The Madness of Hortense Eaton
the following is my pitiful attempt at a short story. this was an assignment that i turned in sometime in 2002 for an english class i was taking at the time.
Miss Hortense Eaton, unwed at the age of thirty, was an immense disappointment to her family. With coarse, driftwood colored hair, pea green eyes and a bamboo thin figure, Hortense consistently failed to catch the attention of any of the local eligible bachelors, the number of which was quickly dwindling. Plain and rather introverted, Miss Eaton found most social interactions very taxing and strenuous. This social impediment made finding a proper husband extremely difficult. Her parents had chosen the name Hortense, which comes from the Latin for “gardener,” in hopes that she would be fertile and produce plentiful offspring. Edward and Alicia Eaton grew less patient with Hortense with each year she remained a spinster. Alicia, always prepared and superstitious, had a greenhouse full of various breeds of orchids, so, that when Hortense finally found a suitable mate, she could prepare the right mixtures (according to ancient Greek folk medicine) to ensure strong and healthy grandsons. However, Miss Eaton had not had a suitor in ten years.
Hortense lived an uneventful life, isolated considerably from the rest of the town in a tiny cottage on her parents’ property. Behind the cottage was Hortense’s outdoor sanctuary. Hortense’s ten feet by twelve feet plot of land could hardly be called a true garden in her eyes, but it was still a quite charming work-in-progress all the same. She devoted countless hours each day to trying to make it her own ethereal Garden of Eden. On a damp, gray Saturday morning, Hortense was tending to her chrysanthemums when her Aunt Gwynth hurriedly entered the garden with a worn, leather-bound book under her arm.
“Hello, Auntie. Have you had a pleasant morning thus far?”
“Darling, my morning has been as it always is…simply wonderful! Hortense, dear, you know how much I enjoy your company…But I really must be off! I just noticed of the late that you have been wearing a rather dreary look upon your face and I thought you might find some solace in the Bible. Goodbye!”
“Thank you, Auntie. Goodbye!”
Hortense had always been particularly fond of Aunt Gwynth and increasingly so after she became of marriageable age. Aunt Gwynth also wore the horrible badge of spinsterhood, and perpetually provided kind words of encouragement and wisdom to her frequently downtrodden niece. In contrast to Hortense, Gwynth chose her spinster status freely, defiantly ignoring the alleged shame it brought upon her family’s name. Gwynth, a hopeless romantic, did not believe in marriage without love, and since she had never loved any of her many suitors, she never married.
In her youth, Hortense had never fully agreed with the religious views of her teachers at school. However, this did not keep her from enjoying Bible stories. She obediently opened the Bible, per her dear aunt’s request and began skimming the pages before the dust of Gwynth’s retreating footsteps settled back to the ground. Very quickly, Hortense came upon her favorite part of the Book of Genesis, chapter two: verse seven, in which God made man from the earth. From age eighteen to the present, Hortense had spent countless hours wishing for an intelligent, handsome, awe-inspiring husband. Then, suddenly, it occurred to her that she too could make a companion from the earth.
Throughout her life, Miss Eaton had felt an unbreakable tie to the earth, delving hungrily into gardening and accumulating innumerable volumes on the subject of botany. She soon began lovingly molding a mound of dirt into the shape of a man. She placed various parts of flowers and plants into her future husband, to ensure his health, prosperity and intelligence. Crafting her husband consumed Hortense’s every waking moment for six days. On the seventh day, she slept beside him, between a row of crimson carnations and a row of sunshine hued chrysanthemums. She continued to sleep in the garden for twenty-eight days. The earth made a surprisingly comfortable bed.
Miss Eaton kept a tireless vigil by the dirt mound, only leaving its side to eat one bowl of porridge and drink a glass of water a day. As the sun rose on the twenty-ninth day, Hortense felt a strange sensation of gentle breathing on her neck. Her eyelids fluttered open and suddenly she leapt up, startled, slightly confused and a little embarrassed. There was a painfully handsome man lying stark naked where her mound of earth had been. She stared in disbelief at his perfectly sculpted build pulsating with life. The Man of the Earth rolled over on to his side, every slight movement, became sustenance for Hortense’s famished senses. Slowly, he opened his grayish-blue eyes and gazed questioningly at the woman who had created him.
“Who am I? More importantly, who are you and what is your name?” demanded the Man of the Earth.
“You are…my husband. Well, I am…My name is Hortense and I am your wife,” Hortense quickly stuttered.
“Do I have a name? If you are my wife, why do I not remember you? In fact why do I have no recollection of any memories other than waking up sixty seconds ago?” inquired the Man of the Earth. Standing up, completely immodest about his nakedness, the Man of the Earth walked closer to Hortense, waiting for a response.
“Your name is…Yes, your name, my love, is Percival. You have no memories because God has decided to give you a clean slate,” she matter-of-factly replied. Hortense had chosen “Percival” because it meant “piercing the valley.” Percival’s shining beauty had pierced the heavily clouded valley of her lonely heart.
She impulsively cried, “Percival, oh how long I have waited for you.” Forgetting her initial embarrassment, Hortense grabbed Percival, wrapping her arms tightly around him.
At this particular moment, Aunt Gwynth was in the middle of unlatching the tattered gate that separated Hortense’s miniscule garden from the family’s expansive estate, when her eyes fixed upon her niece clutching a very nude, unidentified man. A startled cry escaped Gwynth’s lips, but the wise spinster regained her composure quickly.
“Pardon me, but I do not believe I have been formally introduced to your new acquaintance, Hortense. But perhaps, we should prolong our introductions a bit longer to allow your guest to find some clothing,” Gwynth calmly said, as she tried to avert her eyes from his bare front-side.
Guiltily dropping her hands from the hasty embrace, Hortense, with cherry blossom flushed cheeks, opened her mouth in an attempt to explain the situation, but could not. Instead, she led Percival into her humble abode and began searching through an old oak chest for clothes that might fit him. Gwynth, still standing dumbfounded in the garden, simply waited there for her niece to return with a logical explanation for the bizarre scene she had witnessed. Percival remained quiet as Hortense located an old set of men’s cotton pajamas that had belonged to her deceased brother, Quincy.
“Put these on, my darling,” Hortense ordered.
“It is nearly noon and you wish me to wear bed clothes? How utterly absurd! If you really are my wife, I shall demand a divorce or, at the very least, a full service bar, complete with bartender as well as a lifetime supply of opium and a den to smoke it in!” Percival curtly replied.
“Oh dear Man of the Earth, how can you be so cruel to thy maker?”
“My memory is beginning to return. You did not make me. What makes you think that you are my creator? Perhaps, I made myself come to life. Perhaps…perhaps I was tired of being confined to your pathetic garden. Let us change this somniferous topic, shall we? Who was that lovely woman outside?”
“Never mind her. Please put these pajamas on for now. I will do my best to procure proper day clothes as soon as possible. “
“I will do nothing of the sort until you tell me who that woman is.”
“Very well. That woman is my Aunt Gwynth. I suppose it would be acceptable for you to meet her, as soon as you put on these clothes.”
Percival excitedly put on the dead man’s bedclothes and headed straight for the only door leading in and out of Hortense’s closet of a cottage. Hortense worriedly followed Percival to meet her aunt once again. She was beginning to think that her not-yet-lover’s attention was already straying from her. Miss Eaton was outraged at the possibility that gorgeous Percival could be infatuated with her aunt, who was twenty years her senior. Also, his apparent wandering gaze injured her further because she worshipped her brother Quincy and did not appreciate the thought of a cruel man of filth wearing his clothes. Since Quincy’s death ten years ago, not a day passed in which Hortense did not long desperately for his company. Edward and Alicia thought Hortense’s intense preoccupation with Quincy was unhealthy. Gardening came second to her love for her younger brother, who would be twenty-six years of age if he had lived. Occasionally, since Hortense rarely received visitors, she would put on some of Quincy’s outfits and carry on conversations with him. His clothes and personal belongings were very dear to her, so it was hard for Hortense to see them being abused by such a base creature as Percival.
“Aunt Gwynth, this is Percival. Percival, this is Aunt Gwynth my considerably older mother’s sister.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Gwynth. Your beauty is unmatched by anything in nature. “
“Why thank you, young man. I see you have found Quincy’s pajamas. Where are you from? How do you know my niece, Hortense? And why on earth were you calling upon her naked and unchaperoned? Hortense dear, you know I would be happy to chaperone you and any of your gentlemen callers.”
“I am from the earth. Your niece’s desperate tears and witchcraft awakened me. Hortense, you did not make me. I have always existed. I arose from the ground to rid myself of your terrible sobbing and equally terrible landscaping designs. “
Hortense could not hear the conversation anymore. She was infuriated by Percival’s rude, ungrateful behavior. With clenched fists, blood rushing through her veins like raging rapids, Hortense ran away from her disgusting aunt and Percival, while plotting a prompt and satisfying revenge against them both.
The humble garden was, with lightning speed, transforming into paradise for the older spinster and the young man. Gwynth found herself becoming deeply enamored of Percival, and tried with all her might to conceal her feelings from him. However, Percival was incredibly astute and could sense her yearning for him, like a predator hunting easy prey. Gwynth liked to think of herself as chaste, although according to society’s standards, she was not because she had had premarital sexual relations with a handful of her suitors in the past. At the moment, she was attempting to restrain herself from repeating this offense with this Eros incarnate from the earth. Discarding her inhibitions, Gwynth accepted Percival’s aggressive kiss. Both completely oblivious to their surroundings, they began making love on top of the red carnations Hortense loved.
With a shattered, blackened heart, Hortense watched from her only window as Aunt Whore and the Bastard of the Earth mated like depraved animals in her sacred garden. She went into her storage closet and retrieved a large shovel. Armed with the gardening tool, she furiously ran outside and interrupted the peculiar tryst by bludgeoning the new couple repeatedly.
After Gwynth’s and Percival’s faces were pounded beyond possible recognition, Hortense began digging two large rectangular holes in the ground of her tainted paradise. As she was digging, her mind filled with poisonous truths that she had believed to be long buried in the depths of her unconscious mind. She remembered Edward and Alicia being lowered into the ground, while a priest somberly spoke blessings for the dead. She had been nineteen years old when she baked them a special batch of chocolate chip cookies laced with arsenic. They could no longer chastise her for being unmarried. A year later, she discovered that the only man she had ever loved did not share the same romantic feelings for her. She had suffocated Quincy with a pillow while he was sleeping because she could not bare his strictly platonic love. He could no longer say that she smothered him too much. Now a decade later, she was eliminating her cruelest oppressors yet. As Hortense dragged and positioned the doomed lovers in their shallow graves, she felt exhaustion plaguing her bones. She began to wearily retreat to her cottage, when she detected movement from the corner of her eye. She rushed back to check the freshly dug graves. As she neared the edge of one hole, she lost her footing and tripped, snapping her neck in two on the way down. She realized before her soul left her body, that the two graves were empty.