It was only seven-fifty. The yard was still empty.

Donna buttoned up her coat and pulled on her beanie. She passed through the gate and shuffled toward the garden, the contents of her watering can splashing onto the granitic sand beneath her sneakers.

Donna’s “garden” was little more than two flowerbeds in the yard’s northwest corner. Azaleas, pansies and chrysanthemums fought for space in one of the beds while the other housed rose bushes. A bare lemon tree stood to the side in an old barrel. Donna’s hands ached for a pair of secateurs to perform the emergency work needed to revive it.

She opened a tub and took out a bag of topsoil and a plastic trowel. She creaked down onto her knees and loosened the dirt before watering each plant’s roots. Next, she inspected the undersides of the leaves. Last season’s thrips hadn’t returned. Yet.

The sun had risen over the eastern wall, placing its warm hand on her back. Donna heard the yard fill behind her, sounding like a barn full of hens. She mostly kept to herself nowadays. Whatever friends she’d once made in here had long since gone. The new girl sharing her cell had barely uttered a word in six weeks. All the others were scary. They seemed cunning and vicious. Killers.

Donna finished by tending to her roses. The plant’s thorns scratched and tore at her skin, but she remained undeterred. Her eye fell upon a rose toward the back, its white petals blooming like a sunrise. She gently ran her bony finger around its perfect edge.

‘She’s a beauty,’ came a voice behind her. It was Sam, one of the prison’s older guards. His uniform sagged upon his gaunt frame. Duke – Sam’s ever-watchful German Shepherd – eyed Donna from its leash.

Donna nodded to her bag of dirt. ‘I’m running low again. Can you put another order in?’

‘What for? Parole board’s next month.’

The statement pricked her. ‘What do you mean? I’ve still got years.’

‘I wouldn’t be so sure. All this time in here without causing any trouble? Too expensive keeping someone like you locked up in here, Don.’

‘So they’ll just throw me out?’

‘What are you on about?’ Sam frowned. ‘Don’t you want to get back to your outside life?’

She tried to decipher the life he meant.

‘I suppose so,’ she eventually said.

She watched Sam lead Duke back toward Block H. She packed her spade and soil into the tub and brushed her hands clean against her trousers. Why were they punishing her? She’d done nothing wrong. She turned back to that single perfect rose. The squeals of the other inmates grew louder behind her. Which of them would tend to the garden when she was gone? Donna closed her eyes, trapping her tears. She couldn’t leave.

She imagined her cellmate’s serene face.

Donna’s hand twitched for those secateurs.

© Matthew S. Wilson, October 2022

This piece was originally written for September’s Furious Fiction writing challenge, run by the Australian Writers Centre.

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