The Secret Garden – Kassie Shanafelt

Fairy godmothers are everywhere. In fact, there is probably a fairy godmother somewhere within every woman. They don’t always appear singing a song or wrapped in equal parts layers and wrinkles, but they are always deep in wisdom.

My fairy godmother was clad in tattoos, perpetually guarding the entrance to the courtyard of my first apartment, smoking like a dragon. The entrance to the apartment was conveniently hidden in the parking lot of a burger joint. The fast-food patrons were always inadvertently finding their way inside the complex and never able to find their way out. Cab drivers, visiting friends from out of town, and pizza delivery guys could never find their way in. The name, “The Secret Garden” certainly suited it.

The apartments formed a square surrounding a courtyard disguised as a plot of dirt holding dead plants and a picnic table. Kelsey would always leave her apartment door open so the music from her record player could float outside while she sat on top of the picnic table smoking. Her two white cats would always sit in the doorway flicking their annoyed tails back and forth as if to say, “We’re not joining you outside”. She intimidated me with her cool-girl vintage dresses and extra large glasses that made her eyes look twice their actual size.

I loved my studio apartment at The Secret Garden, but I was lonely. When I’d walk past Kelsey sitting on the picnic table, it felt like the voice inside my head might jump right out to start spilling out my life story. I wanted to desperately to join her on the picnic table, but the shy part of my brain could think of no logical reason to start a conversation unless I took up smoking.

One day I came home to find a little white kitten of my own waiting by my front door. It was like she had been sent there on a mission. She stretched her tiny little paws in front of her when she saw me walking up to the door like she was a friend who’d been waiting on me for a while. As soon as I opened the door she had darted inside and taken her place on top of my bed. The silence that usually greeted me when I came home was quickly filled with my own laughter.

I gave the little kitten a pat on the head which she ignored. Since the kitten had decided this was her home now, I decided I would need some supplies. I headed back down the stairs to go to the store around the corner, but I stopped at the bottom when I saw Kelsey open up the door to her apartment. She lit a cigarette and stared at me in her house shoes. I heard myself ask, “Got any extra cat food?”

Kelsey loaded me up with cat food an old litter box she’d been holding on to for years, and some kitty litter to start me off. She helped me carry it up the stairs to my studio and introduced herself to the kitten I’d decided to call Amethyst. She retreated back to her post on the picnic table, but I didn’t feel so strange about joining her after that. Kelsey always had a magical way of knowing when I’d be home from work or school, and she’d be ready with an extra beer waiting on the picnic table.

Most days we’d just sit together and enjoy the silence of our own heads. Some days we’d rattle off whatever thoughts seemed to be floating around in there untouched. No matter how we spent our time at the picnic table she’d always leave me with a drop of knowledge. She’d tell me to push through school, enjoy it while it lasted, and always work hard. Somehow I always needed to hear just that.

Time crept up on me. Before I knew it, I was about to graduate. My studio apartment was nice, but not too nice. I had a job that could pay the rent. However, I had a couch in New York that I could crash on for at least a month and dreams the size of the Empire State Building. Both of those worlds were scary in different ways. It seemed only natural that I turn to Kelsey for advice.

“The Secret Garden will always be here,” she said while she waved her hand around the courtyard like a fairy. The dust in the night air shone like magic too. “Go on, have a big adventure. Maybe you come back in a month. Maybe you never leave. Maybe you go on to have an entire family, and your genes will continue to live in the city forever.”
I looked at the bottom of my beer for the answers.
“I would never want to be a mother though,” Kelsey stated before taking a final sip of her beer, and I thought to myself, you already are.

Kassie Shanafelt lives in Brooklyn, NY. You can find her work in Cauldron Anthology, The Airgonaut, Philosophical Idiot, and others.

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