by Miriam English
My wife and I were strolling in the park by the lake for the first time since we'd moved here, when we first saw the gardener. She had long wavy black hair and wore a white t-shirt under loose-fitting, dark blue overalls. Her back was to us as we approached. She was using very long-handled clippers to reach high and snip some vine tendrils that were preventing a dead tree branch from falling. When she cut the last vine, the branch fell to the path before us with a thump. She turned and gasped as she saw us.
I almost echoed her gasp as I was stunned by her extraordinary beauty. She looked like one of those impossibly attractive people featured in the pages of fashion magazines.
In a voice like honey and a slight accent I couldn't recognise, she apologised, saying that she should have checked that nobody was near before cutting it down.
Ellie smiled and waved away her concerns, "We'd already stopped and were in no danger."
I asked, "You're the gardener here?"
She nodded, her long dark hair falling about her face as she did. She swept it back casually, gracefully.
Ellie said, "It sure is a beautiful park. Lana and I are new here."
She reached out a shapely hand marked by green stains and scratches, "I'm Kim. Welcome to the area. I do hope you have a pleasant stay and enjoy the park without getting clobbered by branches from absent-minded gardeners."
We chuckled and shook her hand, then continued our walk.
A couple of minutes further on Ellie murmured, "What a nice fellow — amazingly attractive for a guy."
I was surprised that Ellie would make such a mistake. "A woman, you mean."
Ellie cast a look over her shoulder, but the gardener was already well out of sight. "No, he was a guy. His clothing was loose, but he seemed pretty flat-chested to me."
I shrugged. Our conversation moved on to other things, though my mind kept returning to the breathtaking androgynous beauty of the gardener.
Perhaps half an hour later, the winding paths of the park took us from one of the open, grassy areas back toward the more forested area, at the edge of which the gardener was now trimming and weaving flowery branches overhead to create a bower-like effect over a section of the path.
A very conservatively-dressed man and woman had approached and were regarding her disapprovingly. The woman said, "Shameful!"
The man said sharply, "You, there! What is the meaning of going around like that?"
Kim, the gardener, turned from her work to regard the man calmly, "The meaning?"
The conservative woman stepped forward, her frown deepening, she waved her hand at Kim, "Looking like that!" She muttered to her husband, "Probably one of those confused trans people." Then to Kim, "Are you supposed to be a woman or a man? Nobody can tell whether to refer to you as 'he' or 'she'!"
Kim looked a little puzzled. "Why are you interested in other people's sex organs? As for pronouns, I truly don't care. Call me 'he', 'she', they, or 'it'. It does not bother me in the slightest. If you use malice in referring to me then that reflects badly on you, not me."
Hearing her accent, the man looked as if he'd tasted something bad, "A foreigner too."
The woman said, "There are children here... and you looking like that! You should be ashamed."
Kim was untroubled. She asked, "Why? Many families come here, and they have no problem with me. It is only brittle people who do."
"Have a care, you pervert. Don't you dare insult us!" The man took an aggressive stand and raised his fist.
Kim let a small smile tug at the corners of her mouth, "Are you threatening me?" It was not a counter-threat; she was genuinely asking. She clearly saw him as a joke. She was a little taller, and her work obviously made her stronger than him.
The angry woman said, "The Bible says that God made us man and woman, not man and woman and everything in between."
I announced myself with a small cough, "I'm sorry, but you are misreading your Bible. You notice it says man and woman, not man or woman. It also says day and night, but allows for twilight... land and sea allows for inter-tidal zones."
Kim held out a flower toward the woman and said gently, "Your god seems very fond of things that are both male and female." She pointed to the stamens, "Male," and pointed to the pistil in the center, "and female. Most plants and many animals are hermaphrodite. And most life has no sex at all — the single celled things. Even many larger animals and plants use parthenogenesis — your own Jesus was supposedly born that way."
"Blasphemer!" the man exclaimed.
Ellie cocked her head to the side, "Parthenogenesis means born of a virgin. That is what you believe, right?"
He turned to us and suddenly realised we were arm in arm. "Lesbians! Unnatural creatures!" He almost spat the words.
I rolled my eyes. "Oh boy. Every species of mammal and bird studied has same-sex attracted members. It is perfectly natural. What is not natural is for members of a species to attack their same-sex attracted members. That is totally unnatural."
Kim asked, in a soft voice, "I genuinely would like to know why you hate us. We mean you no harm at all."
The woman snarled, "You recruit children, filling their heads with perversions. You are tools of Satan, destroying the world with moral decay."
Ellie said, "Our son has a girlfriend and our daughter was recently married to a great guy. We don't recruit." She continued in as sweet a voice as she could muster, "It's religion that indoctrinates with immoral threats and myths justifying slavery and murder. It has a terrible record of sexually molesting children."
I added, "As for destroying the world with moral decay, I hate to break it to you, but all around the world, the most religious places have the most violence, disease, poverty, and unhappiness. By contrast, the happiest, most peaceful places, with the lowest rates of disease and poverty are the most atheist places on Earth — exactly the opposite of what you'd expect if there was a god."
The man exploded, "This is outrageous! Wait until the local government finds out they have an atheist sexual pervert working for them, and making it a breeding ground for degenerates. We'll have you fired." He turned to Ellie and me. "And you two barred from entry."
Ellie said, "Oh, can you feel the Christian love?"
Kim sighed. "These gardens are privately owned."
He narrowed his eyes, "Then we'll get the owner to fire you."
Kim smiled. She said softly, "That won't happen." She looked from the man to his wife and back again, "I am the owner... but your concerns have been noted."
They were momentarily shocked, then turned and stormed off, probably eager to leave this place of imaginary sin.
Kim called sweetly after them, "You are still welcome here, but I do request that you refrain from annoying the other guests." She turned to us, "There must be a new fundamentalist church in the neighborhood. That has been happening uncomfortably often, recently. I've been considering making a sign at the entrances to the park stating that religious proselytising is not allowed here."
I asked, "Do you think they'll understand the word 'proselytise'? Maybe you should just say religion is forbidden."
She shook her head. "I have no problem with religious people, just so long as they keep it to themselves. Religion is like a penis. It's fine to have one, but it becomes offensive if waved around in public."
Ellie and I laughed.