After the War

By Mary Grimm

The tree is in the middle, but how they argued about where things ought to go. Remember, he says, the naming of the animals? Now all they have left are the chickens and an old dog. The birds flee from them, will not take food from their hands. The vegetables grow in little plots, nicely, yes, but remember when they grew without stopping, watered by the river that ran through like silver? In the old garden, remember the cherries as big as apples? The juice ran down our chins like blood. The birds flee from them now.

In that country there was the community of the cow, the horse, the pond with its mated pairs of fowl. The goat, do you mind that her name was Mitzi? Remember how we named her, they say to each other in the evenings when they are tired and can still be tender. Remember how each came to hear, and understood? Now there are the chickens in the coop made of scraps of wood―they don’t know their names, their eyes are crazy and unkind. The old dog comes, but slow. The rooster crows at dawn as if he were there still, in the emerald green fields, the noblest of forests.
In the small squares of the garden that is the last garden they grow peas and beans, carrots, hiding the seeds in the ground as if they are gold. She brushes the fronds of the parsley with her hand, so rough now, even the rose cannot wound her. At night they see the lights in the windows, children running, cars, as if they are looking out at another country, or century.

In the garden, they argue, where the beets should go, when to plant the peas. The old ways have lost their magic here, the arc of the slender new moon is no sign anymore. The luminous flowers of the old garden, the softness of petals, the roundness of fruit and its colors: they never speak of this, or of how the vegetables seemed to spring from the earth without ever the need for spade or hoe. 

Sometimes the old woman will say “Gone, all gone,” singing it in her high whispery voice, rocking in her chair as the winter sun streams in the window, hardly warming her now. Gone. Trampled by armies, barred by the sword, gone, gone. If the old man hears her, he mutters, shaking his head. If she keeps it up, he shouts at her in the old tongue―“Stop, Eva, be silent, I beg you.”

All the long years they have hoarded the vegetables, seeds, fruits, in a frenzy so that nothing shall be wasted, nothing shall fall to the ground unnoticed. 

Mary Grimm has had two books published, Left to Themselves (novel) and Stealing Time (story collection)―both by Random House. Currently, she is working on a dystopian novel about oldsters. She teaches fiction writing at Case Western Reserve University.