Cornelius and the Guest in the Garden

Read Time: 5 Mins | Short Story | Mental Health Awareness

Photo by Kevla Collins

Kevla Collins is a travel enthusiast, photographer, writer, blogger, artist, craft designer, mental health advocate and a Grand Cosmic Being. You can find her books and designs on Amazon Or visit her Esty store KTriniSTudio

For three days in a row, Cornelius had changed his usual routine. That’s what gave him away. No two days were ever alike since he had moved in. Talia had rented out the lower half of her home to Cornelius Braithwaite nearly six months ago.

It’s not like she needed the money. She was well off, with a nice home. It had a lot of space, and well-manicured gardens, and privacy. She needed privacy. But Cornelius had just been released from prison after a stretch of ten years on the inside. Most of which had been spent at various mental institutions depending on who his attending psychiatrist was at the time. He wasn’t violent in the least. In fact, Cornelius was the kindest soul anyone could ever hope to meet. After discussing it with his parole officer, Talia rented the guest room downstairs. The house had been empty for too long, and she needed company.

Talia never judged anyone with mental health problems. She had lived with two brothers who had their own difficulties. In fact, one of them looked just like Cornelius. And her two cousins, the twins who attended the same high school as she did, spent more time in the counsellor’s office than in a classroom. But Cornelius was different, and she had no one else who was willing to stick around long enough to be her friend.

From the first night he was her tenant, she heard him singing. Not just some quiet bedtime lullaby, but at the top of his lungs, singing La Bohème. It was beautiful, until it wasn’t. Cornelius sang from six in the evening, till a little after midnight. She finally asked him to be considerate of the neighborhood, and Cornelius agreed. He apologized, saying that he was singing songs for the love of his life. Who this person was, Talia didn’t know, and she didn’t ask. She was happy that Cornelius agreed to stop singing after nine at night, but she still had him sing in the afternoons just for her. And she loved it.

For the most part he had kept his promise. He still wouldn’t fall asleep until four in the morning, as she would hear him walking around the house. But she got accustomed to hearing his heavy pacing on the wooden floors. At least once a week, Cornelius would dance in the backyard, half-naked. This also was not a problem, as Talia was a closet nudist herself, and this was 1978 for God’s sake. There were other events that made her a little more wary. Like his peculiar fondness for toothpaste on his toast for breakfast, which he argued quite logically in her opinion, that he got breakfast and dental care in one package. Or his preference for warm peanut butter as a dipping sauce with fried chicken. Talia had to admit that she herself developed a fondness for that one. She had secretly tried it one morning after he had fallen asleep.

But for the last three days, however, Cornelius was in bed by eight, awake by six, dressed and out of the house by seven. At first, Talia thought he had found a job, but he said he was just going for a walk.

Then last night, she heard him outside talking to someone. There were two voices, one was Cornelius’ and the other was definitely female. In the six months he had been here, he never had a guest over, much less someone spending the night. Curiosity finally got the best of her, and Talia gently nudged the blinds a little. She could see Cornelius Braithwaite, sitting on a chair, his back to her window. But the other person was not in view. She adjusted herself quietly into different positions, but still, she saw no one besides Cornelius. Shrugging it off, she returned to bed, and stayed awake till daylight.

The next morning, Talia was waiting for him with a brand-new tube of toothpaste in hand, as he arrived to make his sandwich. Cornelius refused; said he wasn’t hungry, and he was going to grab a coffee on his way to the park. Left holding a tube of toothpaste and a slice of wheat bread, Talia felt like a bit of a jackass. So, she just made herself a Cornelius Special and sat on the porch facing the garden.

The little statue she had bought from the garden center three days ago, was staring back at her, a fixed smirk across its face.

“What are you looking at?” she asked it.


Talia dropped her toothpaste sandwich and leaned forward. She could’ve sworn that the little statue had spoken to her.

“I am not unhappy.” She ventured a response, half hoping she would not get an answer.

“Then why are you always pouting?”

Now her eyes were wide open. She looked to her left, and to her right. Perhaps Cornelius had returned and was playing a trick on her. The neighbors? She wasn’t worried about them. They had seen her doing her yoga naked in the backyard before. But she couldn’t have anyone seeing her talking to a garden statue. What would they think?

“Were you the one speaking with Cornelius last night?” she asked.

“Corn who?”

“Cor – nee – lee – us. The big dude with the afro. Dances outside at least once a week and thinks he’s Luciano Pavarotti.”

“He sounds like quite a cheerful soul.”

Talia laughed. This was just her mind playing tricks on her. She picked up the dusty toothpaste sandwich and finished it.

When Cornelius returned, she was waiting for him.

“I found your little girlfriend in the backyard.” She accosted him.

“And how was your day, Miss Talia?” He smiled gently.

“Don’t you Miss Talia, me.” She poked his chest with every syllable. “You and her have been spending long hours talking. Well into the morning.”

“You still haven’t been sleeping, have you?”

“I see what you’re doing, trying to change the subject. But no, I haven’t. Because of you two yapping away outside my bedroom window.” She snapped.

Cornelius sighed as he stroked her hair.

“I think we will have to call your doctor, Talia. Perhaps have him adjust your medication and get you something to assist with your sleep.”

Talia sat down quietly. She was exhausted, yet her mind was racing in every direction. What she really wanted to do was eat some peanut butter and fried chicken.

“Would you sing a song for me Cornelius?”

“Of course, Talia. Anything for you my darling sister.”

Note: I have had my own struggles with depression, and I have known many others who go through their own daily skirmishes on the mental health battlefield. It has been a long journey, and a daily process of understanding what’s going on in my own head and finding ways to cope. Healthy diet, exercise, counselling and good sleeping habits have helped. For others it may require medication and extended periods of care. For those who have family members or friends going through their own struggles, there is help available. There is nothing to be ashamed of, and you don’t have to do it alone. Reach out, seek help, change a life.


National Council for Mental Wellbeing

National Alliance on Mental Illness

14 responses to “Cornelius and the Guest in the Garden”

  1. This pried my heart open in all the best ways 🥹

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Dev. This is so close to my heart. Wanted to do something bigger, deeper…but I wanted to just tell a short story.m take a break from the serial fiction and address this issue

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My ADHD diagnosis in 2021 is what led me to explore my neurodivergence and question the terms used to pathologize people.

        Borderline personality disorder. Obsessive compulsive disorder.

        Just two responses I’ve had to societal trauma.

        We’re not broken.

        We’re trying to adapt to navigate a human society that crushes us mercilessly.

        I am grateful I found you and your work.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for sharing Dev. Its a journey man. A long unforgiving journey sometimes. But everyday is a new start, and fresh beginnings… Its like a clean slate to try again. We’re not broken… So true,💪💪💪

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I don’t even like using adhd. I prefer kinetic cognitive style. I think ist Dr Nick Walker who coined this term.

        Liked by 1 person


        “I’m not a fan of the “ADHD” label because it stands for “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,” and the terms “deficit” and “disorder” absolutely reek of the pathology paradigm. I’ve frequently suggested replacing it with the term Kinetic Cognitive Style, or KCS; whether that particular suggestion ever catches on or not, I certainly hope that the ADHD label ends up getting replaced with something less pathologizing.”

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Hmm…all depends on who’s getting the cheddar with a name change . It’s all about the money baby

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I did try adhd meds for two weeks after my diagnosis and I hated it. The only reason it was necessary was to maintain focus on meaningless tasks for eight hours packed with videocalls. Awful.

        Working for myself has been tough but beneficial to my well-being.

        I can’t sell my body, mind, and energy to a corporation anymore. Makes no sense.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Damn right.. 👍… Glad to hear that you’re taking responsibility for your health and wellness Dev. It’s liberating

        Liked by 1 person

      8. I live this… Will look more into it

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I could not have predicted that ending. Well done Nigel.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree Nigel. A powerful and worthwhile story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks John. Appreciate you brother.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are welcome Nigel.


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