“Weeds” by Sheila Armstrong

In the beginning, my mother would slave for hours over her vegetable patches with only a battered transistor for company, coaxing and pleading with her seeds to crack, to blossom, to grow. And they would.
No matter what she planted, it would flourish for one season wherein she would proudly gather it, freeze it, jam it, pickle it – depending on the sort – and, most importantly, send me off to the neighbours with a basket brimming with the biggest, the plumpest.
They would open their doors with a smile, which, to their credit, would only slip a half-inch or so when they saw who it was. Then they would turn down our offering in that tactically polite manner that country folk are so adept at using when confronted with something a little bit strange, a little bit off. They would offer me armfuls of their own hard work; roots and greens and berries and whatever they had thrown so carelessly into their earth.
But they never would take even a leaf that came from our garden.
Perhaps they believed, as did many, that our land was cursed, tainted, and that any fruits of that same soil might carry the poison. For it was true that after one season of growth, one season where the seeds would leap skywards, eager to please, the soil would fail. Roots would wither, bulbs rot in the ground, and the worms would feed on the last vestiges of my mother’s hard work. So perhaps the land was tainted.
Or, perhaps, as was whispered just a little too loudly, my mother’s hands were doomed to eventually bring forth only weeds and dead-rot.
How cruel, I thought, how cruel of them to judge her so, to judge me so, to judge us so. Because for years, I believed that my mother was my best friend, the kindest, most gentle woman ever to live.
When I came home with grazed knees and nettle stings, she would clean my scratches and show me where to find the clusters of dock leaves that would sooth the burning. When I was sick, she would stay up all night with me until my fever broke. When I ripped a shirt, she would mend it. When I was hungry, she would provide. In short, she did all the things that a mother should do.
She played the game, she did, and she played it well. And, perhaps, in some ways she was. In some universe, some magical place where promises mean promises and poker players never cheat, perhaps she was the perfect mother..
But in this one, this touch-to-be-sure-it’s-real universe of ours, she was less than that, and more. She was a simple woman who had once had a life and dreams of her own. But she surrendered her body to a poison, a leech, one that grew until it burst out of her in violence and gore. And then she was forced to care for this intruder, to wrap it in swaddling clothes and clean up after it when it leaked from both ends, to give up her precious breasts, once the subject of such lust, to this monster. To change the centre of her universe.
And I grew, and grew, and her universe shrank, while mine expanded.
And, one day, I saw her, saw her true. She was standing in the garden, reaching for some stray vine that was strangling her sunflowers, and I saw her. Not as a woman, not as a mother, not even a person. But as a husk.
In giving me life, she had given up her own. I had sucked her dry, and left her with only the title mother to call her own. She was hollow. Like a beetle carcass eaten alive from the inside out until only the shell was left, intact, in a parody of life.
I hated her then.
After, long after, I would remember her face as she frantically pruned and clipped, trying desperately to save a specimen or two of a prized vine or flower. But it was no use. All would sicken and die, sicken and die, and the honey-sweet stench of rot would choke the air and my lungs until I could never fully shake it free of my nostrils; it came with me, always.
And yet my mother never cried, not that I saw. If she had cried, or shaken her head, or sent pleading glances towards heaven, that would have been better. Instead, she kept a frozen half-smile in place all through the long autumn evenings as she knelt and creaked her way through the flowerbeds and vegetable patches. She never wavered, never threw her hands up in frustration, never pandered to the occasional lingering neighbour who would stroll too-slowly by.
She was strong, my mother.
That frustrated me. I wanted her to cry, to see that her hard work was crumbled to plant-ash in the groaning western wind, the wind that cruelly decapitated the last few lingering daffodil heads. I wanted her to know that there was no hope, and that the scent of dead rot would follow us through all of our days.
Have you ever noticed how a freshly dug garden looks uncannily like a freshly dug grave? I have. I have tasted it.

Biographical Note
I am originally from the West but now live in Dublin. I am a post-grad student in Trinity, trying to find time to write.

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