The Garden of Henry Godmann

by Cuauhtemoc Juarez


A short story about the conflict between our fabricated human world, and the natural world expressed in this one notion; man is an artificial, although fallible, force of change. There is nothing worse than giving an idiot a hammer and instructing that idiot to build something. The only certainty in this is that nothing will be built.

What a fine morning it is to be alive! Somewhere in the cacophonous urban jungle of the inner city of Houston, Texas, a man of about sixty was busy brewing himself a cup of coffee. He gathered his packets of coffee and poured himself a cup of hot water, both of which were dumped into his coffee-maker, and pressed a button. Within minutes, his coffee was ready and was poured into his idle cup below, resting patiently on the platform of the coffee-maker.

"Ah yea, my morning cup of Joe. Impossible to begin any day without it," he said to himself. He waved the cup gently about in his hand, watching the liquid inside swirl around the walls of the cup, his eyes lost in that vortex of milk and cacao.

"Forgot the sugar!"

He reached for a spoon and his plastic sugar container. The spoon's head was dipped and carved out a small mound of sugar, whereupon he poured into his cup of morning spirits.

"Perfect. What a beautiful cup of morning Joe."

Indulge me for a moment and allow me to tell you how this man, a simpleton by the name of Henry Godmann, acquired his home from a previous owner who had wished to free herself from the obligations of home-ownership. Godmann had come across a great fortune not too long ago, and decided to buy the house from a poor woman who had suffered from a mismanagement of her own finances. With the fortune he suddenly acquired, it was not beyond question that he could, if he so desired, take up residence in the most opulent places in the world. Neither the Hampton's nor the Hills of Beverly were too exceeding financially for him. However, he chose modesty over exorbitance. Truth be told, on that first occasion when he entered the home, he fell in love with the garden. He considered the area abundant enough for his satisfaction, enough to feel content. Even the agent remarked on its beauty, saying that it was lovely, and that she felt a bit envious that her own garden was not as pleasing to the eye. In fact, not once in her entire career had she ever laid eyes on a garden as exquisite as the one in that home. The owner admitted of having done nothing of particular significance to the garden. She had owned the home since the sixties, and not once did she make any changes to it. It was pristine, and pure. The garden was in its original condition and has been ever since the owner took up residence.

She speculated that the garden was designed by the owner before her. Some gentleman who had taken great care of the garden. She confessed to Godmann, however, that she was not certain. It only seemed that way, she said to him that day, because he had left a note that read,

- "In his hands are the depths of the Earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him, the sea is his, and his hands made the dry land.

To he who shall own this home for the generations to come, I beseech you, take great care of this garden. It is a special one, and there are none that I know of which are anything like it."

Godmann immediately resolved to buy the home and take it from the poor woman's hands. That is the is the brief history of the home, and how Godmann came into its possession.

Godmann looked out into the yard from his kitchen window, contemplating the view of the two majestic tree trunks that stood a graceful distance apart, their tops providing a layer of foliage that shielded against the sun's heat, a fine green layer of leaves that anyone would certainly desire during the summer months. Attached to the trunks of those trees were two sheets of paper with red targets. He kept them there fore practice. His eyes moved over and below to the rose bushes which lined the fence and wrapped around the entire edge of the backyard. The boards looked a bit worn, patches of moss sprouting here and there. He carefully examined the stone pathway next, observing how it meandered around the base of a fountain located at the center of the garden, encircling it like something slow and slithering, and how the individual slabs of marble, fetched from the ancient deposits beneath the surface, reflected what little sunlight did manage to penetrate the leaves, evidence of its superior quality. His eyes fixed themselves next on the White marble fountain. He thought about the water flowing, and which had been flowing, through its arteries since the sixties and beyond, like the eternal rivers transporting that blue blood of the Earth. The fountain was an example of sublime craftsmanship, a piece composed of three layers. The top, a middle section, and the base where the water was retained once it had traveled the length of its trajectory. A ring of bushes surrounded the fountain in such a delightful embrace, and a great many number of nectar seeking insects flocked to it looking for something to perch on and feed, and to continue the cycle of nature, germinating the necessary ingredients for something as beautiful to blossom elsewhere. And such was the garden which had captivated Godmann.

A few birds would roost on the fountain from time to time, each of a different color and a variety of eccentricities abounding on their bodies. Some where small and brown, others were slightly larger, but yellow, or orange. The peculiar ones had crests made of feathers jutting upward from their head, or legs too long to convince their admirers that they belonged to them. Indeed, a great variety of them would visit the garden.

He took his cup of coffee with him and walked outside. He rested it on a coffee table adjacent to the lawn chair.

"Ah, what a great garden this is."

He looked around, surveying the length of the entire scene from end to end. When his eyes had their fill, he felt a bit disturbed.

"But something is not quite right," he said, "now that I think about it more closely."

He had not noticed it before, but the way in which the bushes around the edges were obstructing the fence, was something he found to be a bit irritating.

"I know! I'll get rid of those bushes. Not much of a rose-y kind of guy anyway."

The gardening gloves were in the shed. A few moments later, he was on his knees tugging on and snipping the rose bushes, removing them from where they had stood for years. A great portion of the day he spent doing this. By the end of his arduous effort, he sat in his lawn chair again and admired his work.

"Much better!"

Admittedly, the extraction of the rose bushes had reduced the visual quality of the garden, however the modification seemed slight. Although not as perfect as before, the garden was still the most beautiful example of nature when one reckons its entirety. Perhaps a few rose bushes won't seem like much in the end.

He took his cup of coffee back inside and decided to end his alterations to the garden for the day.

The next morning, now Tuesday, he was brewing his cup of coffee again, and again, he was outside enjoying the early morning breeze, and sitting on his lawn chair. He gave the garden another cursory glance and found that the bushes near the fountain were attracting one too many bugs.

"Gross," he said, scoffing with great disapproval of their presence, "I hate bugs!"

He again went for his gardening gloves and tools which he kept in his shed, and before long, he was at it on his knees, just like the day before, removing the bushes that once happily adorned the base of the fountain. He swatted the bugs away with his hand whenever they got too close to his face, or any other part of him. He kept a can of insecticide inside the shed for good measure against them, "pests!" he yelled, and he sprayed them with the poison contained in the can. He furiously sprayed the air until it became too toxic for them to soar and fly about the garden. Eventually, no bug ever dared to return. Robbed were the other places that could have been made beautiful by the genetic material within the garden, now that the carriers of this material will never again land on a bush flower, and consume their nectar. He finished ripping the bushes from their roots, and the fountain now stood bare without its bushes to embrace it. It had only the meandering stone path now to keep it company.

How naked the fountain looks. It is true, that while the fountain alone is a work of art, the bushes contributed to its appeal. In fact, everything contributes something to the garden's beauty, and each element is necessary. The garden was still enviable by any standard, although far from the perfection that it once enjoyed in the past. Such days are forever lost to the past now.

He returned to his dwelling and rested.

It was an early Wednesday morning, his coffee cup was already hot and steamy, sitting on the coffee table, and Godmann's eyes were at it again, searching for anything that they disliked.

"You know something, I'd like to get rid of those marble slabs," he said to himself, in the sort of private conversation which only mad men are suspected of having.

He again entered his shed and gathered the appropriate tools to remove the gorgeous marble slabs from the ground. Once he had them, he was soon again on his knees, grunting and groaning and exerting a great effort to remove them. One by one they were lifted and scattered about the floor, leaving behind only depressions in the soil that marked where they once rested, echoes of their contribution to the sublimity of the garden.

The whole operation did not take more than an hour, and it was still a nascent morning.

"I would like to extend the concrete landing of the backyard," he said, "and I have the materials I need for the mix." He spent the entire day pouring concrete into the backyard, thus enlarging his concrete landing to a size twice that of its original extent. It now swallowed at least forty to fifty percent of the backyard. The garden suffered a tremendous reduction of green space. Where blades of grass once swayed in the wind, a layer of concrete now sat to soak up the sun's heat like a sponge.

Godmann collected the marble slabs and sold them to the highest bidder willing to pay for a set of fifteen slab ornaments. He was exhausted by the end of it, and so he set off for bed the moment he could.

Thursday came, and the garden was only a shadow of its original self. Godmann, through the course of the week, had rearranged the garden to his liking, and his wrinkled face showed no sign of satisfaction.

"I hate that I can't get enough sun. How am I to tan my skin if those leaves are in the way?"

He stormed into his shed, and grabbed his clippers and a ladder with great irritation.

"I'll show that tree to mess with my sun."

He adjusted his ladder and climbed its shaky steps.

"One, two, three," and on he went counting the victims of his clippers. There was soon a large pile of twigs and branches littering the grass below. Squirrels scurried away, and any other woodland creature that depended on those branches, and the trees themselves, for refuge and protection from predators; where forced away by the whims of one man. After a few hours, even the trees looked cold and surrounded by an air of melancholy. Their number of branches were drastically reduced, and the cool shade they once provided had receded a great deal, having once reached as far as the concrete landing, now found itself barely able to reach the fountain at the center. Godmann thought it was good. And so it was. He put away the clippers and went back inside.

His Friday coffee was sitting on the coffee table, the Friday morning breeze blowing the liquid down to a cool temperature for him. The eyes of this man again busy, back and forth, back and forth. There was not much to look at by now, but they yet continued to search for any imperfections. There was only one place that he had not yet touched, one feature of the garden he had yet to spoil.

"That fountain," he muttered, "its costing me too much money to keep it running. I'll just turn it off."

And just like that, the waters that once ran through the veins of this intricate marble sculpture had ceased to appear. Now no water was likely to greet the day, and refresh the surrounding space. Where the sound of a constant run and drip filled the air, silence now occupied that vacancy. At least the birds still came to bathe once in a while in the small pools of water left in the fountain. They splashed and sang songs, the last true element of beauty that the garden had left. It would be a shame if Godmann's whims did not consider the garden's current state to be enough, although, for now, they did.

Saturday had arrived. The heat of the sun struck Godmann directly now that the shade was gone, his concrete landing extending farther out than before, the air was silent without a buzz or a drip, the fence was visible and not a rose in sight, the fountain's base was desolate, no slab or bush to be seen. All of it was to Godmann's liking, except for the birds.

"Such ugly birds," he thought. "I only want the birds that are pretty. I know what I'll do."

He again went into the shed, rustled through some objects and tools he had laying around, and from the disorder, he pulled out a revolver. He kept a box of ammo on a shelf near the doorway. With his gun in one hand, and the box of ammo in the other, he made the short trek to his lawn chair and sat down.

"Lets see what we have here." He shook the box of ammo, jingling the metallic contents inside, before opening the box.

"One, two, three, four, five, and six," he said, expressing his eagerness in the count.

The slots were filled one at a time, an act that the birds bathing in the fountain were completely oblivious to. They continued to sing their songs without any regard whatsoever for Godmann. He had finished loading the revolver and fixed his eyes on the birds availing themselves of a fine Saturday morning bathe. His eyes had a cold and calculating look in them, as if the birds were no different than the targets nailed to the trunks of the trees. He was concentrated on those he considered to be the ugliest among them.

Once he identified the ones he did not like, the revolver was raised, and the cold, calculating eyes were now watching the birds bathe through an iron sight.

"You, you are very ugly."

Bang! Then a thud was heard on the soft grass.

"Oh yea, got him! Hehehe." He set his eyes on yet another that believed was out of harm's way if it were to roost on the roof of his shed.

"Oh you there. You have such ugly colors. I don't like them. Too yellow for me."

Bang! And the bird was gone. The loud gunshot spooked the rest of the birds away, except for a few that dared to linger in the tree tops, hidden from view. Suddenly, all was silent again. Godmann was fortunate enough to not have a neighbor behind his property. There was only a small bayou with a gentle stream of water coursing through its length.

"There are only a few kinds of birds that I allow back here."

A bird flew down from the tree tops and returned to the fountain after some time. A red bird, a bird with feathers as red as blood. The red bird was followed by a dark blue bird with black tipped feathers. In fact, both the red and blue birds had black tipped feathers.

"Now those are birds I want in my backyard! I'll have none of those bright colored ones."

He lowered the warm nozzle of his revolver and set it on the coffee table next to his warm, steamy cup of morning joe. Godmann took a moment to admire his work, finished his cup of coffee, and took off on a few errands, not at all minding the small corpse and feathers strewn about the garden that he was leaving in his wake. The day came and went for Godmann, and he retired to his bed for another night.

He no longer worked. He gave the prime of his youth to a development company. Now,elderly and with a great, long white beard, he finds a great deal of pleasure sitting in his lawn chair every morning watching the world pass him by. Tomorrow would be no different.

Sunday at last had arrived. The usual ritual was carried out and he again was sitting in his lawn chair. This time, he made no alterations to the garden. He took one great sweeping look and thought that it was enough. It was to his liking. No bushes to invite the bugs, or sprout roses, both of which he detested. The mossy boards were visible now. The quality of the air found itself degraded, filled by droplets of insecticide to ensure the bugs were repelled for good. No branches to obstruct the sun that he needed to modify the color of his skin, a result that he sought to achieve for the sake of vanity. No marble stones to keep him from extending his concrete environment. Nothing, in fact, could prevent him from extending his concrete environment to the length he wished. No longer was there the noisy sound of a gentle stream coming from the fountain, the costs to maintain it were no longer a concern, and the ugly birds were already dealt with. A few bright colored feathers were still sprinkled around the garden floor, occasionally picked up by a stray gust of wind and blown somewhere else. Small stains of blood decorated the rim of the fountain where the unfortunate bird once stood, and the same with the roof of his shed.

"Perfect," he said. He had managed to satisfy his eye. The garden was now good and perfect, so he rested his great and powerful hands that Sunday.

That same night, there was a thunderstorm brewing. A great deluge which had woke him up in the middle of the night.

"Shut up!" he cried, and pulled the pillow over his head. Not even his pillow could save him from the claps of thunder that sounded off as the storm passed directly overhead. At about four in the morning, a great flash of lightning illuminated the bedroom, followed by the clap of thunder a few seconds later, and finally, and without warning, a tree broke into his home. Godmann was crushed beneath its weight, while still in bed, and his home had sustained a great deal of damage. The heavy rains penetrated his room, now filled with the debris, his roof collapsed and turned into rubble. Godmann was no more. He lay lifelessly beneath the tree trunk. The storm passed and by the following morning, he was being removed from the wreckage.

A neighbor, a young woman, noticed what had happened and approached another bystander observing the scene.

"What happened?" she had asked the man standing behind the yellow tape.

"Some poor bastard got crushed by a tree that fell on his house last night."

"Oh my God, how terrible. Who was he?"

The man looked around, hoping to muster some quick eulogy for the man, but he came up short. He simply shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't know. Just some old guy."

And that there was the end of Godmann.

The legacy of Godmann amounted to nothing more than what he had done to the garden, but even that will change over time. What, then, does he really leave behind, if not that. Nothing, I tell you, absolutely nothing beside a few blood stains and fallen feathers it seems. The ephemerality of his life was commensurate with the time it takes to blink an eye, a time he spent chasing only frivolities, and what a force of change he turned out to be in that short exsitence. How unfortunate, then, for such a being like Godmann to be done in by a tree, how unfortunate that his great and powerful hands were unable to save him, how unfortunate that the Universe will someday forget him, how unfortunate for all of exsitence to be deprived of Godmann. Truly, how unfortunate. Nevertheless, the sun rose just as it always does in the east, its tepid light slowly illuminating and revealing the scene of Godmann's demise.

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