Floating Garden

Mary LaChapelle, 2015 Fiction Prize Winner
| Fiction


Our family kept two floating gardens, one for seasonal vegetables and tomatoes, one with small trees for fruit. We sold half of our vegetables and half we left at the monastery and with the least fortunate road people. It was our way, our Karma.Most days we rowed our vegetables to the lake market. I stood at the bow of my father’s canoe and brought my mother, and at times my grandmother, to our stall on the shore.

My second cousin took me with him when he harvested the bamboo. The bamboo forest, on the far shore, was too thick for the army or the trouser-leg people. Once when we were among the green stalks, under the net of their gentle leaves, my cousin said, “If ever you must hide, bring the canoe here and pull it into the forest.”

Now two young women, younger than mothers, climbed aboard the truck with the help of a man too young to be their father. One of them asked him, “Why can’t we just go back with you on the scooter?” He looked down and said, “This is as far as I go.”

The auntie asked the new girls, “You came to the festival without a chaperone?”

“Her cousin gave us a ride,” said one of the friends with bitterness, “but now he has decided it’s too hard to carry three on a scooter.”

And so there were six females, the statues, and me, dressed as a girl.

The money taker closed the back gate of the truck; then we heard the passenger door shut and the engine start. We watched the road stream from under us like a moving river with deep green trees along the sides. We saw clumps of people in festival dress. There was a shaman, his face painted like a woman’s, singing and dancing backwards in front of a walking group. His voice faded, and the dust behind the truck consumed their figures.

When we no longer saw people on the road, the truck stopped. They lowered the gate and gave us two large bottles of water. My mother brought drinking cups from our bundle.

We ate bananas and pickled fish. My mother reached over and put a pinch of mashed banana to the monkey’s lips. He suckled tentatively and then more frantically. I laughed and sat beside the girl with the monkey and fed him more banana mash. He put his tiny hands around my finger and licked and sucked.

Mary LaChapelle is author of House of Heroes and Other Stories and recipient of the Katherine Anne Porter, PEN/Nelson Algren and Whiting Foundation Awards, as well as fellowships from NYFA, Hedgebrook, Edward Albee and Bush foundations. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

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