Floating Garden

Mary LaChapelle, 2015 Fiction Prize Winner
| Fiction

I edged close to the crack to breathe the air and from time to time I put my eye to the opening. A forearm’s length from the top of our box, a wide metal band crossed the gap. I felt with my finger how the band expanded beyond the gap, and I found the same metal across the gap near the bottom. Then I saw better in my mind what I hadn’t noticed before, how narrow the colored letters for the word “taxi” had been and how oddly spaced. This was because they could only be painted in the spaces between the many metal strips that made a cage around the box.

It was hard to judge the hours. I was the only one who could wedge myself through the narrow opening in the corner and pee onto the moving road. In the dark, the others didn’t know I was doing this.

Earlier my mother had cut the neck from an empty water bottle so we could collect our urine in it, put the neck back in place, and pour the urine through the crack. “Oh thank you! Thank you!” the two girls said when it was their turn to receive the bottle. “Careful, careful,” the others said, as it went hand-to-hand, and then to me to pour out through the crack.

“Auntie,” my mother said, “sit near me for now.” I felt a shifting around me, and I heard the auntie sigh on the other side of my mother. “The farther away they take us, the more difficult it will be to return.”

In time we had no water left. We could now feel the truck’s angle of descent down the other side of the mountain.

The auntie said, “I think we are in another country.”

“What is another country?” the girl with the monkey asked.

She must not go to school, I thought, a thought from my orderly life, the kind of thought I would not have again for years.

At the monastery, our teacher had unrolled the map, pointing to a small blue spot. “This is a picture of our lake and around it, the picture of our country. The sea, which is a body of water much bigger than our lake, draws a border on this side of our country. And the mountains, not the close ones around our lake, but the ones we see against the distant sky, mark the boundary of the other side of our country. If you were to draw a picture of us from the moon,” he said, “it is this shape. Our country has had different names and even different shapes at different times. A fish is always shaped like a fish, but the shape of countries can change.”

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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