“Josh, those eyesores must be gone by tennis season. Or you’ll be fired.” She flips her dark hair in a curt dismissal, but I just stand there for a moment, staring.
Can you believe she said that? To me, the very backbone of Longhill? I’ve spent thirty years coddling and caring for those azaleas, and she calls them an eyesore? For once, words fail me. She’s the new owner of Longhill, you understand, and I’m just the old gardener. She wants a tennis court. You can imagine how I feel about that! I can’t destroy my life’s work – those towering, magnificent, blood-red azaleas. What an impasse! I’ll just have to sleep on it.
Blazing red azaleas swirl and dance and finally become bold lipstick stains on a drinking glass. The glass and the raven-haired drinker fall in slow motion to the floor. I step in carefully and remove all traces of poison.
I turn over in my sleep, half waking, feeling a bit better. Perhaps all is not lost. In the meantime, back to sleep.
The brilliant red azaleas blend into the red silk of the Chinese pillows tossed casually on the floor. A slim figure lounges on the couch, ebony hair half-covering her habitual frown. Unsuspecting sleeper, silk smothering, a slight struggle, then stillness. I toss the pillow on the floor again and tip-toe out.
I smile in my sleep, starting to feel my natural good spirits return. The red azaleas haven’t finished speaking yet, and I’m all ears now.
The dewdrops glisten on the dazzling red azaleas, becoming a stream, then a flood, then the dripping waters of Lake Longhill. The body pulled from the lake is clad all in crimson, the black hair tangled with duckweed and algae. The red and green looks like a Christmas present wrapped especially for me – the head gardener, the cultivator of prize azaleas. I warble out “Joy to the World”.
The joyous sound of a singing wren wakes me to a new day, fresh and fragrant and filled with infinite possibilities. Very soon, I’ll be fertilizing my azaleas.
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I’m amazed that no one has commented on this story until now! As an avid follower of murder mysteries, I really enjoyed this one. In addition to the sinister plot, I liked the different ways the color red and the lady’s dark hair get interpreted in the various dreams. Imaginative, entertaining, and unforgettable!
I agree, Fuji. It’s a wonderful story and it’s indeed a mystery (!) that it hasn’t been commented on before you did. Like you, I admire the way the colors of the hair and azaleas are twined into the story, and am also deeply impressed by the beauty of the language. By the way, I didn’t see any contribution from you, Fuji, or you, Juma, in the shortlist that was presented today… Read more »