Floating Garden

Mary LaChapelle, 2015 Fiction Prize Winner
| Fiction


Sharply, my mother said to me, “Take your clothes off.”

I felt something cool mashed against my naked shoulders and back. “I am rubbing him with banana,” she said to everyone, “to help him slip through.” It was the first the others had heard that I was a boy, but perhaps because of the danger, they didn’t respond to this new strangeness. My mother put her nose and lips close to my ear and whispered, “The women are too wide, and the littlest girl is too young to do what needs to be done. Find a way to break the back gate open but if you cannot find a way, you must run.”

Because of the metal bands I couldn’t climb out. “I need help, Auntie,” my mother said, “and one of you older girls.” I felt their hands on me, lifting me like a rolled rug. I stretched my arms and pointed my hands over my head to make my shoulders as narrow as I could. Half of me scraped through, but then I had the problem of my ass and boy parts. “Hold him still,” I heard my mother say from inside the box. I felt her hands on my penis and balls as she pressed them firmly and quickly into the recess of my thighs. As they pushed the last of me through the opening, they twisted and scraped my feet through the splintered planks, and my hands found a metal floor below.

I was exhilarated and afraid, but I am always sad when I remember. I had assisted with my own birthing, had helped my mother squeeze me out and away from her. Outside it was just as dark as inside, and impossible to see. I felt and found a chain near the box and attached it to the truck. Then, in order to search for a tool, a metal bar, something to pry the gate open, I kept hold of the chain so that as I ventured away from the box, I would not lose my way back, but the chain was shorter than I needed to keep searching in the dark. I felt a rope on the floor and tied that to the chain and searched along the boxes and the floor, which was covered with many circular bumps.

I heard the startling noise of sliding metal. A blinding square of light opened in the far wall and revealed that we were inside a gigantic warehouse. Stacks of boxes like ours surrounded me, some as high as houses. Someone was driving through the open door. I hid behind a stack. I unfastened the rope from the chain and slid the chain away from me.

I watched a tractor with a large, forked tongue roll in the direction of the box that held my mother and the others. It lowered its tongue, and, with shifting rumbles, slid under and lifted the crate, then turned toward the open door. I dodged from stack to stack, following it as far as the entry wall. Then I slid around the corner of the open door into the shocking light and salt air.

A young man riding on a bicycle looked back at me as he pedaled past.

I ran behind some boxes and vehicles on the gravel-covered waterfront and watched the tractor lower the box onto the back of a white truck, not the one that had brought us.

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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