Gardeners Anonymous

Trinie Dalton


Candy’s ghost is who she intends to be, a perfect version of herself. Candy has a see-through side. Her ghost is a prism, only appearing when Candy craves love. She follows Candy around, hoping that Candy’s solid self may still someday become someone great, so they’ll be able to reconvene, and the ghost will never again have to slink outside, embarrassed for Candy’s failures. But as years roll past, and the ghost sees that the same desires Candy had years ago are still pressing, she tags along, worrying about how the past affects the present and how it will inevitably affect the future. The ghost thinks Candy sucks. She thinks Candy will never be legendary. It’s difficult to explain how your alternate can live both in and outside of you. I’m effervescent, and can make anything happen. That’s the ghost. I’m incapable of loving, and magic is a hoax. That’s Candy. Usually, fears haunt you, and ghosts are the failures, but this is the kind of ghost that makes you jealous.

Staring at flowers exacerbated it. You’d never think yard work dangerous, but it did take a good ten years of gardening overkill for Candy’s first apparition to emerge. As a child, Candy’s mother read her stories about wicked queens who gazed into mirrors until they were destroyed by their own vanity, so Candy kept only one small cosmetic mirror for combing her hair on special occasions. She didn’t want to be limited by her reflected self. She wanted to base her definition of beauty on how she believed she looked, not how a piece of silvered glass perceived her. Besides, she’s a witch; her look is flexible. To say the least, as a person aware of self-image, it didn’t occur to Candy that tending plants could unconsciously become a narcissistic hobby rooted in the insecurities she’d worked so hard to overcome.

She was re-settled into her candy house, having maintained the nougat fence posts, cleared leaves out of the honey resin rain gutters, shoveled ash out of the rock candy fireplace, and replaced lemon drop roofing as needed, like a responsible witch homeowner. Time sped up, each year flying by faster than the last, and chunks of it were dedicated to yard work. Candy mowed, weeded, composted, mulched, and watched sprouts turn into trees that now provide for her property a leafy canopy to ward off summer sugar meltdowns. Each season, she had generous harvests of kale, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, pumpkins, beans, and turnips, perfect for Christmas gifts, since she doesn’t eat vegetables. Eventually, she began to question why she was compelled to grow them.

One morning, Candy was pulling volunteer mint sprigs out of the lamb’s ears patch, when she noticed Pinocchio slumped against her shovel, resting against the barn wall. His face was bloody, and his blood was dripping down her shovel’s handle. Candy worried she was hallucinating and considered halving him with the obvious implement, as if the bloody shovel foreshadowed his killing. He would make nice woodchips for the path she’d just dug through the herb garden. Snapping out of murder mode, Candy realized somebody was bleeding to death, and ran over to help.

“Are you okay?” She asked. A bloody film obscured the lenses of his eyes.

“Water,” he murmured.

Candy turned the hose on its most gentle spray setting and squirted him. As red ran into the soil, his tan skin emerged, then green lederhosen and black boots. He had no nose. Instead, he had a hole there as if he’d been shot.

“Are you Pinocchio?” she asked.

“I cut it off,” he said.

Candy carried Pinocchio inside, wrapped him in towels, laid him in an armchair, and fed him fresh butterscotch. He fell asleep, and Candy noticed how young he looked. In human years, he was seven, but with his face, hair, and costume painted on he looked five. The whole time he slept she watched him, wondering about the disfigured puppet visitor. Pinocchio awoke four hours later.

“I was sick of my nose growing,” he said, starting conversation. “So I cut it out. I wanted to be a skull.”

Pinocchio’s Violent Ghost, she said to herself. Come to teach me something. She was still piecing it together.

“Where do you live?” Candy asked.

“I’d rather be dead,” he said, “than live in that fucked up puppetry studio where any fuck can come in and pay top dollar to buy me as a sex slave for their perverted whimsies. I may just be a wooden doll…”

To escape his brutal life as a wooden prostitute, Pinocchio had borrowed one of Geppetto’s hand drills, cranking away until a dowel fell out of his face. He wanted to maim himself so people would leave him alone. It took six hours, because he was oak, a difficult-to-carve hardwood. Since he didn’t take himself to the emergency room for stitches, he now had a chronically bloody wound. He’d left town, planning to die in the forest where he could decompose with other oak things. But he kept on living, homeless, in the woods, for the past six months. When he lost too much blood, he got disoriented, stumbling around until passing out and eventually regaining consciousness, usually in some streambed or ravine.

He’s not dead, Candy told herself, buying mental time to decide whether or not Pinocchio was invited to stay. It was hard to believe that Pinocchio had been having sex since he was a toddler. This thought made Candy a little horny, not because he was young, but because he had such an active sex life. Candy figured he’d found her because they had something to give each other. Not sex. Why else do people meet? It probably wasn’t love. Was she fated to marry a fairy tale character missing a proboscis? Candy thought not, but decided, in general, that if she persevered through whirlwind encounters with freaks that she’d build enough character to finally meet someone who wasn’t so complicated.

Daily, Candy tended Pinocchio’s hole with peroxide, gauze, cotton, waterproof tape, and butterfly bandages. The wood around the puncture was stained dark brown, and was pulpy from constant wetness. She tried tightening the hole with waxed linen, but thread pulled his face taut, which gave him headaches. He reluctantly let her clean him. Candy couldn’t quite reconcile where Pinocchio’s blood was coming from, but during a crisis gore takes over. Four weeks passed, with Candy thinking in vain of how she could get Pinocchio medical help. If she took a marionette to the doctor, they’d confiscate him and institutionalize her. Another month went by, until Candy was raging with frustration.

“I’ll cut my own nose off,” Candy yelled one morning, as Pinocchio lied on the floor, bleeding onto a rag rug she’d made from vintage witch gowns.

“Getting mad makes it worse,” he said. Even his voice sounded wooden when his consonants knocked against each other. It had such aggressive resonance. But Pinocchio was right—when Candy was livid, he bled more.

“Why?” she asked. “Why do you keep bleeding when all I want to do is help you? Are you even real?”

“Oh, I’m real,” he said. “Take me outside. I’ll sit against the barn and watch you garden. Like it was before you found me.”

It hadn’t crossed Candy’s mind that Pinocchio had been spying on her before she found him. Creepy! Had his blood been fertilizing everything? Warily, Candy carried Pinocchio outside and leaned him against the barn wall, exactly as instructed.

Pinocchio watched Candy pick eggplants. The sun dried his blood, and his expression softened. He grinned like a lobotomy patient, and brick red, crackled, crusty lines of blood were caked onto his face. She tried not to look at him, instead turning dirt with a pitchfork to unearth beets, then tossing them into a basket. It was disgusting to think that the beets were grown in his bodily fluids. The harder she dug, the less stressed she felt, though underlying this relief was the old, familiar feeling of needing to escape. She remembered Vlad, in his pre-feline form. Vlad was Candy’s vampire-ex who she’d turned into a cat so he’d stop sucking her blood. She hadn’t felt trapped since then. This time, she was tired of being the ineffectual nurse.

Candy called her kitty. A shiny black cat emerged from the green bean vines.

"See this cat?" she asked Pinocchio. "He used to be my boyfriend."

"Is that a threat?" Pinocchio asked.

"No," Candy said. "You’re already a doll." Saying this aloud made Candy wonder what the danger was. But then she remembered her obligation. If you abandon a sick child in the forest, you’ll be permanently cursed.

"You’ve trapped me," Candy said. "I can’t heal you, but I can’t leave you to die either. It was the same with Vlad."

Candy told Pinocchio about how Vlad depended on her for food. Being a vampire’s girlfriend was a heavy responsibility, and she was constantly sick from blood loss. Some weeks, Vlad drank several pints, but Candy let him because she didn’t like watching him starve. Finally, following a camping trip during which Candy nearly died in a pool of her own plasma, Candy fought back.

"I turned him into a cat," Candy said. "And then I changed him into chocolate."

"But he’s a cat now," Pinocchio said, as Vlad came up to sniff his black, painted-on shoes.

"My biggest fear is of eating my friends," Candy said. "What good was a chocolate covered boyfriend going to do me?"

Pinocchio sat up from his slumped position, looking at Candy’s basket of beets. “Why do you grow these then?”

Candy told him a story.

"When I was seven, my mom took me for my first (and last) check up, because I couldn’t advance into fourth grade without one. Curing ailments with herbs and magic didn’t register with Pink City Elementary’s bureaucratic headmaster.

"“Candy cannot come back until her vaccinations and check-up are current,” Cyclops told my mom, right in front of me. Kids called her Cyclops because her glasses were so thick that her eyes merged behind them into one immense, magnified eye.

“But I’m not sick,” I said.

“You sure aren’t,” Mom said, handing me a cookie from her purse.

"At my appointment, Mom filled paperwork out on a clipboard. Dr. Moron came in, read it, and said,

“Candy’s never had shots?”

“Shots make you sick,” my mom said.

“Never had a cold or flu?”

“Mugwort, feverfew, and slippery elm for those.”

“Her dietary record is blank,” the doctor said.

“I eat candy,” I said.

Dr. Moron told my mom that he’d approved me, but a few weeks later Child Protective Services intervened. I had to eat vegetables for six months straight, keeping charts of which ones. I drank green juice. Mom cooked broccoli. I needed sugar. I was absent for the first three weeks of fourth grade, missing the section on pirates. It wasn’t my fault that I got a C on my pirate report, but I still felt stupid."

Pinocchio comprehended how badly Candy needed sweets. “But how do you live on sugar alone?”

“I don’t know,” Candy said.

“Don’t you need protein?” he asked.

Candy thought of the day she discovered that her mom had eaten her best friend.

“I’ll never touch meat," Candy said. "And you?"

“I eat,” Pinocchio said. “But eating trees is my idea of cannibalism.”

Candy had never heard such a gentle claim. In her mind, she differentiated between Vlad and Pinocchio. The main difference between them, Candy thought, is that Vlad was a vampire and Pinocchio is an innocent boy. Candy’s logic started to crumble. Or, rather, she thought, a doll who wanted to be a boy, staring vacantly off into the woods with a hole in his head the diameter of a quarter, telling me how much it pains him when people eat greens. Candy finally admitted that Pinocchio was a fantasy. He was too weird to be true. She was imagining him because she needed someone to care for. She imagined someone younger than Vlad because she had a motherly urge to care for people, and it was more acceptable to shower a child with excessive love. Vlad, the cat, was nice, but he was just a pet.

“Pinocchio?” she asked. “How do you breathe?”

“I don’t,” he said.

“But you bleed,” she said in a defeated tone. It was hard enough believing that he could bleed, but to bleed without breathing seemed extra absurd.

Pinocchio didn’t melt like some witches do when you pour water on them. Nor did he shed his Pinocchio shell and morph into a demon ready to jump whoever stood in his way. Rather, he sat there, lifeless, reminding Candy that she’d been talking to a puppet all along. She made a small grave for him in a meadow frequented by bears. Maybe the bears would exhume him for use as a chew toy.

Thus, Candy battled her first ghost, in a sense, and won, after acknowledging her motherly instincts via hallucinating Pinocchio and passive aggressively growing vegetables. The vegetable chapter in Candy’s life came to a close. She decided it mentally healthier to cultivate colorful flowers. Pinocchio had been a surrogate son constructed of two fears. First, that Candy had mistakenly turned Vlad into a cat, and that keeping him as a pet was cruel and unusual. Secondly, that having a baby would be 100% sacrifice, and that she’d be a terrible mom.

Gardening would suffice until Candy could reap the rewards of motherhood. Vlad had never wanted kids, plus they were only in their twenties when they dated. Until she could find a man who’d be into fathering a witch, she wasn’t going to give in to the easy options: a virgin birth or growing a baby in a head of cabbage. Honestly, Candy thought, I can have a baby anytime, anywhere, I can go into the supermarket, buy a rack of lamb, and turn it into a baby, or I can make it rain babies, or I can even, easily, ask a deer to deliver onto my porch a baby in a basket. But Candy had two major problems with this. She thought it was cheating the baby, that a baby needs more than one parent, and she recalled, from her upbringing, that having a single witch mother will drive a kid insane. Also, she was ambivalent about whether or not witches should even have babies, seeing as how each witch genetically passes down the curse. Just because I can have fifty babies here within the hour, Candy thought, doesn’t mean I should or that I’ll be a good mother.

So Candy started a new garden, planting every variety of flowering plant she could find—zinnias, bachelor buttons, cosmos, alyssum, clematis, daffodils, crocus, and ten kinds of lilies. She beefed up the poisonous plant section with datura, nightshade, and belladonna. She thought of Pinocchio from time to time, feeling glad that she never had to clean his gross wound again. But sometimes she missed him. Then, she’d called her cat, Vlad, and pet him vigorously. Candy felt like a pathetic loser. How could she be lonely with all these plants around?

The yard had become an enchanted jungle, and half of Candy appreciated watching the transformation. Candy planted morning glories, poppies, ginko trees, lavender, anything she could think of. She had three rows of sugar cane, from which she made cane juice and molasses. She dreamed of pages in her gardening books, of plants she’d heard of but had never seen. She hunted obscure plants for her collection, as if they were going to provide the sugar she needed to stay alive. But the other half of her was disappointed because plants didn’t make good kid substitutes. The plants were merely her fears incarnate, fear of motherhood, and fear of not finding someone to care for. Plants were so easy to care for that it wasn’t even a challenge. Sometimes, she despised her garden.

Nevertheless, over several seasons Candy’s garden grew more intense. Vines and tree branches engulfed her house. The garden had grown too dense to prune. As Candy feverishly worked her days away, pulling weeds in her gardening gloves or refilling hundreds of bird feeders, she got lonelier and lonelier.

One afternoon, Candy found in her mailbox an ad for a Gardeners Anonymous’ FREE CONSULTATION. She’d never heard of this group, but it seemed auspicious that she’d noticed the card since she usually set her junk mail on fire by pointing her broom at it and telling it to Fuck Off. Witches hate junk mail. She took the card inside and dialed G.A.’s number.

The next morning, Candy dressed in her best purple velvet gown embroidered with red roses to attend her free consultation. She rode her broomstick to their building, which was painted with inaccurately rendered green ivy. Candy thought it odd that a place where people struggle to stop gardening would intentionally remind patrons of their addiction.

"We at Gardeners Anonymous don’t believe in a twelve-step approach," the intake counselor told Candy. "Many people come to us because gardening can perpetuate loneliness. One must investigate their obsession."

Candy agreed. "But I know why I obsess over my yard. What I don’t understand is how something good for the earth can become a personally destructive force in my life."

"That’s a philosophical question," the counselor said. "I can only recommend that you hire a gardener, then find some other way to spend your time."

Big help, Candy thought, concluding her session. But it was, in a way, because Candy’s elaboration had reminded her that too much of something good is still too much. Obsession was the cornerstone of Candy’s life. The only way to fight her ghosts was to further explore obsessive territories. Hiring a gardener to tame her yard would be merely bandaging her palpable need for human interaction.

With this, Candy flew home and packed a satchel of essentials for her upcoming adventures. She packed sweets and warm fleece things to wear. She said goodbye to upsetting objects—the double boiler she’d melted Vlad in to change him into chocolate, and the vintage witch gown rag rug that Pinocchio had bled on. Candy didn’t feel it necessary to destroy the abode, as she had the house she grew up in, so as she headed out of the woods she asked the trees to grow a thicket so dense around her property that it would be invisible to the human eye. She would live elsewhere until she could separate love from hate.