Fiction · 07/17/2019

The Gardener

When I first joined Grindr, I was lucky enough to meet a man who coached me through the shivering that came over me every time I slipped into bed with men. He was a gardener and worked long hours in the eastern suburbs, where he toiled in enormous suburban backyards for the hyper-wealthy, people who reshaped their gardens to impress, or more frequently, upstage a neighbor, or in-law. As a fellow environmental warrior, he loved to tell me how of his clients kept a private seedbank of endangered vegetable stocks.

He lived in King Lake in a shed at the back of his parent’s extensive bush property. There was no heating, and in the frigid winter nights, we slept under four blankets. We didn’t have much in common, and frequently struggled for conversation, but were both anxious about our emerging sexualities, and I think this is what held us together for some time. Nobody tells you that when you start to sleep with the same sex it is like losing your virginity all over again. What I remember most clearly was the outdoor shower at the back of his shed. It snowed once, and years later, I still consider this the most romantic image of my life: me naked, skin pink beneath the blast of steaming water, his naked body coming to join me, acres of bush and looming mountains, the quiet of the falling powder.

We broke up well before the firestorm obliterated the mountains, leaving acres and acres of absolutely nothing. I say nothing, but this is not quite true. What remained? Ash, seared eucalypts, a few homes, rubble, those animals fortunate to survive, the gratitude, grief, and the fear that seeped through the nation. Post-event, a new fire risk was termed, as the storm had exceeded the limits of possible catastrophe. What is the category that exceeds catastrophic? They termed it Code Black.

I drove through King Lake a year later, and everywhere it was green.

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Jack Kirne is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. His work has appeared in various publications including the Meanjin blog, Exposition Review, Subbed In and the forthcoming anthologies Growing up Queer in Australia and New Australian Fiction (KYD). He has published Discount Fabric: The Campaign, a graphic narrative with his partner, Aaron Billings. He is currently undertaking a PhD at Deakin University. Follow him on Twitter at @jackkirne.