Heather sat on the other side of the glass, cross-legged with her back to me as she worked carefully to repot one of her shrubs. The backyard was dry and tired, leaves limp and grass scorched white, but some flowers were dotted here and there to bring colour. Heather tried to keep the garden upbeat and lively. Scorning drought weather, she was forced to watch the plants wither. But inside her greenhouse, she took the precaution of sewing curtains for those needing shade, placing desk fans beside those needing the cooler temperature. Inside all was green and vibrant and she, in the centre, marvelled at every root’s growth.
I knocked on the door and waited outside.
She turned instantly. Dirt was smeared across her cheek and faded denim shorts. She put down her spade and got up to unlock the door.
Creaking it open, she stuck her face through and inspected me, eyes trailing up and down.
“Have you been in contact with anyone today?” she asked.
Heather insisted on particular methods to grow her garden. One involved not bringing ‘male energy’ into the greenhouse. Even if you spoke from a distance of, say, a few metres, a man’s aura could still stick to you, and that would upset the plants.
She leaned forward, frowning slightly, and sniffed me.
I sighed. “I’ve been inside all morning, will you just let me in?”
She relented and stepped aside, shooting me one more questioning look before returning to the pots on the floor.
A CD player sat in the corner, softly playing Tracy Chapman to “help the plants grow.” As I breathed in, the smell of fertiliser and soil almost overwhelmed me. I regained my bearings and followed Heather, sitting beside her on the floor. She passed me an empty pot and I copied her as best I could.
Her hands worked steadily and efficiently, transferring plants from old pots to new, refilling them with fresh soil, and then pressing down with her hands to make sure the roots were held in place. She scratched her forehead and tightened her ponytail, dirt falling into her hair.
Everything was ordered in Heather’s greenhouse, though it was relatively small and there was barely space to walk. Her vegetable garden lay in one corner, growing something different each season but just then there were tomatoes, spinach, and sweet potato. Potted flowers lined the other side; pink carnations, yellow chrysanthemums, red geraniums and white heather. The heather flowers resembled tiny, old-fashioned streetlights, and I remembered how Heather’s face brightened when she first saw the plant. She caught me looking at them and smiled, reached over to grab my hand. I brought her hand to my lips and kept it there for some time, closing my eyes and inhaling the scent of fresh soil.
A few months ago, I snuck a guy home who I’d met at a club. He probably thought we were going to have sex but I wasn’t into him that way, wasn’t into any guy that way. I just thought he was interesting because he kept on talking about geography, and I hoped I’d be able to retain the information through my hangover the next morning, because I knew Heather would have found it fascinating, too. He explained to me what a continental divide was and I got excited, wanting to leave the club so we could find one and test it out, but he said the closest Australia had was the Great Dividing Range, which wasn’t on any tram lines, so I just brought him home.
We came through the back gate, as I once again forgot to bring my keys. This was such a common occurrence that Heather left a key to the backdoor under one of the pot plants, so I could let myself in at the early hours preceding dawn. I’d given up trying to drag Heather out of the house with me on a Friday night, as we began to have the same argument that usually ended with Heather, exasperated, saying, “Do you want me to have a panic attack in a nightclub bathroom? Because that’s what’ll happen, Rose.” I’d offer to stay home and keep her company, but she’d wave me off and say she was only going to read or study anyway. I didn’t want to push it, so I never did.
The guy stared at the greenhouse as I grabbed the key, his jaw dropping and eyes widening in a comical expression. He stepped back and gasped, “Whoa!”, which I thought was a little dramatic, but when I looked closer I noticed that his eyes had become two small, glassy blackholes.
His pupils met mine. “This is sick!”
“Yeah, ah, that’s my housemate’s. It’s practically her second bedroom.”
He stepped closer until he was pressed against the glass door, hands against the cool exterior and breath fogging up the glass. I began to fidget.
“Can we go inside?” He grabbed the door handle and tried to open it, only to spot the huge padlock.
I walked up to him and grabbed his arm, trying to gently coax him away. “We can check it out tomorrow, okay? I’m pretty tired right now.”
His lip curled in disgust. In a flash all his goals for the night had been crushed. “You’re tired?”
I sighed. “Yes. I wasn’t going to have sex with you anyway.”
That seemed to be the wrong thing to say. “Why not?”
“Because not every woman wants your precious dick.”
Bringing him home had been spur of the moment, an idea that seemed fun and rational in my excited, drunk mind. I thought that maybe he and Heather could discuss plant things over breakfast and we would all be the best of friends. Anything sounds like a good idea on a nightclub dancefloor, with a glass of vodka and orange in one hand, and some random guy blurting geography facts by your side.
He glared at me. “Why are you being such a bitch?”
I didn’t bother answering and he soon lost interest anyway – or maybe he was so far gone that he’d forgotten his own question. His eyes trailed back to Heather’s greenhouse, and my muscles tensed as he stared it down. I followed him as he stepped towards it again.
“Please go home,” I said, taking his arm more firmly this time. “Just go home, okay? You’re trashed. I’ll even pay for an Uber.”
He shook off my grip and pressed his forehead against the glass door again. He reached down and rattled the lock, swearing under his breath.
It happened before I realised the situation was a lot worse than I thought. He raised his leg and drew it back, and in one swift motion his foot flew into the glass and the door shattered.
“What are you doing?”
I grabbed his arm and yanked him out of the greenhouse, the jagged edges catching on his clothes. He stumbled and fell to the ground, glaring up at me. He scrambled to get back up but I threw my weight onto him, shoving his face into the grass.
Whatever he cursed at me was muffled by the ground. I almost felt smug until he bucked up, throwing me off his back. I spun around just in time to see him snatch up a pebble from the garden path and hurl it at the greenhouse, smashing a hole into one of the windows.
The backdoor burst open and I spun around to see Heather in her pink, cacti-printed pyjamas. Her jaw dropped and she glanced back and forth at me, the guy on the ground, and her violated greenhouse. Her cheeks flushed as her eyes finally rested on me.
“What did you do?”
Next door’s backlight flickered on.
Heather refused to speak to me for the next two weeks. Of course I paid for the damages and bought her more plants but, as she scribbled on a note for me, that’s not the point.
And in a twisted way I felt that this was because I hadn’t just spent the evening in with Heather. If I had just stayed home with her everything would still be okay. The greenhouse would have been okay. We would have been okay.
One night, about a month after the incident, I stayed up late studying for a linguistics exam. Sometimes Heather and I would study at the kitchen table together, and her comprehensive list of marine biology terms would form a whole other language beside mine. That night she was in the garden, and I listened out for the backdoor to open. By ten o’clock there was still no sign of her, and I began to worry. I shut off my laptop and ventured outside, hesitating at the backdoor. It was still difficult to meet her eyes, and see that there was nothing there for me.
She was lying on the floor of the greenhouse, legs pulled up close to her chest and body tucked snugly between the vegetable garden and white heather. I stood outside for a moment, pressing my lips together, hand hesitating beside the doorhandle. I dropped my hand and went back into the house, returning with pillows and a doona clutched to my chest.
Though Heather had officially banned me from the greenhouse, I inched open the door with my hip and tip-toed inside, shutting the door quietly behind me. I crept over to the middle of the greenhouse where Heather lay and crouched beside her. Her eyes fluttered open and she jerked in fright, letting out a deep breath when she realised it was just me. Without a word I placed a pillow where her head had been and another beside it for mine, and she watched but said nothing as I folded the doona into a makeshift mattress. She rolled off the hard ground onto the doona and lay back on the pillow, still gazing at me quietly as I did the same.
I thought sleeping in the greenhouse would make me claustrophobic, but Heather was entirely at ease, as always when she was surrounded by her greens. As time passed our bodies pressed closer together, until her leg draped over mine and my fingers trailed along her stomach, our foreheads only an inch apart.
By the time it began to rain Heather was asleep, and I watched as the water hit the greenhouse walls and seeped down the glass like early morning dew.