Jardin Botanique

Christmas, 1998 / No. 2

“How full it is!” she said, to escape the awkwardness.

The water in the lily pond was invisible, densely covered with the flat leaves and white petals of the floating flowers. At one end of its rectangular stillness, a trickle fed it from the mouth of a bronze lion that emerged with his stylized aureole of a mane from an Art Deco marble wall.

The lily pads undulated, slowly and gently, right to the edge. Surely they should be cleared? Weren’t such pools meant to reflect the sky? She watched, almost expecting to see the plants creeping by hair’s breadths up over the pool’s lip.

“I hope there’s a drain hole somewhere,” she added.

“They’re using a circulating pump,” he said, balancing himself on the very edge. His voice was still the most beautiful thing about him—the faint remaining Irish now interwoven, after twenty years in this city, with a weft of French.

“You don’t want to ruin your shoes,” she said; then she heard, and chastised herself for, the unwarranted concern in her voice. Her eyes fell from his pinstriped back to these shoes. They looked expensive. She did not know enough about the visible and outward symbols of wealth to know what degree of it they represented. But she did remember enough about him to know that they represented the wish to seem wealthy.

“It’s nice to see you again after all these years,” she finally said. It was the sentence she had been practising for weeks, ever since he had answered her letter and agreed to meet. She had spoken it to her pillow at night and to her toaster in the morning; to her stainless steel teapot, from which her own face, bulbously distorted, regarded her skeptically; to her golden retriever, Grian, who tilted his head, sensing the importance of the words, but knowing that they were too complex, and wrenched too far out of context, to require a response.

She had spoken them aloud upon entering the imposing diagonal gate at the corner of Pie IX and Sherbrooke, and making her way up the pavement that led, between riotous banks of annuals, to the cascading pools that had first fascinated her in childhood. She had caught her first glimpse of him when she passed under one of the twin trellises that framed the compulsively symmetrical formal garden, and she had stopped there, hiding behind hanging vines, to say them to herself one last time.

He was still staring down at the lily pads. This was the moment. How would he respond? With another evasion into the world of small practicalities? Was he, even now, trying to think of something more to say about how the water system worked? But no. He turned to face her.

She blinked, and imagined him falling slowly and gracefully backward into the water. Would it splash, or would the lilies bear him up? How densely were their stems intertwined below the surface? The thought of those submerged stems made her shudder. She closed her eyes again. It was hot and unusually quiet in the garden, even for a weekday afternoon in September. Beyond the lion’s wall, and beyond a screen of trees and shrubs, the traffic was muted to the murmur of a distant river.

He did not speak. She knew he was not going to say that he was glad to see her. Nor was he going to ask why she had written. He stood with his arms folded in just the way she remembered from all those years ago, and waited for her to go on.