here to torment us."
"Some of them are nice," I said mildly.
"Those are the ones we dont appreciate. The ones we call
friends." He scowled and then sniffled. "And its not like she
didnt warn me, either."
He looked up at the statue. It was then that I noticed the vague, somewhat idealized
"You created her?" I said. "You became a sculptor, then."
He shrugged, and looked at his hands. I saw now that they were strong and calloused, as
if from years of wielding a chisel.
"Youre Stephen, arent you?" I said.
He was taken aback. "What if I am?"
"You dont even look like me!"
He gave me a sidelong glance, one eyebrow lifted, and started to edge away.
"She was here earlier. Your friend Stephanie. She seemed pretty lonely."
"Really?" he gazed wildly about. "Whered she go?"
"Out through that gate."
He made an inarticulate cry and leaped to his feet. "Perhaps there is still a
He dashed down the garden pathway, his feet crunching in the pebbles, and left the gate
creaking behind him. I heard his voice yelling in the distance, getting fainter and
fainter. "Stephanie! . . . Stephanie! . . ."
Then there was only the low rumble of traffic from outside.
I wondered if he would ever find her. I turned to glare at the saint again. Not a
saint, actually, but the image of a mans yearning. The water still gushed forth from
her hand. For the first time, I noticed an inscription at the foot of the fountain, that
looked like it had been added quite recently. I went forward to examine it. It had the
style of a scriptural quotation, but I could not recollect ever having seen it before:
Come into my garden, you wanderers and you who are weary from toil, and you shall know
peace. For here I am the Present. Pursue not the Past or Future; for such are the realms
of shadows, and are given over to the Adversary.
About the author: C. J. Rowan is a rationalist with mystical
tendencies who has roamed the world in search of The Truth. He lives with two cats and a
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© Copyright 1998 by C. J. Rowan
Artwork: Collage of photos that were individually by Marina Schinz, from The
Gardens of Russell Page. New York: Stewart, Chabori, & Chang, 1991.