The Garden Statue
by Amy Barnes
The lady of the house pays me not to move. It isn’t enough for her to have garden statues made of stone. To have a genteel party, there must be living statues. There are three others like me at this party all dressed in the same grey. The garden bench is hard as spring breezes brush against my face. A bee buzzes but I can not gasp or flinch. The others are seated equally uncomfortably on the ground and clustered around a stone vase. I don’t know their names. I never do. We don’t talk to each other. We just try not to breathe.
I feel a sneeze coming on. The garden flowers are fragrant, lush and full of pollen. I’ve done this often enough to keep from sneezing. I take shallow breaths until the urge passes. My neighbour by the sundial isn’t so lucky. He sneezes. His pay will be docked. He won’t get any leftover finger sandwiches or port in a tiny glass. The lady of this garden won’t make eye contact with him. To her, a glance means as much as money.
I remain still. The heat begins to crack the grey makeup on my face and hands. It is all for two shillings at day’s end. Two shillings. The price of bread, an orange, two apples, a chicken from the butcher, a handful of green beans, milk, flour, sugar, salt. The price of my dignity. The price of keeping my stomach from growling. I imagine that chicken cooking. I smell roasted chicken instead of the garden’s overpowering lavender, roses and cyclamen.
A guest sits next to me. The chicken smell evaporates. Another guest arrives and they talk loudly but not with me. I am only there to decorate the bench as it is a conversation for two. Their expensive perfume overpowers the garden’s flowers. The lady of the house nods at me as she greets her guests. I have done my job well and can tell she’s pleased.
When I take my two shillings at the night’s end, my employer hands me a nosegay of flowers with the usual leftover tiny sandwiches. She thinks it’s a reward but I have no need for flowers. I take them with without looking her in the eyes. They won’t fill my stomach. They only smell of chicken.
Amy Barnes lives near Nashville, Tennessee. Her writing has been published by a range of sites and in anthologies including Drabblez, The New Southern Fugitives, McSweeney’s, Parabola, A Woman’s Right to Bare Arms and Women on a Wire. She is also a reader for CRAFT, Narratively, Barren Magazine and Ink&Nebula. She is working on a short story collection based in the southern United States. You can find Amy on Facebhttps://twitter.com/amygcbook, Instagram or Twitter @amygcb.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.