The Garden – A Short Story

 

Gladdy Phipps sets the keys on the counter, walks through the front door, closes it, and never returns again.

What compels people to change their lives? Is it when they can feel time draining and the opportunities becoming less, narrower? Gladdy is sixty-three years old, divorced, and suffers from schizophrenia. Diagnosed, she’s running a balancing act between the doctor’s modifications to her meds and the subsidized soap opera at Terrace Manor, where she’s lived for nine years.

She has issues because she grew up believing in the lies that life could be butterflies and bunny rabbits. Ragged reality clicked in when she realized men could be dangerous alcoholics and strip you to the core. And in the pattern established by her parents and grandparents, she married one. He promptly moved her to a rural homestead in the middle of the plains and spent the next twenty years decimating her self worth.

In an act of natural survival, she broke the psychological bond and fled to the coast, retrained for office work, and began a new life. However, the taunts and degrading insults returned, in phantoms and sideways glances. Gladdy was prone to spin out, talking herself into distress, circling in a groove of anxiety. A chance to patch a life was rent by a scarred self that could easily fixate and slide. She lost her job.

Social Services placed her in Terrace Manor, on the second floor of a ninety suite complex behind a shopping center. She soon discovered everyone in her world had issues. Dealers plied a profitable drug trade in the underground parking; their customers smoked and weaved in the elevators. Sane parents with children moved out, or cordoned off sections of the complex behind a tribal line of watchfulness. But those parents were also customers and had their own stories of neglect and self.

Crime was commonplace and Gladdy picked up quick—when to look and when to look away. In nine years she learned to yell, and she learned how to pray before a mugger. She made mistakes judging people, lending five or ten dollars to be kind, to make a friend and hedge her loneliness. ‘One time’ became an ongoing obligation, and when Gladdy’s generosity left her own food budget short, she approached her most frequent borrower. She was informed that “if we borrow money and we have to pay it back, we beat the person up.” Gladdy became increasingly dejected. She made a plea to her Social Worker.

 

On the seventh of February a miracle happened. Raymond Chan, a Hong Kong investor, bought a bungalow with a basement suite in the downtown district, sight unseen. He traveled to the area once. In forty-eight hours he purchased another apartment building and spent an evening with associates drinking and kicking himself in the ass for wasting money on the house. The residence in the urban core would never meet the easement qualifications for redevelopment. He was stuck with a real estate albatross.

A new North American adviser suggested Mr. Chan rent out the property and balance the loss against capital gains in his other purchases. The reasoning was, that if a tenant maintained the property, the value could remain intact. Offer low rent to a subsidized tenant and the lost opportunity could become an ongoing tax break. Raymond Chan considered the proposal on the flight home and phoned when he landed. The new adviser happened to be the spouse of Gladdy’s Social worker.

For three months Gladdy has waited, parsing her possessions, remaining aloof in the halls of Terrace Manor. A smile has occasionally escaped, and her ‘friends’ have shown concern, telling her never to be too happy, or more often, “What are you hiding?” Gladdy has never let on that she’s moving. She’s wanted to, brag and gloat, let them know that she’s not one of them, but she didn’t want to jinx the chance. For once, she tried to appear solemn on purpose.

Today she goes forward and will never return. A man who advertises for odd jobs waits at the curb with her possessions in a pickup truck. Gladdy is shaking as she walks down the stained complex steps and crosses a broken patch of sidewalk. The man holds the truck door open and she climbs in, alongside her microwave and a replica wooden radio. Unlike Lot’s wife, she does not turn and look back.

The social worker mentioned that Gladdy’s new address had a small area in the back that once was a garden. A garden. It all sounded so mystical.

 

West 12th and Columbus is a busy intersection on a feeder route. The neighborhood is old, dilapidated, and cut through the middle by elevated train tracks. A ten block strip of eclectic coffee shops, music stores, and eco boutiques has slowly grown into a shopping destination. A farmers’ market opens daily in a brownstone warehouse and the air tempts with wafting odors of fried foods, curries, and espresso. Patio chairs encroach the sidewalk and young entrepreneurs hock racks of t-shirts and sunglasses. The weather has brought out shorter skirts. For Gladdy, the area seems abuzz. She catches words of a community parade on a window poster.

Steve, her driver, curses and pumps his brakes, “Stupid traffic.” The truck grinds and finds second gear, lurching left through a yellow light.

“If I get a ticket, you pay,” he announces.

Gladdy’s excitement keeps her mute. It’s all alive and confusing. There’s no depressing pall that blankets the people, like at Terrace Manor. She has no idea where she is. Steve glances frequently at a scribbled address on his dash.

“I don’t get the numbering,” he continues, “it’s all screwed up. This should be your block.” Another grind and the truck bounces forward. “Maybe if we go around to the alley—do they put the numbers on the garbage cans?”

“I don’t know,” Gladdy manages.

With two more loops of the block, they find the house. It’s low slung, hidden by a hedge, and disguised with faded green trim and stucco. A rough walk leads past a broken shrub and up several crumbling steps. A crack in the front window greets them.

“What a dump—I can fix that glass,” Steve offers, “for a hundred bucks.”

Gladdy opens her purse and withdraws two shiny keys and fits them into a brand new lock, the only improvement to the property. Steve pushes past carrying a nightstand piled with cardboard boxes, “You go check the place out, I’ll get ya moved in.”

“Thank you so much” Gladdy is apprehensive and steps into the living room. It’s carpeted in worn shag. The walls are painted off white and dim light from the door filters through unsettled dust. A mantle with a mirror stares back at her. She sees herself, a small, scared looking woman with short hair, dyed jet black. Nothing special, dowdy, plain. Her winter jacket looks out of place. Gladdy looks out of place. She feels like crying.

“Watch yourself,” Steve marches past and drops a sitting chair next to the window. “There, now you can watch the world.”

Then his voice turns into echo as he trods down a short hallway past the kitchen, “Where’s the can? I gotta take a piss so bad…”

Gladdy shakes away from the mirror and steps through the threshold into the kitchen. Yellow linoleum greets her. Yellow cupboards and yellow curtains above the sink overwhelm her. Next to the fridge, a side entrance beckons. She unbolts the slider and opens the door. Muffled traffic noises, children yelling, and the sound of urban birds flood into the kitchen, overpowering the draining urine down the hall. This place is alive, she thinks.

She tests the plywood porch gingerly with a step. Solid enough. Then she walks out into the sunshine and surveys her dominion.

 

The yard is tiny—and cramped further by a galvanized tool shed. Ivy and dandelions spring along a six foot slat fence that separates her new space from the neighbor’s. She hears a splash, then a cry, then a yell, then another splash. Someone has a backyard pool. The alley runs directly south, beyond a chain link barrier. The other neighbor is a drab cinder block wall that belongs to a convenience store and marks the start of the commercial district. Mr Chan had intended to tear down the house and build another enterprise. There was barely room for a hotdog vendor.

Instead, motley, untended dirt flourishes. A bent and gnarled tree stands as the only other tenant. Gladdy loves it instantly.

“Looks like you have a peach tree,” Steve grabs the porch rail and shakes it. “This is pretty loose, too. Lotsa stuff wrong here. You should make a list and I’ll stop back with some tools.”

“I think I’ll need a shovel…” Gladdy mentions, considering.

“Check that shed first, you never know. Lemme get the rest of your stuff—get out of your hair. Take your time—don’t do it all in one day.”

In a half an hour Steve is done. Gladdy offers him twenty, that she has tucked in her billfold, in case of emergency.

“Na, you keep it,” Steve insists. “Bake me a pie when those peaches are ripe. I’ll check back. You get yourself settled.”

Steve leaves, wrenching the gears in his truck. Gladdy closes the front door and locks it. She doesn’t stand for long—feeling small and insignificant. Through the open kitchen door noises and bird chatter call to her. Still clutching her purse, she steps onto the sod. Something happened today and it still confuses her. Today she has a garden.

“Seeds,” she thinks to herself. “I need seeds.”

 

In three weeks Gladdy is no longer clutching her purse. The small house has been cleaned and scrubbed. The shag carpet was vacuumed and raked. Steve returned and fixed the front window and the back rail. He informed Gladdy that the basement suite is uninhabitable and that if Mr. Chan intends to rent it, he’s in for thousands more. Until the work is approved, she would be on her own.

Gladdy has not formally met her neighbors yet. They’re a young Korean family, with two preschoolers. The kids have peeked through the slat fence and giggled, pointing out “the lady”. The mother has waved meekly, bustling the children inside, and then into the car for an outing. The father looks tired, but smiles when he sees Gladdy. Perfect neighbors, she thinks.

However, night is not the same. At night the bars open and the pedestrians change. Out come the boisterous party-goers. Gladdy hears sirens often, and the yelling is in anger. By eight o’clock she’s inside, puttering in her kitchen, or reading in the chair set at the front window. Sometimes she just watches.

One night a fight broke out at the end of the street and she awoke, creeping into the front room to peer past the curtains. A man had blood on his face and another was held against a police car. After the commotion quieted and the small crowd dispersed, she ventured out the backdoor and stood listening on the porch, clutching her robe around her shoulders. In her small plot new shoots grew in straight rows marked by jute twine.

“Peas and beans,” she spoke softly, “and carrots… I will have carrots.”

 

Today, Gladdy begins weeding along the back chain link. She wears garden gloves and uses tongs to pluck food containers and soggy newspaper out of the wire. She also finds three syringes: one is broken and two contain a murky substance. She shudders and walks them each, at arm’s length, directly to the garbage bin, making three trips. The mother next door greets her at the back gate and then scowls when she sees Gladdy’s dangerous cargo. Gladdy understands why the mother is ever present, watching the children closely.

The tool shed yielded a meager allotment of implements. When she first entered, the smell of old gas, stale grass clippings, and peat gripped her by the throat. She remembered the smell in an instant, from her past on the plains, the grime and sour metal odor, her husband’s tool shed. Gladdy recoiled. Eventually, she became determined to claim the space, and propped the shed door open to let the sun and air do their work. Today seemed a good day for an attempt.

With the trash picked up, Gladdy trowels along the chain fence, working below the weeds, churning gravel and dirt to loosen the roots. A car passes, leaving the back lot of the convenience store, and sometimes a pair of walkers saunter by on a shortcut. The store does brisk business selling cigarettes and pop, candy to the after schoolers, and rolling papers to the pot smokers. No one bothers Gladdy, and few notice her toiling in the small yard. As she weeds, she can hear the back lot conversations. Young men converge on the corner, behind the cinder block wall and just beyond view.

“Twenty-five all the way up.”

“C’mon, gimme a break on a half.”

“No way, man, I ain’t makin’ nothin’… and this is primo. Totally get ya wrecked.”

“Ya, ya, it better. Gimme two.”

Gladdy peers up from her edging and catches the glance of a young adult, wearing a hoody and a scratched leather jacket. He has attractive features, short dark hair and a salesman’s smile. She finds herself staring at him. When his customer suddenly departs, the young man looks directly at her and speaks.

“What the hell are you looking at?”

The statement doesn’t match the face, and it takes Gladdy off guard. In second she is back at Terrace Manor and her own demeanor changes.

“I’m not looking at anything.”

She gathers her gloves and trowel, briskly walks back to the house, enters, and closes the door. She remains inside for the rest of the day.

 

The next morning, she works the garden directly off the back porch. Twice she glances to catch the back of a leather jacket leaning against the store’s back wall. Both times she looks away, avoiding another confrontation.

Steve arrives at lunch; he’s carrying a water hose. “You’ll need this. No sense packing water from the sink.” Gladdy thanks him and casually mentions that strangers seem to congregate in the alley, behind the store. Steve marches to the back gate and leans over, looking side-to-side, up and down the alley. Then he strides back, in thought.

“Nobody there. Just dealers, probably. Don’t pay them any attention. If you don’t talk to them, they won’t talk to you.”

Gladdy tells him that Leather Jacket seemed threatening.

“Look, anybody bothers you, tell ’em…” he rolls up his sleeve an shows Gladdy a dark tattoo inked into his skin. “I did a stint in jail… you tell them I’m around.”

“Thank you, and thanks for the garden hose.” Gladdy smiles showing relief. She waits to close the door until she hears his truck pull away and clatter down the street.

By two in the afternoon the alley is quiet and the sun turns the tiny back lot tropical. The peach tree, dense with leaves, offers the only shade, but it overhangs the alley. Between the shed and the back gate, Gladdy makes a discovery.

An old folding lawn chair is wedged tightly. The settling ground has pinned the chair, probably long forgotten, but it looks in fair shape. Yanking the aluminum frame causes creaks and rattles. Gladdy struggles trying to extract the find. Suddenly, a shadow looms over her and she looks up to see a stern expression on the face of Leather Jacket. He lunges forward, and Gladdy whimpers a short cry, but his arm moves past her and grabs the chair. In one maneuver, he frees the frame and pulls it up, and over the fence. He flicks it outward, like a rag, and the chair snaps open. Then he hoists it back over the fence and sets it upright in front of Gladdy. Startled, she watches him strut behind the store and beyond view.

Gladdy can’t remember how she returned to the house, but remains there for the rest of the day. The chair sits where Leather Jacket left it.

The routine plays out again the following morning. Gladdy weeds in the garden, tentatively, watchful. Leather Jacket is back in position and disappears during the afternoon. Just before supper, he returns. Gladdy is in the kitchen, with the window open, when she hears yelling.

“Screw you!”

“I don’t owe him nothing.”

The voices are tense, combative. More yelling, then cursing. Then the squeal of tires on asphalt behind the store. When she looks again, Leather Jacket is muttering to himself and kicking at the chain link fence, her fence.

Compelled by impulse, Gladdy steps on to the porch, turns on the outdoor tap, and walks with the garden hose toward the gate. Leather Jacket glances at her, but turns away, looking anxiously for someone who isn’t there.

Gladdy approaches and tries to speak clearly, assertively, against her better judgement and the advice of Steve.

“Thank you,” she says.

“‘Thank you’ for what?”

“For helping me get out the lawn chair.”

“Yeh, like you used it.”

“I will use it, that’s why I’m saying thank you. That was very kind.”

“Forget it.”

Gladdy sets down the hose and turns to her rows of vegetables, now showing color, protruding orange carrot from beneath the soil. The stocks are young and tender. She pulls out half a dozen and washes them with the hose.

She offers them over the fence to Leather Jacket, “Try some. They’re good.”

“Na… I mean, no thanks.” He avoids her, turning to case the parking lot again.

“They’re very healthy… good for you. Just try one.” Gladdy smiles, the sun reflects in her eyes and sparkles back, faintly.

Leather Jacket begins to wave his hand down, passing her off, then he hesitates. “OK, I’ll try one.”

He plucks a root from her hand and examines it against the light. He blows away imperceptible dust and takes a chomp.

Halfway through, he’s talking at her, “Hey, these are pretty good. They taste like carrots.”

Gladdy can’t help laughing out loud, “They are carrots.”

Leather Jacket lowers a look back at her, like she’s offended him. “My name is Mike,” he says.

“Hi Mike. My name is Gladdy.”

Gladdy knew better than to ask Mike his business. She comments on the weather, and how pleasant the neighborhood is—in the daytime. Mike nods and munches, then excuses himself, “Hey, look, thanks for the snack. They were good. See ya around.”

Gladdy smiles and withdraws, walking slowly to the house and carrying back the hose.

Mike calls to her, hesitating, and then speaks directly, “Hey, uh, lady—Gladdy—that’s the first carrot I ever ate—like from the ground.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, no kidding. Thanks.”

“No kidding.” Gladdy wonders about his statement. It seems profound to her. Something felt right in offering the harvest, she decides, and turns back to the porch. That’s when she catches sight of the watchful mother next door. The woman is peering through the slat fence and frowning.

Gladdy feels an overwhelming urge to talk, to connect with this foreign mother living a normal suburban life in the tumult of a big city, but she decides not, opting for a nap instead.

 

Over the week, Mike’s presence in alley and behind the store becomes commonplace. Gladdy has her own routine: puttering, weeding, watering, hanging freshly washed towels and sheets on the line. Mike nods to her in passing, even stopping to ask the condition of the garden and how the different crops are doing.

Gladdy points out the peas, beans, explains how runners climb up the twine to reach more sun. She starts a row of radishes and begins a compost next to the shed, mulching her leftovers into the soil and sprinkling squash and pumpkin seeds. By the end of the week, Mike is hanging over the fence with a coffee in his hand, gossiping about the neighborhood.

“It’s decent around here, steady customers, good people, not the same crap on Eastside.”

“Do you have another job?”

“Can’t get one, but even if I could, the money sucks—hold on, be right back.” Mike balances his coffee on a gate post, then trots behind the store and attends a car driver lowering his window. The transaction takes moments, a brisk clasp of hands and the driver peels away. Mike saunters back, flipping bills low in his hand.

Gladdy has no opinion. She’s learned not to have an opinion. She learned that trick long ago. She crouches on her knees plucking weeds.

“They never stop.” Mike comments.

“Yes, you look quite busy.”

“No, I mean the weeds. They never stop growing. I’ve seen you weed that garden ten times now.”

“I like to chat. The weeding is just an excuse.” Gladdy grins. She actually feels more comfortable than she has in years. Her medication hasn’t been adjusted in weeks. Even keel, her doctor was impressed at her last appointment. And Mike had become a welcome acquaintance.

She enjoys his banter, and he samples the fare. He tried fresh peas, radishes, carrots, early tomatoes, and strawberries that sprang first from the compost. The soil is good.

He watches her pluck and tend, periodically excusing himself, but always returning. Once he bought her a coffee, fumbling with creamers and sugar stuffed in his leather pocket. She declined, but then sipped it to be polite.

Today, he blurts out a question.

“Do you need any help?”

Gladdy leans back and looks at Mike, studying him, “Are you offering?”

“Sure, why not?” Mike walks to the gate and reaches over to unlatch it.

The words of Steve crash in front of Gladdy—“Don’t talk to them…” She remembers her friends at the Terrace Manor, using her, sizing her up.

Mike is different, she thinks. “OK,” Gladdy agrees and stands, brushing her slacks.

Mike shrugs off his jacket and hangs it on the slat fence. Someone giggles, followed by a splash.

“I’ll show you what to do,” instructs Gladdy and she points out which sprouts are weeds and which are a new crop of vegetables. Their conversation lapses and the methodical rhythm of planet and sun replicates in their motions, hands touching the earth and renewing an age old endeavor. In half an hour, their labor is done. Mike rises and stretches, “That was fun. Ya get lost in your head. Hard on the back, though.”

“You did well,” Gladdy praises him, nodding, “there’s a farmer in you yet.”

“Not likely. Hey, I gotta go… bidnez.” He says, grabbing his jacket, and then vaults the fence to the alley. Gladdy suspects a degree of embarrassment, helping an old lady weed her garden. She chuckles, “He’ll be back.”

 

Three o’clock in the morning, fighting breaks out again. Gladdy no longer bolts awake. Sirens blend into the orchestra of night and she even congratulates herself for not being scared anymore. The voices are loud, shouting obscenities. They’re just behind the store.

There’s a yelp. Someone is injured. More shouting and Gladdy hears muffled thumps of punching. Police should be here soon, she predicts, and drifts, waiting for the sirens to approach.

An hour later she startles again. Someone is groaning out back, in her yard. Gladdy rises slowly, reaching for her robe, then she pads to the kitchen. She hesitates turning on a light, and checks the latch on the door, peering past the porch through the glass.

There’s a moan.

“You go home!” Gladdy calls, then stops mid-breath. What if someone is lurking? She retreats into the kitchen.

Then a voice. “Gladdy…”

“Who is it?”

“It’s Mike.”

“Mike? What are you doing?”

Gladdy opens the door and steps forward, brushing a shape slumped against the porch. The young man is bent forward. Shadows distort and a ruddy sheen covers his face. He’s been beaten.

“Oh, Mike, what happened?”

“They rolled me.”

“Oh my gosh, you’re bleeding—you’re bleeding a lot.”

“I got stabbed.” Mike coughs and moans again.

“I’m calling an ambulance,” Gladdy turns, but Mike’s arm thrusts forward, grabbing her leg. Sticky, cold blood smears down her robe. “Don’t,” he says.

“I have to. I’m calling the police.”

“Don’t, please, don’t.” Mike winces and looks up to her.

“Mike, you’re hurt. God knows I should have woke up—that was you! The fighting–”

“Gladdy, don’t. If you’re my friend, don’t tell anyone. Rat these guys and they’ll kill me—the cops will make me talk.”

“I don’t know what to do, Mike. I don’t know what to do.” Gladdy trails off, staring at Mike, broken and hiding in the dark. Wind rushes in her ears and her head feels dizzy. She’s slipping; hands grip her from the past and drag her down, force her down. She can feel the boot coming. She knows the boot is coming.

And then she’s back, grasping Mike, falling beside him and clutching him in her arms. He is crying and she is crying. She holds his head to her shoulder.

“Let’s get you inside.”

 

“Steve?”

“Who is this?”

“It’s Gladdy, Steve?”

“Gladdy? I was dead asleep… what time is it?”

“I don’t know, four o’clock. Steve, I hate to ask, I just don’t know what to do.”

“What’s wrong? Are you alright?” Steve glances to his alarm, focusing on the numbers.

“Do you know first aid?”

“Gladdy, what’s wrong? What happened?”

“It’s Mike, he’s been injured.”

“Who’s Mike? Why are you calling me? Call an ambulance.”

“I can’t—he won’t let me.”

“Oh, geez Louise, are you talking about one of those kids out by your place?”

“He’s a friend—”

“Call the cops, Gladdy, it’s not your problem.”

“He says they’ll kill him, the people who did this.”

“Just call the cops, Gladdy, and do your friend a favor, call the ambulance first.”

“Please Steve…”

Moments pass and Steve speaks again.

“Where is he hurt?”

“He has a wound, a knife wound, on his left side, his ribs.”

“Is he breathing? Wheezing?”

“He’s in pain—I think they cracked his ribs.”

“Oh Gladdy, I’ll be there in ten minutes. Don’t let him in the house.”

“He’s in the kitchen.”

“Great. If I fix this jerk up, I’m gonna kick his ass afterwards.”

“Please hurry, Steve, please…”

 

In ten minutes Gladdy hears the rattle and grind of Steve’s truck pull in front. A door slams in the early dawn and then a sharp rap sounds on the front door. Gladdy rushes to open it and catches herself in the mirror above the mantle. Blood is smeared across her cheek, where Mike rested his head. Her robe looks like a crime scene. She shakes herself out of fixation and unbolts the door.

“Where is he? I had to stop for gauze— that’s a little hard to find right now.”

“He’s in the kitchen. I couldn’t move him any further. I put a pillow under his head.”

Steve moves like a cat to prey and stands over Mike. “What happened to you, jerk?”

“Somebody doesn’t like me.”

“Nobody likes you.”

“Gladdy likes me.”

“Shut up—this will go quicker.”

Steve pulls off Mike’s jacket and tears the t-shirt in half, exposing blood smeared gash on Mike’s side.

“Nice one. Any of it still in there?”

“The knife?”

“No, the idiot.”

Steve runs his fingers tenderly over Mike’s ribs. The younger man winces.

“Yeah, you cracked two. Can’t fix it. You just have to lie still for six weeks.”

Then he pulls sterile wipes from a bag and sops up the blood around the wound. Clotting has begun.

“You’re frikking lucky. It hit bone and bounced off.” Steve dumps out a small plastic kit and retrieves a long stitch needle. “I sew like shit, heh.”

In five minutes, the gash is clean and closed. Steve applies half a dozen butterfly bandages and wraps enough gauze to compress Mike’s ribs. Then he stands. “I’m gonna wash up, Gladdy. Watch this fool. I want to talk to him.”

Mike tries to pull himself up against the stove, but Gladdy gently eases him back to the floor. “You’re not going anywhere. I’m putting you in the bedroom. You have to rest.”

“No, no, Gladdy you’re great and all, but I gotta go right now.”

“Enough. She’s right,” Steve returns, calmer, but firm. “You can’t move. If your rib splits and punctures your lung, you’re done. You should go get a tetanus shot.”

Mike couldn’t move on his own anyway. Bruises were turning dark over his face and torso. Gladdy and Steve hoisted their patient between them and stumbled him into Gladdy’s bed. She insisted Steve help take off his boots, but left him in jeans. She covered him in a thick comforter and stole back to the kitchen with Steve.

“Get him out of here as fast as you can, Gladdy. Tomorrow. He’ll probably slink out on his own. Give him water if asks, not too much. And a couple aspirins. I’ve got no pain killers—he’s a practically a pharmacist, anyway.”

“Will they come back for him?”

“Na, they just want him out of action for awhile—no competition. If he was supposed to be dead, he’d be dead.”

“Oh gosh.”

“Stay out of it. They’re like cats—feed ’em once and they spray on everything.”

“Thank you, Steve. How can I—”

“Peach pie, Gladdy, a big slice of pie.”

 

Over the next four days Gladdy busies herself between tending garden outside and minding Mike. She prepares him healthy meals—spartan, but fresh and homemade. She helps him into the washroom, letting him lean on her until he’s comfortable, then excusing herself and waiting outside the door. His mood wavers, sometimes grouchy and other times almost cheerful. They talk for hours. He tells her of his life, the mistakes he’s made, and she speaks at length about her own history.

On the fifth day, Mike makes his way to the porch and ventures outside. Gladdy brings the lawn chair close, and positions Mike to watch her work in the garden. The vegetables have grown in abundance, and she pulls samples to display, holding them proudly as Mike laughs and shows her a thumbs up. Slowly he heals. Slowly, their friendship grows.

On the weekend they prepare a feast, Mike steadies himself against the sink, scrubbing the harvest, while Gladdy minces onions and dices carrots. Two pies simmer in homemade crust.

“Steve is coming over, too.”

“How is the old boy? Have to thank him when I see him. He didn’t do too bad—under pressure—but he was right. He sews like shit.”

“You be nice. He did us a wonderful favor.”

“I will, Ma.”

Mike catches himself, and blushes. Gladdy blushes too, and then beams. “You can call me whatever you want.”

Glasses clink and silver ware clatters. Food passes from bowl to plate.

When they finish, Steve invites them to the porch and they recline. Gladdy and Mike sitting; Steve leaning on the slat fence.

“Do you want your pie now, or later?” Gladdy asks.

“In a minute—a little toast though, everybody gotta glass?”

“What shall we toast?” Gladdy ponders, the past weeks a whirlwind. She turns to Mike.

His eyes catch sun and he smiles, “I know—garden fresh.”

“To the garden,” Steve chimes.

“To the garden,” Gladdy sighs.

 

FIN

Love you all—get planting. g


 

The Garden © 2011 Gaboo. Click Gaboo’s tag for all his stories and observations.

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2 Responses to “The Garden – A Short Story”
  1. Steve says:

    I frikkin’ love Peach pie!!
    Love this story Gaboo…thanks.

  2. Gaboo says:

    Hey, Steve, same here. Personally, I have a brown thumb. I like the romantic idea of having a garden, but I understand that gardeners rarely get the chance to sit in a lawn chair and appreciate their work. Thanks for reading.

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