The Kid’s Secret Garden

The kid’s birthday was coming up, a mere month away, and God knew her father and Vanessa (presumably capering on a Mexican beach) had announced no plans to honor the day or even commit to a monthly fund transfer, but I was the one with lunch duty/bus duty/homework duty – but also nighttime hug hurrahs – and I thought, well, a cake, and a little something nice, the kid’s great and she’s tried to put a brave face on – but a Target paycheck doesn’t stretch as far as the inflation rate beginning its sun salutations, so goodbye tablet, even with the employee discount – but anyway I thought about how we’d unearthed a copy of The Secret Garden at the sublet and how the story still sang (except for the racist parts which I had to explain were not OK) but how irrelevant classic literature and Yorkshire seemed as we looked out over the cracked pavement and the condemned playground equipment at the park opposite, and then I thought, well, I can’t take the kid to that place where the butterflies land on your nose, because we’ve got front-row seats to a gas-versus-groceries smackdown anyway, or even locate real grass within a two-mile radius, but maybe something for her doll, the one she got from her redheaded friend last year, one of those six-inch Barbies-that-isn’t-a-Barbie, that the kid alleges is called “Chelsea” but whom she has inexplicably dubbed “Alexandra” – anyway, we parted with the accessories at the garage sale but Alexandra lives on with us in a nest made of dryer lint where the floorboard ends and I thought, I could probably manage something for her, so I buy a pack of rainbow straws and Astrobrights paper and salvage a cardboard box that the store was just going to recycle anyway and together that’s about $7.34, minus my discount but plus tax, and I earn a one-month master’s in Miniature Dollhouse videos on YouTube, as I attempt to scale Mary Lennox’s trees, gorse, roses, lilies, iris, poppies, and narcissus for the Lady of the Lint… I present it to the kid after the cake, starting with the twisty little key (half a paperclip, forty-eight profanities, pliers borrowed from the landlord) for the door I concealed behind the straw-vine and paper-leaf ivy, and the kid sent Alexandra through and said, She can live here.

Linda McMullen

3 Questions for Linda

What was your process for creating this work?

I created this work following a prompt I saw on the internet for stories about fake gardens.  And I thought, well, what would make a fake garden real?  Love, and effort... And then, too, my daughter and I have been watching those "DIY Miniature Cardboard House" videos online for years, searching for craft ideas - especially during the pandemic, but even before that.  The two things coalesced in my mind, as a mother trying desperately to create some kind of green haven for her child.

What is the significance of the form you chose?

I've been experimenting with one-sentence stories lately as a means of developing my craft and also as a means for pushing the limits of what one continuous through-line can do. I think that the stream-of-consciousness format gives an unexpected closeness, and does so fairly immediately, which is critical for generating empathy in the reader in such a short word count.

What is the significance of this work to you?

I think this story is a reflection of my love for my daughter. We're a lot more privileged than the characters in the story, but because we've been overseas or in a pandemic for more than half her life, I've tried to be resourceful in finding or making meaningful and appropriate gifts for her.

Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, daughter, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories and the occasional poem have appeared in over one hundred fifty literary magazines. She may be found on Twitter: @LindaCMcMullen.

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