top of page

Art by Hayden Martin

  • Instagram

Community Garden

Katie Malate

They put up a billboard right across our apartment advertising the green change. It was mounted on thick wooden poles in the middle of an empty lot and was covered in real vines that hung limply from its corners down onto the sidewalk. It was simple in design. A large green tree with a human face on its trunk. In thick blue lettering above it read “Go Green, Be At Peace.” 

Maggie and I watched the construction workers from our window when they were setting it up, giggling into our cracked coffee mugs. With all the print ads, tv commercials, and door-to-door campaigns, we still hadn’t actually known anyone who had undergone the procedure. We weren’t even sure how the procedure was done. It felt like with every new glowing review from seemingly sentient human hedges, the more Maggie, I, and all of our other friends were turned off by the idea. 

“Fuckin’ scary,” Maggie said one night while we were cuddled up together watching TV. A talk show host was interviewing one of the green changes’ Heads of Research. He was showing photographs of human gardens, rows of humanoid hedges dotted with brightly-colored flowers, their bodies lush and bending towards the sunlight. Maggie had just gotten off from work and was too tired to say anything in complete sentences. Her stained uniform was half unbuttoned and her eyes were glazed over but they still stared hard at the screen. I understood what she meant though, her fear soaking through our small couch. I kissed the top of her head and found a stabilizing comfort in the smell of her cheap shampoo. I hoped that I offered her the

same. Maggie pressed herself closer to me, her eyes never leaving the screen as images of twisted green bodies flickered in and out. 

Maggie’s brother Lyle was the first person we knew who decided to make the change. He broke the news to both of us over lunch at our place. As he sipped his coffee we could see the veins in his neck pulsating. 

“It’s more simple than you’d think. It’s just three pills a day for two weeks, once I’m almost all the way turned I’m gonna plant myself in my backyard.” Looking closer at Lyle’s eyes there were hints of a pale green shimmer starting to overtake his brown irises. Maggie let out a noise that sounded like she was half laughing and half choking. She leaned against the counter and buried her face in her hands, I put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed her gently. 

“Lyle, this just feels like you're killing yourself,” I said, Maggie started to cry but didn’t lift her head up. Lyle smiled softly and reached across the counter to rub Maggie’s arm. On his wrists, I could see the beginnings of small leaves poking out from his skin. Like all of the new green things on his body, it trembled like it wanted to burst from the flesh that held it. 

“I know it seems like I’m dying, but that's not what this is at all. I promise.” Lyle looked at me and took my other hand in his. “I’m just tired, I’ve been working in construction for years now. From the moment I open my eyes to the moment I close them my body tenses like I’m carrying something heavy, even when nothing is there. Every day I live just to work, the change gives me a chance to live without having to worry about any of it. Haven’t you guys ever wanted something different?” Maggie jerked her hand away from his like she had been burned, before standing abruptly, running into our bedroom, and slamming the door behind her. Lyle me this pitying look, like there was something I wasn’t understanding.

“Don’t you see what this is doing to Maggie? What are we gonna do without you?” I said. “This is insanity Lyle, pure insanity.” 

“It took me a while to wrap my head around it too, I couldn’t believe it when people started doing it. But these people, they’re still alive. They can still hear, think, and feel. But they’re not bound to their suffering. Isn’t that amazing? I’ll still be alive, but for once I’m going to be living.” Lyle smiled, small blue buds were woven in between his teeth. 

I stopped talking after that and turned away from him. A sick, uneasy feeling spread through my body and out the tips of my fingers. 

“She’s just as tired as me. I can see it. Maggie will get it someday.” 

Lyle excused himself after that. Knocking on our bedroom door once and giving a muffled goodbye to Maggie. The door creaked open and I could see her tear-soaked face peeking through the door. She reached her hand out and cupped Lyle’s cheek, never fully stepping past the door frame. He patted her hand and the green that grew from the tips of his fingers brushed against her untainted skin. We watched him walk down the sidewalk from our window, his hands were in his pockets. He didn’t look back once. 

One day on my way home from work I noticed Maggie standing in the community garden. The garden itself had started a few weeks ago in the empty lot across the street. Mrs.Sampson, the old woman who lived right next to it, walked through the metal gate as her arms stretched and turned into a network of branches. Before we knew it she had become a towering oak tree that bent itself around the green change billboard. What was once her face had melted into thick, brown bark. One after another people went into the lot, always silent, and planted themselves there. Some became bushes, some were hedges, while others became small

patches of flowers. All still maintained shreds of humanity with visible limbs and features hidden in their stems and branches. The ones who still resisted the change stayed clear of the place. In between the uncanny plant life, I could see Maggie standing completely still in front of the oak tree, a hand placed on the bark. Her body sagged from the weight of the day and her uniform still clung to her, almost like she came here straight from work. But I could see her eyes as I walked up to her, they were aware and alert. Unlike how she usually was at the end of the day, watching me make us dinner with glassy eyes. As I walked into the garden and shivered, I felt watched. I stood next to Maggie but her eyes never left her own hand. “Honey?” I said, making my voice low. Maggie’s head snapped in surprise but she smiled when she saw it was me. 

“She’s breathing.” 


“Feel.” Maggie gently took my hand in hers and guided it to the tree's trunk. I felt the twitches of resistance at first but eventually let her press me to the cool bark. It felt rough like you would expect, but there was something off about the way it sat in my hand. It was like it was writhing beneath my touch, slithering. Like it was- 


“Isn’t it amazing?” Maggie turned to walk around the garden. “You can see they’re all moving like they’re breathing.” Maggie bent down to inspect a patch of daffodils, the eyes of each flower twitched as if following her movements. “It’s like they’re all still here.” 

“Maybe?” I said, trying not to sound scared out of my mind. “I don’t know if anyone besides them knows for sure.”

“But it just feels like they are, you know? Like there’s a presence when you look at them. They seem peaceful.” Maggie stared at the oak tree again, a gust of wind caused a rustle in the leaves. “I saw Lyle the other day.” I felt my brow knit together, the last time we saw him was right before he turned. His front door was unlocked so we walked in to find him lying on the floor, a blooming hydrangea sticking out of his mouth on a thick green stem. With every breath, he took the flowers grew higher and higher. 

“Was he…okay?” I had no idea what else to say. 

“More than okay,” Maggie leaned her full weight on the oak tree. “He was beautiful.” 

She began to smell different. The familiar neutral scent that lingered on her clothes and her pillow was replaced by something pungent and earthy. For the first few days, I brushed this off as something that stayed with her from her trips to the community garden, which became semi-frequent. Often I’d hear Maggie rise early in the morning to go on a walk there before work, and I’d come to collect her in the evenings after she had sat there with them for a while. 

“They appreciate the company, it’s sad that nobody treats them like they have feelings anymore.” She said to me once over dinner, her cheeks were ruddy from her time in the sun. “You’re 100 percent sure the plants can hear you?” I figured this was her way of getting over Lyle. 

“Yeah, they move a bit when they hear your voice. They’ll also stretch themselves towards people that come by.” 

I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Any time we had discussed the green change she seemed almost repulsed at the idea. Even when she started going to the garden more she kept saying how she respected the decisions of those who changed but that she couldn’t imagine doing it herself.

Work continued, the hours at Maggie’s job got longer with more and more people opting out of human existence, and one day I found a bottle of green pills hidden in the back of our pantry. 

I had them out on the table when Maggie got home. When Maggie came in and saw me and the pills on the table she silently sat down in the chair across from me. 

“I was going to tell you earlier, there was just never a right time.” 

“Why didn’t you tell me before you even bought the pills?” 

“Because you would’ve tried to talk me out of it.” I looked up from my hands in bewilderment, Maggie’s brown eyes were steady. But with this familiarity, something was off. Something flickered from a place deep within her pupils and I could feel myself tense. 

“Maggie you should’ve told me.” I heard my voice waver a bit, “how many have you already taken?” She gave me a small, sad smile. 

“I’m on day three.” Maggie rolled up her sleeve and showed me the rows of thick green leaves that were starting to poke through her skin. I wanted to reach over and tear them out one by one. 

“So now that you know how much I don’t want this, are you gonna stop? Are you even gonna tell me why you’re doing this?” I asked. There was a silence that hung in the air, Maggie gave me the most pitying look. Like there was something I just wasn’t getting. 

“I love you, but I’m tired. I wake up every morning just waiting for it to be over, I’ve started bracing myself to keep living.” She said, I started crying into my hands. “I love you, but maybe you’ll never understand. I’m sorry, I’m tired.” I felt her cool lips press against my head, the smell of the earth making my head spin.

At first, I held her the same at night, made her coffee in the morning, and kissed her before I went to work. She had quit her job after she admitted she was making the change. I found her sitting in the sunlight on the floor when I got home one day, small white flowers dotting her bare back. Eventually, she lost her eyes, replaced by jagged branches. They stuck out of her like two beacons but she didn’t seem to notice. The more she changed the more she was lost to me. I would hold her tightly to my weary body as I tried to ignore the sharp pokes from her wooden rib cage that stuck out from her sides in thick spikes. 

I couldn’t throw out the pills, I tried to as soon as I found out but she cried and beat her fists against my back until I relented. After that she kept the pills close to her at all times, I would watch her every morning as she fished them out from a hollow in her neck where the bark had begun to replace her skin. 

It wasn’t any of this that scared me, I loved her through her change just as I did before. But while I stayed exhausted and my body continued to suffer the casual abuses of day-to-day life, Maggie took on a glow. There was a peace with her that hadn’t been there before, her mouth now always upturned in a distorted smile. Even when her face fused into wooden patterns and her face became an unrecognizable lump, I could tell that this was the happiest she had ever been. Even without me. 

This is why I stood at the door one morning and just watched her as she stumbled out onto the street. Maggie’s legs were a tangle of roots that shakily held her weight when she walked through the gate. Her arms were stretched out in front of her like she was trying to hold on to something. She stopped in her tracks at the billboard and for a moment everything was still in the air. Maggie slowly raised her arms and at once her body exploded in a mass of leaves and wood. The tree grew rapidly, knocking into the green change billboard and bending it even more than Mrs.Sampson did.

A dogwood tree was left in her place, proud branches covered in white flowers. I stood and stared for a moment before heading back inside. The empty apartment felt colder than it had ever been before. I walked to the kitchen table and sat down where Maggie’s empty pill bottle sat. I picked it up and turned it in my hand. I just didn’t understand.

Katie Malate is a writer from Chicago and a student at Columbia College in her final year. She has been published by the Chicago Teen Literature Festival and she is passionate about music, surreal fiction, and chai lattes. When she isn’t writing you can find her contemplating her own human existence and enjoying long walks in Rogers Park.

bottom of page