And just like that, the car broke down. A foggy morning in the middle of fucking nowhere. I was driving and she was lights out by my side. The dull shade of the countryside had nothing on her natural radiance, a crescent moon all curled up in the passenger seat.

The silence woke her up and I could see she had been crying. Again.

“Where are we ?”

“I don’t know.”

“What happened ?”

“I don’t know.”

She wiped her eyelids off and opened the door. The early breeze caught me off guard but she didn’t care. I got out as well. One fucking car on a single fucking road and that was it, that was all there was.

“Battery’s dead.”

She had already popped the hood open. Selena always was the practical one.

“Do you have another battery ?”

I could not stop looking around and over the fields. Out of every time this old truck almost broke down, why did it have to be today ?

“Oy, James ! Do you have another one or not ?”

“Hum… No, we could look around but I don’t think so.”

So we searched the truck left and right, carelessly throwing all her bags back on the dirt behind. A few weeks ago she would have said something, but on that cold morning nothing, nothing in the world mattered more than her disappearing as soon as possible. From this neighborhood, this town… And me.

“Of course there’s no service. Why would there be ?”

“We can find someone.”

“Oh yeah ? Good luck with that.”

And after throwing everything back in my trunk we started walking along the road, each on a different side. We did not talk until we stumbled upon a wooden sign.


My parents would bring me there when I was a kid. It was an odd shop where antiques, garden statues and hysterical plants grew wherever. I’d stay in my mother’s arms, rather willing to play with the rose pendant swinging across her chest than exploring this scary place.

Selena and I hit the road on our feet to get help until we ended up in front of a beautiful tiled door, like one of a tiny chapel or an old French restaurant. We entered and the bell sang.

“Good morning, early birds ! I am Ursula, keeper of the property at your service !”

Her deep yet agile voice surprised me. Ursula was a plump woman with heavy breasts, those features emphasized by a generous velvet corset.

Selena spoke first.

“Our car broke down a few kilometers back. We thought we could use your phone to call a repairman ?”

“Yes of course, sweetheart. Over there, the landline. Take your time.”

Selena was already dialing the number Ursula gave her when the woman came back to me.

“Can I offer you something hot to drink, some tea perhaps ?”

That would be kind, thank you so much.”

She made a sign for me to follow her up to the kitchen. Smelled like leather and cinnamon.

“What a tedious morning, isn’t it ?”


“So where are you and your girlfriend going ?”

I shivered a bit.

“Oh no, we… We’re not together… Anymore. I am dropping her off at the train station. Or I was, and… now we’re here.”

“Well I’m glad you did ! I don’t get many customers during the season. Only regulars.”

“Honestly, I can’t wait for this to be done.”

She put her fist on her waist while immersing the tea bag in the fuming pot.

“How so ?”

I paused a bit, torn between pulling my walls up and telling her a bullshit answer, or spilling everything. Because I sure as hell wouldn’t be able to find an emotional compromise to that question.

“Have you… Have you ever regretted a decision so badly, but at the same time you would not be who you are without having made this very choice ?”

Ursula looked away, as she was browsing in her memory’s library.

“I’m afraid not.”

She then proceeded to pour the tea into two wrecked cups.

“But I know someone who did. A long time ago.”

She gave me one cup and snapped up hers.

As we were both staring at the floor, wall and ceiling, I thought perhaps hearing a boring story about someone who truthfully I did not care about, perhaps that would be better than sitting silently in the middle of nowhere with a stranger and my ex.

“What’s that about ?”

Selena suddenly walked in the room.

“Truck’s coming in the afternoon. Gonna smoke.”

And as rapidly as she came, went she.

Ursula followed her.

“It’s time for me to do some gardening. Come, come !”

I went on quite unwillingly but hey, what else could I do ?

Once on the patio Selena picked up a pack of Phillip Morris out of her jacket. She always smoked Morrises. I watched her put the filter on the tip of her lips, at the exact place she always does, slightly to the right.

She was about to bring fire to the other end using her favorite lighter which almost never worked, but she kept it anyways. I bought it for her on our trip to Berlin two years ago, before everything, when we were still friends. It had the suggesting image of a half naked lady spitting fire and it made her laugh. It was late at night, we walked to a hidden club and under some booze and the zooming lights we kissed for the first time. That’s when we stopped being friends.

After a few unfruitful tries she looked at the lighter and picked up a box of matches sitting on the patio’s table. Cracked a match and lit her fag. Threw the lighter in the bin next to her.

That’s where it truly hit me. That was it. There was no turning back, no crying apologies or youthful declaration under the pouring rain, no talking, no fighting. No fucking either. That was it. That was the end of us.

We followed Ursula through the heavy fog that settled on the property. She took a wheelbarrow, some thick gloves that smelled like an old couch and a few gardening tools. She most certainly jumped on our misadventure to use some easy labor. But again, what else could I do ?

No one talked. At all. The only noises were our panting paired with the ambient chirping and croaking. How can one feel both immensely peaceful and extremely uneasy ? It felt like someone always had an eye on me. Hide where I looked and laughed where I didn’t. As we were cleaning the grass from dead branches Ursula kept cutting off, my mind slowly became a tight bag of mixed feelings and emotions. I wanted to stay in this dreamy garden surrounded by morning fog and eerie statues, while every cell of my body screamed at my brain to make a run for it. Chills from the neck down and it wasn’t the cold. I looked at Selena and her prideful eyes. Out of the blue I wanted to dance. And cry. And scream at the top of my lungs and tell her to go fuck herself, that she couldn’t hurt me for I wasn’t hers anymore. The smell of pine came to me and at that very moment I needed to breathe, to sing, to feel, to feel everything and anything, to show her that I’m alive and she can very much suck it.

“James, come with me. I need a hand in the greenhouse.”

I obeyed and turned around to Selena who was still contemptibly picking up branches. I smiled and looking back, I’m pretty sure that somehow… I already knew. I knew that’d be the last time I’d ever see her. And that was not even the craziest thing about this morning.

“How do you know my name ?”

Now that I thought about it, it was odd that we did not introduce ourselves coming in. Though regarding the context of it all, perhaps it makes kind of sense.

“Haven’t you guessed already? Are we gonna do this every time?”

What are you talking about?”

We walked side by side on the misty path.

“Your Dad kept coming here, you know. After everything.”

“After what?”

“The passing of your mother.”

Ursula opened the greenhouse’s squeaky doors and led me into a full-on jungle-in-a-box. She stopped in front of a massive potted rose tree, threw her hand in the soil and unburied a beautiful rose pendant.

“What the hell? What’s happening?”

“You know what we do here. I know you do.”

“Why do you have my mother’s necklace ?”

It seemed like a question but I sure as hell wasn’t asking. I was one fucking word away from turning this place into a heap of ashes and nothingness. In a mere second, I was put back in that hospital room and all the chemicals hit my nose at once, those that prevent you from Death’s rotting smell. There was the monitors, the sun shining through the window. A lying woman I wasn’t sure I recognized anymore.

There is a story. From before my time.”

“Explain yourself.”

“In their mid-fifties, the first owners of this shop, which bore a different name back then, built it for their retirement. It worked well and they’d make it more extravagant each year. Even so, the shop became a local phenomenon… Until one cold morning, when the husband was cleaning moss on the greenhouse and fell from its roof. In critical condition he was rushed to the hospital where he stayed in a coma for 12 nights. On the 13th evening, the wife could not bear the weight of those shattered hopes anymore. All their hard work, their plans, their dreams… Hanging from a simple heartbeat. So on that night, she put everything she had into one very last hope: a deal with the Devil.”

“What does this have to do with me ?”

“Grief can compel you to take the most hectic decisions. Just you wait. The wife had prayed and prayed and nothing changed, so she scrapped that plan and chose despair. According to her journals, He came late at night, when sorrows echo the most. Told her that He could reunite them both for as long as she pleased. All He needed back… Was a leap of faith.”

Ursula sighted.

“She took it and the husband died the next morning. She wasn’t even there when it happened. It completely broke her for she was certain she had killed him. It was her fault, the widow who couldn’t let go. Weeks passed and the plants grew chaotically. She had given up. Didn’t deserve anything but a lonely death, for she had betrayed the single love of her life. Four days later, a curious mailman found her face down on the morning’s wet grass.”

“What the hell does this have to do with me ?”

“Places and people cannot exist without one another. One is the setting for every story while the other one gives it purpose. Do you know the purpose of this land, James ?”

Ursula threw two heavy soil bags on her shoulder and showed me to get out of the greenhouse. We went back on the patio, where she stacked them on the table.

I thought of my mother. And my father. Of that fucked up story she was just telling me, of Selena and the Devil. What do all those elements have in common? What’s the red thread?

“Grief. People come here to grief. And I’ve come here before.”

Faded memories started to appear at the back of my mind. It was like emerging from a brutal hangover. I’ve come here, multiple times. With my father at first, then alone. I remembered wandering in the garden, looking at the statues and the flowers and the trees. What was I doing there and how come those moments only just reappeared?

Ursula smiled.

“This land is cursed, James. People come to release their sorrows for they can’t escape those walls. Memories trapped in here, they stay for eternity.”

And there, at this exact moment, I fucking knew.

“I came alone.”

“That is false. And also correct.”

I looked at the other end of the garden, where a wheelbarrow was patiently waiting to be picked up, tools to be used.

Selena was never here. My memory of her was. That’s the whole point of this, isn’t it?”

Yet there is something I still did not understand.

“But Selena’s still alive.”

Ursula laughed with the warmest smile.

“Ghosts are not always what you expect them to be.”

I walked upon the bin and plunged my arm inside. Picked up the lighter I had thrown in there earlier. Tucked it in my right pocket.

Are you sure you don’t want to leave it here ? You will completely forget what she did. Never feel sorrow, nor pain again.”

I nodded from left to right.

“Feel free to come by anytime. Whenever you feel the world crumbling on your shoulders, or loneliness dreading you from head to toe. When you don’t know where to go, you will always be welcome in my home.”

“I think I’m alright now.”

Those were the last words I’d ever tell her. I stepped in the green house, unburned the rose pendant. Then, face down I walked towards the shop’s main door. Turned the handle, made the bell sing and just like that I was free.

I rejoined my old truck which was in fact very well operational, patiently waiting for me on the side of a dusty road. Perfectly empty.

I sat in the driver’s seat, put on my belt. After taking the longest breath my lungs could take, I drew the rose pendant, hung it on the rearview mirror. I then put the half-naked-fire-spitting lady lighter and threw it on the deep end of my glove box before hitting the road.