The exhibition opening has just finished. The hall is full of people. I have only been working here for a couple of months and I am a little nervous because I know almost no one. I smile and create the impression that I am calm and right where I should be.
The building is new and white. Marble ceilings and walls, half of the property has huge windows facing the ocean. Beautiful and a little sinister. I have never enjoyed feeling so bare and somehow the centre of attention. These places, however, make you feel exactly like that.
I speak with people, I show them around the paintings. One dips me in a red and yellow mood. Time is getting on. I transfer from the inner hall to the one that is overhanging the water. My road passes through an internal glass bridge. Here it is almost empty.
I stop in front of a large canvas with generous turquoise-violet strokes. A small, plain woman comes near me. Thin, short hair, pale-pink cardigan. I begin my usual speech aimed at potential clients. She is not listening to me. She has turned her head the other way. She suddenly turns towards me and I see her dark, burning eyes.
"Do you know about the group of the Gardeners?" she asks.
"No. Are they independent artists?"
"They plant living art."
"Pardon?" I think I have misheard.
"They gather in the forest not far from here. They come from everywhere. They stay for a week there, in the wilderness. They choose special trees and take branches and roots from them. They whittle human figures. Small. Intricate. On the last day they organise a midnight ritual, in which they plant the figures in the ground. Then they go back to wherever they have come from. Their next meeting the following year is in a different place, somewhere in the world…" she looks at me, smiling wider.
"And that is all?" I ask. Now I know I have to be careful.
"Yes. If you don't count the fact that these figures grow out of the earth to true size. They tear themselves from their root and head off into the world to settle down."
I look around because I feel cold, a little crazy and uncomfortable.
I think about the only "funeral" that I have carried out myself. We were very young, our souls pure. With my Love we decided to get married in secret. We went to the forest in the moonlight and gave our vows of faithfulness and spiritual connection to the Forest, Sky and Gods. Many years later, when we broke each other's hearts, I went to the same forest, buried our pictures and asked for a "divorce". I never thought about whether they "grew" and began living another, parallel life, remaining married in spite of us?
The woman next to me has left. I am left stunned and unfulfilled. I try to find her but she is nowhere in the gallery. I go up to a colleague and question her. She knows nothing about her or about the group for "living art".
I am busy for the next several days but I cannot stop thinking about the incident. One morning I make up my mind and head to the forest. I aim to find the children of the artist-sculptors. I wander around all day. I have a picnic. I don't see anyone or anything. I peer at the ground, dig at the soil here and there with my feet. Stare at the crowns and branches of the trees. Nothing that resembles living people.
Towards evening, a little disappointed, I prepare to leave. An older couple comes towards me. I decide to question them before I leave, maybe they know something.
They approach me. The faces of both are lined, they have a dull tan but pleasantly smiling expressions. The woman has a beautiful scarf in yellow and grey. We strike up a conversation. They have not heard of any rituals or living roots. After a bit, we wish each other a pleasant evening and I reach out a hand for goodbye. For a second I am convinced that their hands are knit together like intertwined roots. They only nod and walk away.
I continue forward, but this time slowly and uncertainly, as if I know that I am missing something important. What are they doing here in the almost complete darkness? This is not the time for a walk. And these hands of theirs. I turn and head back. I call out to them. They are nowhere to be found. I look around a bit more and decide that there is no point in any of this.
Just then I see the woman's scarf! I stop and carefully inspect the two trees intertwined in a strong embrace. The scarf seems to be wrapped around what looks like shoulders. I tenderly tie it so the wind won't take it. I hurry home. I never return to the forest again.
But I go to the place where we had gotten married. I find the secret spot and dig up the earth… the box with our pictures is empty. But at the spot have grown two thin trees with hands intertwined.