Written by Marie Petrarch
At the slightest twitch the seat of Eleanor’s desk chair wobbles and leans left. God damn it. She shifts her body, determined to reclaim the sweet spot in the center she found minutes before. The chair creaks loudly, protesting her weight, as she moves from left to right and front to back. Frustration builds with each gyration. She moves faster and faster in a spastic chair dance until suddenly, she admits defeat. Her chair leans left, her arms hang limp at her sides and her head is tilted back. She stares at the water stain on her ceiling. It’s shaped like the state of Texas and she envisions where Houston would be.
This sucks. Eleanor has been working from home for a month now. Her chair has been broken for a year, but it never mattered since she spent so little time in it. It seemed like an unnecessary expense to replace it. That was before. Now she spends hours of every day in that god forsaken chair, and it’s one of the many things scratching at her sanity. As is her too small apartment, her loud and amorous neighbors, and her lack of real human interaction.
Her cell phone chimes with a reminder that she has a virtual meeting in five minutes. Before, when people were able to congregate in conference rooms and sit within inches of each other, she thought of meetings as a major impediment to a productive day. But now, meetings are the feature of her days. She looks forward to seeing the familiar faces and hearing their voices, even those of her coworkers she doesn’t like.
She stands up to stretch and refill her water glass before having to settle in for the meeting. Her outfit is the clothing equivalent of the mullet. Business on the top and a [slumber] party down below. On the short walk to the kitchen she passes the large, thin, rectangular box that was delivered three days ago. Before, she would have ripped it right open the moment it came, but now you’re supposed to leave packages untouched for a few days in case it’s been contaminated with the novel virus that’s shut down the world. I’ll open it tomorrow, she decides. Tomorrow is Saturday. It will give me something to do for five minutes.
Saturday morning Eleanor sleeps in and then lingers in bed. There’s no good reason not to. Netflix will be there no matter what time she gets up. She stares out the window next to her bed. The light coming through is dim and grey. Rain drops cover the glass beyond the sheer curtains. The only sounds are the occasional footsteps from above. Eleanor ponders how she’ll spend her time today. I should exercise. Maybe yoga. Then I should clean. If it stops raining, I’ll put on my mask, and go for a walk.
Before, she would have gone to the gym then shopping, and met up with friends for dinner and drinks. Maybe they would have gone to a club and danced the night away. Maybe she would have met someone and not gone home alone. But that was before, and now she is very much alone. A point hammered home by the thumping of the wall that starts just behind her head.
“Aaarrgghhh!” Feeling aggravated and jealous, Eleanor gets out of bed and shuffles towards the bathroom. Loud moans join the thumps just as she sits on the toilet. She pops back up and closes the door, but it’s not enough. Eleanor’s apartment is filled with an erotic techno beat overlayed with soprano chanting of the Lord’s name.
On her way to the kitchen, Eleanor spots the quarantined package and changes course to her desk for a scissor. After slicing open the tape, she sprays disinfectant all over the box and scissor and then washes her hands. Pulling back the now damp cardboard flaps of the box she reaches inside and pulls out the bubble-wrapped contents before spraying the bubble wrap with disinfectant. She decides to let that dry for a few minutes while she washes her hands again and puts on the kettle for tea. Meanwhile, the beat of the lover’s song has slowed to it’s sultry, breathy, still loud, bridge.
Sipping her tea, Eleanor sits on the floor. She sets her tea aside and carefully unwinds the bubble-wrap to reveal a framed print of Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”. A card is attached.
Remember when we saw this painting in Madrid last summer? How mesmerized we were? I thought it would add some color to your life during this dull and scary time.
Eleanor laughs. Only her grandmother would think to send such a bizarre yet erotic and disturbing painting to her granddaughter.
The only wall space big enough to hang it is above her bed. The frame is ornate with a gold finish. Just her grandmother’s style. She sprays the frame with disinfectant, washes her hands, and fetches a hammer and nail from the tool set in her closet. The bridge of the background music has transitioned to the outro and it seems her neighbors are gearing up for a dramatic end. The ecstatic moans and rhythmic pounding of the wall drown out Eleanor’s knuckle tapping for a stud. Finding a good spot, she positions the nail and gently taps it in place. After two quick bangs, the nail is ready and she hangs the picture.
Standing on her unmade bed, she steps back to admire it. Despite it vibrating against the wall, she becomes fascinated, just as she was when she saw the original in Madrid. The painting is composed of three panels each with an astounding amount of detail. The colors trap you and then your brain starts to unravel the puzzle before you. The first panel of Adam, Eve, and Jesus Christ is easy enough, but it’s the middle panel that intrigues and confuses. As bizarre as the scene is, the overarching feeling is joy. I miss joy. She imagines herself a libertine in the Garden, frolicing, dancing, and fucking like the people in the painting. Like my neighbors, she thinks, whose love making has reached a crescendo.
She glances at the third panel and remembers her grandmother pointing out the “knife dick” wedged between the two ears and saying how that panel must be about the evil of using sex as a weapon. Eleanor agreed, and still does, but doesn’t want to dwell there. She looks back to the middle panel and again imagines herself in the Garden riding a mythical creature and eating strange berries or climbing a phallic tower and drinking the liquid from it’s fountain.
The neighbors must be racing towards their climax because the frame starts dancing frantically against the wall. It looks like it might jump right off it’s nail. Eleanor grabs the frame to steady it. Being so close to the art, her eyes zero in on a cluster of young women all draped in garland and watching the spree around them. Eleanor is visualizing herself amongst them when the frame starts to vibrate with an intensity beyond the neighbor’s doing. She tightens her grip, confused as to what’s causing the violent shaking. She can feel the vibrations through her hands, moving up her arms. When the protective glass of the frame morphs to a wavy puddle, Eleanor’s confusion becomes fear. Frightened, she lets go and backs away from the frame, stumbling and getting twisted in her bedding. The frame is still vibrating even though her neighbor’s have gone quiet. Eleanor stares at the picture in disbelief. The people inside the middle panel seem to be moving. Faint sounds of gleeful revelry are coming from beyond the wavy puddle. A light, shining through the frame, grows in intensity, and spills over Eleanor’s bed. It beckons her. On shaky legs, Eleanor gets up and slowly moves towards it. She raises a tentative hand to the puddle and as soon as her fingertips make contact, Eleanor is sucked through the frame. She lands on her back with a thud and is shrouded in light. She can’t see anything at first, but when her eyes adjust, she sees the girls from the painting leaning over her.
“Eleanor, we’re so happy you could join us,” says one. “Don’t be scared,” says another. All of them reach down and help her stand. The girls encircle Eleanor and she stares at them in amazement.
“Welcome to the Garden, Eleanor,” says the one who first welcomed her. “We need to get these clothes off you. No one wears clothes in the Garden.”
Eleanor can’t find the words to answer. She is in awe of what surrounds her. Looking beyond the girls she sees naked people cavorting all over the most beautiful garden imaginable. The painting doesn’t do it justice.
“Here, let us help.” Four pairs of hands reach for Eleanor’s pajamas, startling her. She steps out of reach holding up her hands in defense.
“That’s ok. I’ll…I’ll do it.” Eleanor is nervous and confused. Her body is shaking, her heart is racing, and her breaths are short. Am I dreaming or have the long weeks of isolation caused a mental break? This can’t actually be happening.
The girls wait patiently while Eleanor sorts through her thoughts. This must be a dream. She pinches herself and it feels real enough. The girls look at her expectantly. Well, when in Rome, I guess. She slowly undresses, leaving her pajamas on the ground.
“Now, that’s better,” says the one who seems to be the leader. “My name is Natasha. This is Rachel, Beth, and June.” She points to her companions who nod and smile in greeting.
“Hello,” answers Eleanor nervously. She fidgets, not knowing what to do with her arms. She folds them across her chest, and then switches to having one arm across her chest while the other protects her modesty below, and then switches back again until finally letting them fall at her sides. She is a riot of emotions – nervous, confused, shy, scared, curious.
“You need to relax,” explains Natasha. “This is a very special place. Try to enjoy it.”
“How about we go for a swim,” suggests Rachel.
“Great idea! I’ll lead the way.” Natasha grabs Eleanor’s hand and the other girls follow behind.
Eleanor doesn’t know which way to look. There is so much to take in, her senses are overwhelmed. The lush lawn feels like velvet under her feet. The air is warm and smells strongly of honeysuckle with undertones of human sweat. The colors of everything, from the birds and fruits to the strange vessels people are in and spilling out of, are so intense they have a life unto themselves. The sounds are a medley of birdsong, laughter, joy, moans, growls, sighs, and gasps. People are doing strange, random things like carrying humongous fish or standing on their heads while other people are lounging in a sated stupor.
When they reach the water’s edge the girls walk right in while Eleanor dips a single toe. A message of pleasure is sent directly to her brain. She walks in up to her waist and glides her hands through the water. It feels like caressing the finest silk. She moves in further, and when the water hits her breasts an intense jolt of pleasure moves through her body. She can feel tension leaving her every muscle until she feels she must resemble a boiled noodle. The happiest fucking noodle there ever was. She starts to laugh and so do the girls.
“See, I told you this place is special. You can be completely free here, untethered to any responsibility, and free of judgement. Just embrace it and enjoy.” With that Natasha swims away, and the other girls follow.
Eleanor stays where she is, closes her eyes, and floats on her back. This is amazing. Every time the water washes over her nipples she gets another shock of pleasure.
“Hello.” Her eyes fly open at the sound of a male voice so close to her ear. She stands up, and looks into the face of a beautiful man. “I’m Jared. What’s your name?”
“Eleanor,” she answers shyly.
”It’s nice to meet you, Eleanor. Welcome to the Garden.”
“Can I interest you in a berry?”
Common sense tells her no, that she shouldn’t accept a strange fruit from a strange, naked man, but common sense seems out of place in the Garden. If I’ve lost my mind, I might as well enjoy it.
“Sure, why not?”
He holds out a large, purple berry. It’s bumpy like a blackberry, but a hundred times bigger. She takes a small bite and her mouth fills with it’s luscious flavor. “Hmmmm, that’s delicious.”
“Have some more.” She takes a larger bite, and chews while smiling at Jared. The more she chews, the more his beauty grows. These berries must be some kind of aphrodisiac.
Jared releases the berry to the water. “Can I kiss you, Eleanor?”
Without hesitation she answers, “Yes, please.” She surprises herself with her reply, but doesn’t stop Jared when he gently takes her face in his hands, and joins his lips to hers. He tastes like the berry, and she reaches her arms around him pulling him closer. Her hands explore his back and pull his hair, both slick from the magical waters. He wraps an arm around her waist and fondles her breast. Their kiss grows more passionate and their hands more curious. Pleasure is all there is until a giant bubble carrying lovers and floating on the water bumps into Eleanor. She’s knocked off balance and falls beneath the surface. She’s immediately sucked down deeper, but before she can panic, she lands on her back with a bounce on her tousled bed.
Naked, dripping wet, and breathing rapidly, she pushes up on her hands and looks around her tiny apartment. Bubble wrap and the cardboard box litter the floor next to her teacup and disinfectant spray. Sun shines through her sheer curtains, and the raindrops on her window have dried. She looks down at her glistening skin dampening the sheets. Loud, joyful laughter starts deep in her belly and fills the air. She looks behind her at the “Garden of Earthly Delights” hanging slightly askew, but still, almost coy. She collapses flat on her bed laughing, reminding herself to call and thank her grandmother.
Marie Petrarch is an emerging writer from Long Island, NY. She gave up a career in fashion to stay home with her three kids, and started writing to preserve her intelligence and mental health. She is currently writing her first novel.