MASQUERADE II

Tell me about the gardener. You’ve been keeping me in the dark long enough. I’m sick of that thing knocking on my door in the middle of the night and wondering whether it’s going to pull my spine through my asshole if it gets in.

He would not pull your spine through your asshole. Does that help?

It raises more questions, actually.

You do not need to know anything more than you already do. You should have left the day you arrived. Human curiosity is infuriating.

Okay. First of all, you’re a human, Castile. Don’t talk about your own species in the third person. It’s weird. Second, I can read your family’s moldy old letters all day long, but I’ve been trapped in here for weeks and I’m running out of material. If the gardener doesn’t kill me soon, the boredom will. You aren’t exactly good company.

That was uncalled for.

What’s wrong? You love to monologue. So monologue, you dramatic bitch.

It isn’t a story you would want to hear. And it isn’t one that I’m inclined to tell.

Castile, I’m sitting next to your overgrown, juicy cadaver picking branches from under my toenails. There is a human tree in the basement. Every other night a screeching zombie monster tries to break into the room where I sleep.

You haven’t told me a single pleasant story so far. I think I can take this one.

Why is this so hard to get out of you?

Because he was my friend.

So was Hazel.

Then again, you didn’t tell me about her personally, did you? I read your journals and letters and put everything together for myself. I guess that was rude of me, but in my defense you’re dead, so I didn’t think it would bother you. If you aren’t going to tell me yourself, then fine, but at least point me to some documents I can read on my own.

I never wrote about him. There is nothing for you to read.

His name was Samuel Garlan. He was human once.

Samuel Garlan. I have him in my notes. He was the groundskeeper at the turn of the century. You were, what, twelve when he joined the estate staff?

Do you remember the human mask I told you about? It awoke a fascination in me. The summer my father fired the Venetian mask-maker was the same summer Samuel Garlan started work on our estate.

He also awoke a fascination.

Samuel was soft-spoken. He was originally from Texas, so there was a slight drawl to his voice, but I took to it immediately. His dark brown hair was long and floppy, falling just so over his eyes. And his eyes. They were kind and honest. I thought it was fitting that he was a gardener, because he seemed to be made from the earth, like a man embraced by clay — not grave-dirt but garden soil, warm, watered, and bathed in sunlight.

I loved looking at his hands. He gesticulated when he spoke, and he had long, delicate fingers with prominent knuckles. There was always soil under his nails.

He worked with my father to design and plant the rose garden in front of the manor, and I took to going out in the mornings to help him do the weeding. I associated him with roses. He was poised so delicately on that edge between masculine and feminine, and he was genuine in a way my family never was to me. And I was at a very vulnerable age. I came to understand later the roots of my infatuation with him. Sometimes, I would prick my fingers on the thorns on purpose, just so he would look at me with concern and take my wrist to dab the blood away with his handkerchief.

I was gradually consumed with a wish to become him. My father mistook my interest in Samuel Garlan for an interest in gardening and found more opportunities to send me outside. I had a rather pasty and unhealthy complexion, in need of sun and fresh air.

One morning, I was digging up a corner of the garden with Samuel when my trowel hit something strange. It was a buried finger, not severed from a person but grown from the earth, for roots trailed from its base when I pulled it out of the ground. I had encountered similar things on the estate before so I was not so much surprised as I was terrified of what Samuel would think when I showed it to him.

He merely glanced at it and told me to put it with the other weeds. When I looked at the pile I saw there were more fingers, some half-formed, that Samuel had already pulled out of the ground. They lay with the other weeds like wild carrots. That was how I knew Samuel Garlan was like me.

When the new mask-maker came that September, I said I wanted a mask in Samuel’s likeness. A Samuel mask, rather than a human mask. The new artisan, being less avant-garde than the last, found this a strange request and took it to my father, who assumed, again, a fascination with gardening in general and got Samuel’s permission for the mask. He told Samuel I thought of him as a role model.

The artisan went off and returned a few weeks later with a colorful mask styled after Samuel’s most distinctive features — his long, straight nose and angular cheekbones, and his thin but sharply-defined lips. I had stolen glances at his lips many times whenever he wasn’t looking, and the artisan had replicated them perfectly. Though the mask was colorful and stylized, it was still unmistakably Samuel Garlan’s face.

I couldn’t bring myself to try it on. Instead, I took it to my room and stared at it for a long time.

I knew my feelings were deviant. The longing I chased whenever I pricked my own finger in the garden was a paper rose, a forbidden fruit which I was desperate to taste.

So there, in the privacy of my own bedroom, I lifted the mask to my face and kissed it.

With my eyes shut, I thought I could imagine locks of brown hair tickling my cheeks, that the cold surface of the mask was actually flesh. I wrapped my own arms around myself and imagined an embrace. I kept thinking, over and over again, “I am kissing a man. I am kissing a man.”

Samuel Garlan — the real Samuel Garlan — never discovered my infatuation. But in my heart there lived another man, one with his beautiful hands and gentle voice.

But how did he become the — that thing out there?

I grew him that way, Farrow. I learned the art of cultivation from him.