Renovating the Garden

“Who’s been painting my roses red?!” the new landscape architect could keep hearing her shout in brief, imaginative flashes of her losing her temper. Moronia was never one to give more than the faintest tic of an expression, and yet Riordan felt as though, in her discussion of how she wanted the garden to be revamped, she might snap at her at any moment. It was as though she was faulting her entirely for not being a clone of Teddy Sellon, the wunderkind horticulturalist who was asked by President O’Malley back in the 60s to lend it her signature sprucing abilities. Not that Moronia had any idea who Teddy was–she just wanted to make the garden resemble its original state as closely as possible and felt that only the deceased creator of the brainchild could do it. Well, Riordan was the daughter of that creator (the child of the brainchild, if you want), and still didn’t seem “good enough” for Moronia, leaving a chill in her wake with the frosty aura that had become her calling card as they explored the grounds together and went over what needed to be done. 

Riordan asked few questions of the First Lady, instead favoring the approach in which she nodded attentively when spoken to and then jotted down some notes. Moronia made it clear that the project was extremely important, not just to her, but to the conservation of the entire crumbling landscape of Americans’ own values and ideals. Riordan didn’t want to point out that maybe “her people” could find little to “value” amid a raging pandemic and absolutely no hope for an economic future, let alone an environmental one. But Riordan imagined that Moronia couldn’t be bothered with such details. With the election coming up, and the very probable ousting of her husband from the White House, it appeared as though she wanted to do everything possible in the remaining few months to leave her mark upon it. Like an overly groomed poodle daintily and selectively pissing on various bushes as it suited her. 

One thing that Riordan did find quite strange was Moronia’s continued insistence about how everything needed to be dug up. She didn’t seem to know the word “excavation,” but that’s precisely what she wanted in order to achieve the scope of the remodel she desired. Although Riordan was aware that the Rumps could be a cruel and sadistic couple–not even trying to be, just as part of their inherent privilege of oblivion to how most other people lived–she never would have surmised that Moronia had such specific intentions behind wielding the garden as a smokescreen for her true purposes in wanting to dig up the land.

Maybe the White House string pullers knew Moronia was the best person to use for a task such as this, seeing as how everyone viewed her as frivolous and inconsequential anyway–only at President Rump’s side as an increasingly Marie Antoinette-esque prop. Thus, no one ever looked too closely at her actions, writing them off as those of a vacuous twit’s. Yet Riordan could sense somewhere within the very fiber of her being that there was more to the situation than met the eye. That something didn’t quite add up about Moronia’s urgency to get the project underway. Even if they started at the end of the summer, it would still be completed by the time the potential new First Family entered the White House in January. Moronia, as though picking up on Riordan’s suspicions, assured, “This is an urgent need to set an example about preservation. To show the country the importance of upholding our history. Then, as though coached, she concluded with the Froyosevelt quote, “The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” She sure was turning to a lot of Democrats for inspiration in this undertaking for such an overt Republican. 

Not wanting to dwell too long on her unease, she threw herself into the task at hand, ignoring the strange appearance of “unmarked” vans waiting just beyond the gates of the garden the day after the excavation commenced. It was only by chance that Riordan, who left later in the evening, caught a glimpse of the open back door of one of the vehicles, seeing that the hatch had only come open because it was packed to the gills with bodies… some in bags, some not (for there was a shortage of such supplies as the crisis escalated). Riordan stopped in her tracks, suddenly putting together that this correlated directly to Moronia’s adamance about the excavation. About the White House’s recent announcement that the CDC would no longer be keeping track of the number of those who were dying from the pandemic. They were hiding all the evidence, from top to bottom–and this was the very pinnacle of the bottom. Six feet under, to be precise. 

Suddenly catching herself looking horrified, Riordan picked up her jaw from the floor and pretended she had seen nothing, lest someone was watching her from the perch of the fortress that loomed over her. Back in the presumable safety of her own apartment at the Woodward Building, which the White House had accommodated her with during her temporary stay, Riordan poured herself a stiff drink–gin, light on the tonic–and contemplated what she should do. To act as though nothing was happening, that she wasn’t serving as a direct accomplice to the White House’s burial of American bodies they themselves had been responsible for killing, would be unfathomable to her. Yet to try and say something about it–to publicly declare the truth–proved dicier still. They could easily perform a quick cover up after she went to the press, maybe incinerating the bodies instead, which, honestly, she couldn’t figure out why they hadn’t in the first place instead of this rather cruel in its symbolism method: planting Americans in the White House garden.

Were they expecting anything to grow other than rotten eggs? For that’s what the entire system presently smacked of. Riordan knocked another drink back, more at a loss than ever for what to do. Teddy never would have had to deal with any of this shit. All she had to endure was a few of President O’Malley’s lingering mafia goons and his blatant sexual advances. Rump was too potato-y and uninvolved to make a grab at her. She also might have known immediately to be wary of the entire endeavor when considering that the O’Malleys were the zenith representation of Democrats while the Rumps were the same for extreme right wing Republicans. She should have known there was a stinking motive for wanting to help beautify something that Joelle O’Malley had orchestrated and considered a personal pet project near and dear to her heart, especially in terms of endearing herself to her philandering husband. 

Moronia had a philandering husband too (or rather, one who would have been if anyone was interested), yet she didn’t feel obliged to make herself “useful” to him. No, this was about protecting her son, Aaron. If anyone ever found out the extent of just how many unaccounted for bodies there were, the guillotine would surely come out. And Moronia wanted to do whatever it took to keep Aaron from that kind of trauma: seeing his parents tarred and feathered, strung up–the gamut. For even as callous as she was, she still had the maternal instinct to do whatever was necessary for Aaron, regardless of that keeping other mothers in the dark about their own children. Riordan had no progeny, but she still knew that she, too, had to do what was necessary: blow the motherfucking whistle. 

The following morning, she arrived forty-five minutes early to Pennsylvania Avenue, hoping that she could catch a glimpse again of the back of one of the vans. This time, she had come prepared… to take pictures. She figured with this element of surprise of no one yet expecting her, she might have a chance. She did not, for before she could even intuit what was happening, she was being scooped up into the van she had just tried to poke inside of. Goddammit, she thought. Never trust a White House van. Nixon taught us all that. 

When she came to, what must have been hours later, she realized she had suffered the highly specific fate classified as being among that which humans fear the most: being buried alive. She screamed and screamed, wailed and wailed; but all she heard in response was the continued piling on of dirt mounds. The other bodies that she had been crammed in with, still fresh from their deaths, had enough COVID germs left to spread to her, so, on the bright side, at least she died from the virus (able to thrive on her lungs which were already in short supply of oxygen) more quickly than she would have from a slow starvation. She only hoped she would return as one of the newly planted roses that would grow in the “revitalized” version of the garden. Part of a White House in which a different president, hopefully one with O’Malley’s progressive policies, might be reigning by the time she was florally reanimated.

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