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Short fiction

Little Red Footprints Up The Garden Path

Reading Time: 4 minutes

She was mistress of her craft, although that made her sound like she had sex with it, which she didn’t; such is the difference between a master and mistress. She was an artist. Day by day, she painted the petals on the flowers for her friend Bee, and in springtime, the garden was a vast living canvas that shifted and swayed in the breeze.

It was mid-May, and Selina stood back to admire her handiwork, the tangled web of wildflowers dabbed and dotted with her favourite colours, wherever her arms could reach. A gentle hum sounded nearby, and she glanced up to wave at Bee who gives a jaunty wave of one furry arm in return.

On tired legs, she headed back toward her shed and stumbled against the long, long grass.

“Homer?” she said, peering down to see what had caught hold of her feet. “Are you trying to trip me up?”

The gnomes were like that, they’d shuffle down until they were mostly hidden and then jump out at her from behind the potting shed, or deep within the shrubbery. Normally, there would be a high-pitched giggle to warn her it was coming, but not today.

Hidden deep in the grass was something glossy and red, but no neck was attached to the gnome’s head, still wearing its hat.

The calls of the birds high up in the air seemed to grow very loud, and the sky darkened with cloud. Selina sniffed and swallowed hard, gathering together all the pieces of her friend Homer that she could find, clutching them to her chest and struggling through the grass toward the shed. There was a pretty little patch of daisies just behind, and she would put him there; it would be a quiet spot for him.

But her feet didn’t move fast enough, and she hadn’t quite reached the shed before the new owner of the big house, a heavy-booted man, appeared, and she had to scurry for cover, scattering pieces of gnome across the lawn. The man was swearing loudly to himself, and those boots were hard. Selena didn’t want to wind up like Homer.

*

One morning, Selina woke to find the door to her shed had grown a new latch. She could not get out. She was trapped inside the shed with no flowers to paint, no garden to enjoy. Weeks passed, sometimes she spotted Bee flitting past the windows on his busy garden business. Had he noticed her absence? She tried to wave at him, but he never seemed to see.

One afternoon, the latch on the door clunked out of place, and Selena watched as heavy footsteps passed her nook in the corner. She took her opportunity to escape out into her garden again, clutching her paintbrush and her palette, glad to feel the warm breeze, to smell the scents of… But all the familiar scents, of grass and flowers basking in the sun, had faded to nothing. She gazed around at the bare garden, her floral canvas had been stripped bare.

A single wall of roses remained, their buds heavy and ready to burst. Selena hunched down and hid close by, in the shadow of the wall. She clutched at her brushes with both hands until her fingernails made deep grooves into her skin, waiting. She would be ready whenever the roses began to bloom.

When dusk came, she slept beneath the stars and the bright, shining moon.

Morning, and with it half a dozen of the roses bloomed. Selina got to work, covering the silky heads with fuschia, magenta and the hottest pink she could find in her palette. The smooth strokes of her brush sent a tingle all the way up from her fingertips, along her arms, where it nestled against her heart.

All day, she painted in a frenzy of colour, clutching onto the wall with one arm, daubing, dabbing, specking, and flecking with the other until her four limbs were hollow and aching.

She stood back and smiled, raising the last of her strength to wave at Bee as he passed, humming softly to himself, and crawled back to her place beside the wall and fell asleep in the early evening sun.

Snip, snip, snip. Selina awoke to the sounds of clipping; yesterday’s roses severed at the stem.

Another dozen flowers bloomed, a little further down the wall. But Selina’s paint palette was dry. The potting shed door was locked again, no matter how hard she pushed and shoved, it would not budge; her remaining paints lay hidden in a corner she could not reach.

There was the faint hum of Bee close by. Selina held up her dry paintbrush and squinted into the sunlight.

Red. These roses should be blood red.

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