Floating Garden

Mary LaChapelle, 2015 Fiction Prize Winner
| Fiction

The boy looked at me watching him and then, with no expression, he bent down, picked up a stick, and lunged at me. He hit me in the face and on the shoulder and another boy grabbed for the monkey, but I took him under my arm and ran back toward the water.

There were great crates and stacks of big metal barrels waiting to be loaded onto the ships. I saw no food anywhere. But I found a faucet near one of the smaller boat slips. I turned it and out of the hose’s end came clean water. The baby monkey drank and I drank.

I came upon a stack of long bamboo poles that were tied upon a framework of shelves, and I slid in between one of the shelves, out of the sun. It felt good to smell the wood I knew so well. I closed my eyes and prayed to the bamboo spirit to bring my mother to me and take us home again. I knew so little of the world that I believed this bamboo would know the bamboo that crowded down to the far shore of our lake.

Under its friendly shade, I watched the pack of boys who had chased me walking along now with two men. I didn’t think they could see me, but they pointed in my direction. The boy who had hit me held his hand up to his brow. I believed he was showing the men how tall I was, and again he gestured in my direction.

I crawled along the bottom shelf of the stacked bamboo and lay there in the near dark. I adjusted the baby into the crook of my arm. His breathing soothed me.

Drowsily, I listened to the rumblings and sounds of the port. The monkey’s little lips and tongue searched my skin for traces of the banana mash. A motor I had been hearing for some time became a roar and shook the lumber beneath me. I felt a jolt. Raising my head, I saw down the tunnel of bamboo poles that the scenery was changing. We were rising. I clung to the bamboo and felt the whole load shift and my stomach lurch as we were swung. The motor slowed, and we were lowered.


The path is not difficult, my teacher at the monastery used to say, save for the picking and choosing along the way. I chose to rest with the bamboo, and next I was crossing the ocean to a new world.

I slept on my shelf during the day and foraged at night like a rat. What picking and choosing is there for a rat? You make a nest near what you need and hidden from what you fear.The cabin where the men ate was empty for long intervals. I took a knife, green bananas, coconut milk, dried fish, and the bits of cooked rice left in their pots.

To make up for what I took, I shaved strips of bamboo and wove hats, which I would leave for them when the time came.

The monkey didn’t want to sleep during the day. Little by little he ventured out and soon he was adopted by the crew and eating better than I was.

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.

We Speak of Forget-Me-Nots
Some of the Hidden Things No One Wants to Talk About While Saying Goodbye