GARDEN TOOLS by Amie Norman Walker

I crunch numbers on my Excel sheet and pause to reflect upon the decency of the dirt beneath my fingernails. I dug in my garden all weekend, pulled up weeds, ground plants, and potted them. Back inside my office, I question if gardener was the correct occupation for my soul to hang from. Using a business card, I carve the dirt from my crevasses over my one-lined to-do list. I was tasked with contacting the new business partner’s accountant by a woman who sat through the recent meeting with no contribution other than to nod and smile at the two men who promised through baritone voices the new partnership would revitalize customer satisfaction. Reviewing the delegated functions, one commanded, “Cher, give her Benjamin’s number.” She sang back, “Oh yes, absolutely,” with certain ease. 

Posing weaponry against cubicle small talk, I don a gaudy headset to call Benjamin. His brisk answer upon the first ring and the stern tone in his introduction suggest I cut to the chase. 

“Hi. I’m to retrieve the documentation I need from you before we can process your checks.” Through the distinct sound of water smacking against the already over-watered soil of a house plant and over the crinkle of papers shuffling, Benjamin's voice shifts into rushed apology. “I’m sorry, honey. You know they told me you would call. I thought they’d explain to you there is no reason for this at all. Who was with you? With you in that meeting? Was it Cher?” I explain that Cher was there and gave me the number under the direction of two distinguished men. He put me on hold after saying, “Excuse me, just a minute.”

While waiting with patience, several people pass my office. Two attempt to enter, see my headset on, put a finger up, as if they were genius, and mouth I'll catch you later. I flip my calendar from May to June. Suddenly, Benjamin is back with raised voice. “I’ll need to see you soon.” 

I’m unsure if he is speaking to me or someone else in the room. “Excuse me?”

He explains his firm does not send any legal documents via email, fax, or mail, absolutely no way, so I’ll have to pick up the document in person. I confirm that is no problem at all; a mileage check will be cut from my own company. We set a date for the fifth of June, and he sang goodbye to me with a pleasant tune. 

I pull up to the office of Brooks and Dune at quarter past noon. Befitting her character, Cher is poised in the window eating butter biscuits and smoking a cigarette. Benjamin’s name plate is the only one in gold font near a variety of buttons indicating which section of the building the offices are in. I press the buzzer, and the click of unlocking mechanisms invites my hand to the brass handle. Pleased I do not have to wait for Cher’s return from lunch for entry, I step into a long atrium with cemented sidewalk, windows, and foliage from ceiling to floor, nauseating and hot, like a birdhouse in a mid-western zoo.

I follow the sidewalk to the next set of doors that do not have a buzzer or lock; it’s the type of door you had to question whether to push through or knock. I find Benjamin’s name on another boldfaced gold plaque. Momentarily pausing between my knocks, I turn my ear toward the seam to pick up any respondents noise; first I hear nothing, not even a breeze, just the hum of a distant air conditioner and birds in the sun. Mid through my third round of two tap raps comes the sound of an impatient man, who briskly presses back his chair as he demands, “Come in.”

Inside, I find two parrots and a lizard in bird cages hanging from the ceiling directly to my right. To my left is a table over which two men play an intense chess game. I debate with myself: did the glassed hallway perform time travel to the future or the past? Rushing to stand, approach, and reach for a shake, is first Benjamin, whose grip is quick and brisk. He pulls up a chair for me. “Come girl, sit down,” Benjamin demands of me. “Don’t you know we’re on lunch until three?” I ask if I should come back, and he insists no while introducing his brother. Paul’s eyes are deep blue, concerned and slanted, as if fixed permanently in concentration, giving the impression he’s thinking about the handshake we’re having right now. His hand is soft and polite, cold at the fingertips and warm in the palm. Our grip remains entwined as we all sit in the same breath that Benjamin uses to express his discontent; I’ve interrupted their game. 

A certain type of money buys special bulbs to light a room to imitate the sun. The atrium was top-to- bottom windows, while this room has but one with its curtain black, pulled shut, and dust around the edges, suggesting the tenure of its position. The room is lined with houseplant and on hanging shelves and atop each flat surface in sight except the chess table and chairs. 

Without a word or explanation, Benjamin and Paul resume their game of chess. After several moves of what appear to gain nothing, Benjamin says, “Brooks and Dune owns this building. Aren’t you impressed, sweetie?” I look at Paul and back at Benjamin, bite my lip, and say, “Sure. The grounds are lovely as far as I can see.” While they continue their game, I wonder if I should ask where the documentation are, if maybe someone else, an assistant like Cher, could retrieve them for me. Just then, Benjamin starts to question me. 

“Do you remember the company who paid for this service before Brooks and Dune?”

“No, I’ve only worked here for two years.”

“Do you know the by-laws?”

“No, above my pay grade, I suppose.”

“Stunning,” says Paul. 

They continue their game, not minding me at all. I cough ahem, and Benjamin shrugs. “Dear, we’re going out on the boat later. We hope you’ll accept our offer to be a barmaid. Be certain you’ll be justly paid.” 

Paul peels blatant disgust off in his loud sigh, exclaiming, “Oh, just give up the charade! Bennie, the girl clearly has no clue!”

My mouth opens slightly, my head askew.

“Girl," Paul says, placing a watering can in my hand and gesturing toward the adjacent wall of plants. "I have something to offer you. Be careful not to miss. You look confused. First, let’s have a drink. Sit back down here, and we’ll go over the whole stink.”

Benjamin explains, while Paul runs his hand up and down my leg and stares at me with the softest look of horny I’ve ever seen on a man that large. “Dear, we’ve been watching you, not you particularly, but your now former employer, the one who sent you here, for some time. We’re running the undercover operation pinning the formulation of human trafficking rings on Senator Briggs. Paul seemed to think you had no idea and wanted to spare you anyway he could. In order to do so, we had to keep on with the game until we could get you here to sign your clause of employment over to us. We’re doing you a favor.”

Paul’s hand slides up my skirt. I count ten seconds in reverse and notice next to Benjamin’s chair a bucket with gardening tools. Smelling the sweet foliage in the clammy air, the soil's deep moisture, and the weeping whisk of petals under the central fans crisp air, I am inspired. I pick up the shears and, in my most even tone, say, “Please. I’d love to pour a cocktail, but I have to prune on my own. I’ll take up your job offer in exchange for a business card with the title gardener and freedom to roam.” Paul stands with grace to catch me, as Benjamin's box knife nicks my neck bone.

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RHETORIC, GIRL! by Amie Norman Walker

Radio wire mutated with the Cicadas, every Midwest heart bled to this expectation.  Knowing of no reason for time to come undone she perched herself on the couch as Carjone’s car snaked the driveway. Elevated humidity levels sweat the brows of every surface as evening rolled over, drooling for nightfall’s reprieve. Unstable minutes turned around the clocks face before he walked in with blood on his hands in a stride unfamiliar to her. She stared at him, her head cocked left and her lips pursed tight until they popped open with confusion. A need for her reflexed in his shadow. A smile straighter than his muscles acclimated, licked across his lips before he spoke.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Angel.”

Thumb on one cheek, four fingers pressing into the other, he squished her face forcing her mouth back shut, then into puckered lips.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Angel,” he hushed at her moon-eyes. Her mind spun webs of wonder around every thought of what he had done to produce this new gait and heretofore glean of violence in his eyes. He leaned in and she thought he might kiss her. Inimically opening her mouth with pressure, he slipped two fingers past her lips, pressing against her tongue.  Salt and metal coiled her taste buds as he fingered her cheeks interior, sliding back wisdom tooth deep. Fingers threatened her appetite but panic yet to sway her perch, arched on the precedence of his swagger. He knew her gag reflexes lacked control, over the years he had to learn to accept the self-sacrifice of each contraction. She gagged against his fingers slender tips, her gut reacting with his gentle push to the floor, so from her knees she’d vomit at his feet. He didn’t expect her to grovel, his need was to see her bow, and if he knew her at all, she required force into such a position. Her insides heaved molten, splattering the tile and his shoe tips, the bottoms already marked with the dog shit he stomped through on his way out her lovers door.

“I’m not going to hurt you” he confirmed again, as if convincing himself, wiping her mouth against the back of his hand. Crouching down his rhetoric seared, “What was it you were hoping I’d find?” Panic thrust for a turn to choke her, eyes shut tight, she pressed forward until her face met the floor, vomit reaching for her hair. She numbed the rush of fear to reason what foment the shift in paradox. A defeating larrup to her cerebral cortex, she suddenly smelt the dewy rush of this morning. She left his address on the kitchen counter, left behind, in the steno pad under the “?” she sketched in grey pencil shades, curving out her feelings into a simple symbol. The ? mark symbolizing not only risk of dalliance, but undulating her impuissant cerebral firing. Carjone’s taught her everything she knew. Carjone’s reminded her daily of the promise she must keep for him. This maldestro error, unacceptable in its formation, was the suicide she’d not asked for.

Some people do not survive outside familial derivation of monogamy, a fact bunked against hypothesis producing population health risk adjustment factors. The Status Quo wet-nursed the belief anything they control is theirs and theirs only. Dearly devoted demand their possession, labeled love, wean from all others, to promptly be tethered solely and firmly to the other in a package christened commitment.

Carjone was a man of his commitments, Carjone wasn’t capable of living outside any boxes. She however, worried no reasonable thoughts after she removed the veil of misunderstanding each other. Her tether to Carjone’s did not demand passion but he worshipped her as if the ground she shat on moored the gateway to eternal youth. Materialized out of actions unmistakably natural, her pheromone ejections of interminable sums, pumped Carjone’s ego but would also that of any caught in the trajectory.

“I’ll tell you pretty baby, I don’t need to question you.”

She had not mistook his new stride, tuned to the Midwest’s old song, from a time when cowboys were more than junkies. She had not mistook the blood, red and caked, on his hands baked unmistakably against Carjone’s rage. Between his worked hands and her saliva it formed a glue, sticking to her chin as he cradled her up into his arms. Panic grasp at her expression, molding it submissively into position.

Her breathing held a steady pace, continuously, by her own demand, but she couldn’t control her heart. Palpitations un-steadied her, she grasped his arm in a natural pull at survival. Her thumb pressed against the scar he won when he tripped over her playing hide and seek under the warm vanilla sun chasing a hunter's moon. Childhood suddenly seemed far away, trembling she lost a reason for words.

“I’m not gonna hurt you, Angel.”, he whispered. She anticipated his actions would fall into that scars memory, warm as it bled back then, and perhaps he would not end her.

“In fact, I brought you a present. How do you like that?”

Her mistake inspired a killer. She caught it again in his eyes, causing her thighs to empty out an ache, collapsing her out of reality then back into it, drowning any possibility of truth beyond that her lover is dead. A certain hurt need be felt before a person can do the most amount of letting go they’re capable of. Carjone’s felt that hurt. She now felt it as hard. He half pulled her up with him, she floated on along.

He wrapped his arms around her, choking out a silence capable of healing, but a cry interrupted from over his shoulder, a sigh she didn’t recognize, breaking the domestics into a louder noise. She felt tension shatter when she found the girls face held recognition, this was the face of her lover’s daughter. “I’m not gonna hurt you, Angel. But that mistake was killer.” he grinned through his confession. He gasp at the reflection he caught in the mirror, as he turned around to leave her, as if it spoke his rhetoric, who was the most monogamous of all?

She walked backward into the bedroom closet, truth setting into her face, blood gloaming her jawline. Blood was on her hands, blood in her veins beat against her new pain. She hoped the wardrobe would swallow her into a place too dark to return from. She yearned to be forgotten, lost into the closet, passing through inanition with guilt the limbic grand finale fed through the amygdala. She sucked back her breathing and shut the door on herself, listening to her Daddy’s new lover cry.

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