Chapter 6: And Then The Boy Gave Himself a Name
He had begun to call himself Garden. And sometimes Rain. He couldn’t decide which one sounded closest to his actual name. Because, as you’ll recall, he couldn’t remember his actual name.
He was walking. He was trying to understand it all. How he had been walking, how he was walking, and how he would still be walking.
A ball rose and fell and the world went dark and a ball fell and rose and there was brightness again. It made sense, but he didn’t know why. This place did not end, and he didn’t know why. Or maybe it did end, and he just didn’t know where the end was. That would make more sense. This place felt smaller than the garden, somehow. Without end, but smaller. He thought about it some more. His thoughts almost felt right.
He walked and walked and walked, down, down, down. The grass grew taller and the goat trail grew smaller, narrower. The sky groaned under its own weight, heaving, trying to stay upright. Rain saturated the air and the earth. Everywhere was wet. Everything was black and green and grey.
Garden’s descent became less steep. The mountain had leveled out into foothills, wide and rolling and low. The hills were cast in the shadow of the mountain. Every now and then, Garden—no, Rain—would feel the shadowy purples tickling at his shoulders, and he would turn around, curious. But it was only ever the mountain. It was massive, and it dominated the world behind him. He would turn back around and keep walking, towards the “ahead,” towards the rolling black, green, and grey. And the ball rose, and fell, and rose again.
And then there were people. Rain saw them from a distance. They saw Rain from a distance. They walked towards each other for the better part of a day—Rain seemed to recall that that was what the brightness was called. The people stopped walking when the ball fell again. Rain walked through the dark, curious about the others.
There were eight of them, and they huddled together. They had things with them. Food and clothes, it looked like. A pot, some blankets. One of the boys staked up one of the bigger blankets. The rain rolled off of it as if the cloth was oiled.
Rain stopped in front of them and stared. They were not from the garden, after all. They were not Tall Mother or Short Mother or Cade or Baby Sila. He didn’t realize he’d been hoping they might be until he was there. And they weren’t. And he was alone again.
They watched him for a while, too. One of the smaller girls held out an apple for him. He shook his head. It smelled funny.
One of the women opened her mouth and began speaking. He didn’t immediately understand the words—it certainly wasn’t his mothers’ tongue—but eventually they made sense. He didn’t know how, or why. Thankfully, he didn’t have to know how it worked for it to work.
“Why are you walking down?” The woman was asking. “There’s nothing that way but water. Can you hear me? Child, are you alright?”
“His mind broke, Pilar. Just let him be.”
“Here, come rest a while with us. Is your mother gone?”
“Pilar, really? You’re just going to lead with ‘are you a sad little orphan child?’ Is that what you call tact? ‘Is your mother gone?’ Really?”
“Yes,” Rain heard himself saying. “They are both gone. I don’t think I will see them again.”
One of the boys stood up and closed the gap between them. The boy took Rain’s hand and squeezed. He led Rain over to the other people and pulled him into the huddle.
“Why are you walking down, child?”
“I was at the top of the mountain. There was nothing beyond but water.”
Pilar’s eyes were dark and creased. “Oh?” She asked quietly. She looked away.
“Oh, lighten up,” another woman said, rolling her eyes. “We already knew that. We’re going to die. Might as well do it right. I want to die at the top of that mountain. I was conceived there. I was born there. It only makes sense I should end there.” She shrugged. “I want the last thing I see to be that infinite horizon, silvery, smiling, teasing me with her little secrets. Maybe this time she’ll let a few slip? Who knows? Maybe she takes pity on the dying. Yes, that is how I want to end. With the whispering dawn. The wind to mourn me and the stones to remember me. I’ll be wet as Clark County and half as old as i should be. But it’ll be pretty. It’ll be poetic. Just wait, Pilar. We’ll close our eyes, and it won’t even be that bad.” She sighed. The group was quiet for a moment. And then,
“Gracious, woman,” one of the boys snapped, “keep monologuing, and I’ll just push you off. Do us all a favor.”
The huddle burst into laughter, the monologuer included.
“Hey boy, whats your name?” One of the smaller girls asked.
“Garden,” Rain said. Well, Garden said. He supposed that was his name, then.
“Huh. Really?” The smaller girl asked. Garden nodded.
“I guess so. I can’t remember what it used to be.” The girl picked her nose.
“Makes sense to me if it makes sense to you,” she said.
“You can stay with us tonight, if you want,” one of the boys said. “Its not like there’s anywhere else to go.”
Garden considered the offer. He tried to, at least. The problem was, he didn’t feel anything about it, one way or the other. Not because he was unfeeling. No, he recalled that he had always experienced a wide range of emotion, back in the garden. He was always laughing or crying or singing with his sisters and brothers. Yelling, hiding, more laughing, more crying. He remembered those feelings. He remembered what they felt like. And he felt their absence now. There was a feeling in his chest, he supposed. Curiosity. It was dull. Dim. Curiosity, and a shadow of loss.
“Yes,” Garden said. He sat down next to the boy.
“You want anything to eat?” Pilar asked. She held out a pear. He shook his head again. It also smelled funny.
“Where are you from?” The monologuer asked.
“A garden,” he replied, ”a big garden.”
“Oh? Were you a picker? Or were your parents pickers?”
“Which garden? Was it the vineyard? A lot of my cousins picked grapes.”
Garden looked from one person to the next.
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. It was just the garden.”
Pilar studied him for a minute. One of the men shrugged.
“Let him be,” he said to Pilar. Well, to the group at large.
“Yes, okay,” Pilar said, nodding to herself. “You’ve been through a lot. Why don’t you get some rest?”
Garden didn’t know what rest meant. Well, he knew what it meant in the garden. It meant sitting under the pomegranate tree and letting Short Mother brush your hair and sing you quiet songs. But Garden didn’t see any pomegranate trees, and he did not think that a brush was physically capable of making it through his hair, in its present state.
He said none of this to Pilar. Instead, he nodded.
“Rest sounds nice.”
“All right. Sosa, Bobby, off to bed. Take Garden with you.” He let two of the smaller children pull him up and off towards the side, where they had strung up some sort of black crackeldy thing and lain blankets underneath. The rain rolled off the black crackeldy thing and left the blankets mostly dry. Sosa and Bobby got into the blankets and beckoned for him to do the same. He did. They held each other and him and closed their eyes. He did the same. They began to breathe deeper, slower. He breathed slower too, wondering if this was resting. Tall Mother had always told him to take deep breaths when he was angry, or sad, or in pain.
The night grew darker and the others joined them, in ones and twos. Garden kept his eyes closed. Eventually they were all cuddled up under the blankets, breaths deep and bodies still. Garden lay there, waiting and listening to the rain fall.