A mandatory meeting was called on the terrace above the gift shop. Despite the sunshine and finely arranged plants, Angel could sense the news would be bad.
The amenities manager Yuma stood on the edge of the roof terrace, Once everyone seated themselves, she got right to the point.
“A significant amount of theft has occurred over this week and last. Designer fauna has gone missing from both our gardens and viewing terrariums.” She crossed her arms and let the pause grow apparent.
“Security has confirmed that it could not have been the tourists —the screening methods are too thorough for that. Moreover, there is sufficient evidence that indicates it was someone from gardening.”
Angel bit her lip and observed the shock spread across her coworkers. Senior gardener Osef had drawn a breath and looked ready to defend himself, but Yuma raised a nail-polished hand.
“We’re not interested in excuses. We’re not interested in accusations. The estate wants the property returned as soon as possible. If this does not happen, we will be forced to explore suspensions. Layoffs.”
Without glancing, Angel could sense the jaws around her drop. Osef cleared his throat, still fishing for permission to speak, but the manager focused on the stroll of her pantsuit.
“Whoever’s responsible may come confess to me, or go directly to HR,” She looked up from her shoes to each of the employees. “It goes without saying that the estate does not pay for internal probing or interrogations. It pays for world class gardeners and grounds. If you five so-called professionals can’t keep yourselves in line, then we’ll hire a new batch who can.”
The day went long for Angel. Neither she nor any of the gardeners could be seen arguing in front of the hordes of tourists, so they spent the last couple hours finishing what had to be trimmed, speaking only when necessary. It was the shuttle ride home where everything came unbottled.
“Will whoever did it, please just fess up?” Osef whisper-yelled. “Some of us have kids to feed and tuitions to pay. Whatever you think you’ll earn from selling that fauna won’t matter in two months when you’re out of a job.”
Angel did her best to match everyone’s anger at the back of the bus, she too raised her hands animatedly, and also sat on the edge of her seat. When it was her turn to speak, she allowed a tear to roll down her cheek.
”Please, if you can’t admit your fault now —then admit it tomorrow, before it’s too late. I’d really like to keep my job. It’s all I have.”
The orchid specialist nodded. “It’s a short term gain at all of our expense.”
The mower expert continually rubbed his temples, as if scouring his memory for the answer. “I can’t believe they’re having us argue it out amongst ourselves. They’re treating us all like… Like it doesn’t matter… ”
There were flare ups and occasional accusations, but in the end it was clear that the arguing wasn’t getting them anywhere.
“Whoever’s done it, would have admitted already.” Osef sighed. “If it’s actually someone here, I trust that person to do the right thing tomorrow. You can’t let us all lose our jobs. How could you do that?”
As the bus reached the lower cities, one by one, the gardeners disembarked in slow defeated walks, looking at each other for any last second confessions. There were none.
The last commuter to remain was Angel, who watched the street lamps activate across the uneven cityscape. It was getting dark.
With the seats to herself, Angel unzipped her overalls and looked into her inner chest pocket. She removed a plastic case containing a skittering butterfly.
It was hard to lie to all of their faces. Excruciating. The shame now constricted her like overgrown morning glory, rooting her into the cheap plastic seat. I musn’t feel bad. I can’t. Who else lives in a five person basement? Who else takes another hour to commute?
If only she knew a ballpark of everyone’s wage. She could maybe payout some kind of dividends. But what if everyone was already making double, or triple what she was?
She looked out the window at the neglected jungle of apartments. The streets are littered with broken solar panels and makeshift residences. The butterflies would carry her away from here.
Her collection of stolen Monarchs, Swallowtails and Skippers was earning her two year’s salary off a collector online. She’d be able to finally move out, rent a flat in the upper cities, get a new set of clothes. Like in the commercials.
When her stop came, Angel thanked the driver and wandered out into the empty station. She went to peruse the transit ads as she always did —to delay arriving home.
The bright screens offered a haunting glow to the station at night, firing light at odd angles and colors due the pervasive graffiti. Angel was trying to find the one that flashed the pantsuit she dreamed of owning, it was part of some fashion catalogue. However, that defaced screen appeared to have been replaced by a new unblemished one. It was an ad for the estate she worked at.
In an extremely high bird’s eye view of the hedge maze, a slogan appeared at the bottom: “Over 15km of maze, you’ll never get out!”
Angel walked up and observed the centre of the maze in the photo. It was an area she had never actually seen in real life. She looked close to see if there was some monument, plaque or any kind of reward for someone who reached the middle —and for a second she thought she spotted two small ponds. But those were just her eyes. Her own reflection.
As she stepped back, she could see her whole head stuck precisely in the middle of the estate labyrinth. Utterly trapped. Hedges all around her.
Then the ad changed and she saw her pantsuit.
Kajetan Kwiatkowski’s credits include a publication in Defenestration Magazine, and a forthcoming story in Black Petals. Ever since playing Sim Ant on Windows 98, Kajetan has had a lifelong obsession with arthropods, and he’ll always sneak one into his writing You can visit www.EclosionStories.com and follow him @Kajetkwiat