Death and Life of the Gardener

By Susan Brown

Honoré​​ poured a little maple syrup into her tea and stirred it slowly. Above stairs she could hear her great-nephew, Timothy, shuffling across the floor. She​​ had​​ been outside​​ working​​ in her garden​​ since sun-up,​​ reveling in its palpable magic. But​​ now​​ it​​ was time for a tea break.​​ After adding a little more sweetener,​​ Honoré​​ took a cautious sip.​​ 

She had begun using maple syrup after she noticed Timothy putting something in the honey and sugar. All in all, she was liking maple syrup better​​ – she could taste the life of the​​ sugar maples.​​ But Timothy had become​​ tiresome; she was bored with​​ his clumsy attempts to poison her. Not so different than the sharks who had tried to steal her business year after year.

The​​ contaminated honey sat​​ prominently on the table​​ when Timothy clattered downstairs. He​​ toasted​​ a couple of frozen waffles,​​ dropped them on a plate, and sitting down across from his great-aunt,​​ poured​​ maple​​ syrup on​​ his​​ food.​​ 

Honoré​​ barely glanced at him. There was blight on one of her apple trees.​​ Would​​ an​​ organic spray harm the bees?​​ Her​​ mind envisioned the turning of time, the smothering of​​ fungus, the potential of a single bee unknowingly carrying poison to the hive. She was seeing the world from the bee’s many eyes – swirls of scent-laden color.

How could a small life feel so deeply alive?

“Auntie,” Timothy shattered the vision, hauling her back to his unpleasant​​ reality. “I talked to​​ a real estate agent, just fact-finding,​​ and​​ she told me that you could name your price for this land. The woods alone are worth a fortune.”

Honoré​​ frowned​​ at him​​ – her great-nephew​​ had become​​ a​​ parasite.​​ If she could explain....​​ “Timothy, why should I sell​​ this…this Eden,​​ for​​ money?”​​ 

When he only glared, she tried again. “I have plenty of money. Your developers would cut​​ down​​ the trees, murder them,​​ and raze the land​​ for another​​ blighted​​ suburb.”

She could feel Timothy’s frustrated rage. He distracted himself by filling a mug with coffee.​​ 

“Your sister​​ understands,”​​ Honoré​​ said.

​​ “Oh yes, perfect Tina. Now that she’s getting her horticulture degree, she’s as happy to live in​​ mud and​​ manure as you​​ are.” He controlled his spleen with effort. “But​​ we…you…could travel.​​ Buy a new car.​​ Enjoy life!”

Honoré​​ spread her hands, inviting him​​ in. “I do enjoy life, Timothy.​​ Every​​ day. And Tina​​ feels it too. The trees are so​​ alive…so peaceful… so much beauty…”​​ She let​​ silence fill the moment again. Outside the window,​​ cedar branches swept a slow waltz in the breeze. Nature’s art enthralled her.

Timothy banged down his mug. “You are senile!”

“Not at all,”​​ Honoré​​ said. “I have stumbled into happiness.”​​ 

She​​ laid her hands flat on the table. This was the last thing she had to do.​​ “I’ve changed my will, Timothy. I​​ have​​ written​​ you a check for​​ twenty-five thousand dollars, but​​ I’m leaving the rest of my estate to your sister.”

“No!” Timothy shouted. “You have millions. Half is mine!”

Honoré​​ drew on​​ the strength of​​ the​​ trees​​ to​​ fill her soul. “You have earned none of it, but you would​​ destroy​​ life, my life,​​ for money. Timothy,​​ I won’t have it.”

She left him screaming wild threats​​ out the door​​ after her. A neighbor​​ stopped​​ washing her car​​ and stared.​​ 

Honoré​​ waved, and​​ leaving them behind,​​ wandered​​ among her plants, shrubs, flowers,​​ and​​ trees, even​​ noting with wry acceptance​​ the​​ ever-present​​ weeds. She ran her fingertips​​ over leaves and bark, murmuring​​ greetings, assessing​​ growth and health,​​ gratefully​​ feeling​​ the slow healing of​​ wounds​​ her​​ decades in society had caused.​​ Honoré​​ strolled​​ into the woods,​​ to the old​​ trees​​ that​​ felt more like family than the people she shared blood with.​​ 

If she could be reincarnated as a tree, she​​ thought, she​​ would​​ know joy. The night before she had dreamt that when she showered, mud ran from her skin;​​ pink clover and daffodils​​ grew from​​ her scalp, trailing flowers like long hair.​​ 

It was​​ lovely.

Honoré​​ leaned her forehead against rough bark, breathing in the scents​​ of life.​​ And once again, she heard the trees speak to her,​​ call to​​ her.

It was time.

Finding​​ a perfect spot, she shed her clothes and lifted her arms in prayer to​​ the giants around her.​​ Praying for her place in the world.​​ Vaguely she sensed that​​ her feet were thrusting out​​ roots, her arms​​ were stiffening​​ into branches, and her fingers​​ were becoming​​ leaves that danced with the breeze.

Welcome, sister.

With joy, Honoré​​ let go of all she had known, even her name,​​ and joined the great dance.


Two days later the police dragged Timothy away. After a sleepless night, the neighbor​​ had reported the threats;​​ poison was found in the food,​​ and although her clothes were piled​​ in the woods,​​ Honoré​​ had vanished.

When Tina took over the land, she touched the bark of the river birch in puzzlement. Surely she would have remembered seeing​​ such a grand tree on her walks​​ with her great-aunt.​​ 

But there was work to be done. With a shrug, Tina headed back to the orchard, considering whether to​​ risk​​ a late pruning,​​ and​​ smiling as she heard the music of the breeze flowing across the woods.





About The Author

I love to write! And I love to write for teens. Since I was a kid, bored with school, I’ve been making up stories. Eventually I became a journalist, got married, had kids, adopted dogs and started writing books in earnest. Three followed, plus two more co-authored with Anne Stephenson.

I’ll be publishing a half dozen new books in the next year or two, some fantasy and some realistic which I hope will appeal to teen readers – I’ve had quite a few kids read them and gotten a thumbs up! Check out my website at