Friday, February 29, 2008

Jen's Elusive Story, Part One

The woman lowered herself into a kneeling position and began tending to her sorely neglected garden. In her mid-eighties, and slightly heavier than she knew she should be, her knees protested painfully. With effort, she pushed the aches of old age out of her mind. Gardening was such a calming, soothing hobby – and one she was rarely able to partake in anymore – that sharply groaning joints were not going to stop her from pursuing her passion on this fine, early spring day. Over in the corner of the yard, lost somewhere among the budding branches of the crab apple tree, a little Carolina wren sang its happy song. The sky was completely blue. The air smelled fresh, almost green, as the very slight breeze bore upon it the scent of new leaves. Hers was a small yard – no more than what one might refer to as “postage stamp” size – and it was surrounded by a weathered white fence which had seen better days. Old age, the woman thought, definitely has its disadvantages. She was remembering sadly when she would have thought nothing of coming out here herself to slap a fresh coat of white on the fence. But, since her husband had passed away ten years ago, she had admittedly let her house and yard fall into visible disrepair. Twenty years ago, her yard had been the envy of the neighborhood. She had been a member of the American Horticultural Society, President of the local gardening club, and her flowers had won so many state contests she eventually stopped keeping count. She had taught her husband how to properly mow and maintain the grass so that their yard rivaled any country club or golf course. Once, she had even gone so far as to take the mower away from him as punishment for not doing it to her exact specifications. Yes, she knew she’d been a controlling wife, but really only when it came to her plants and other growing things. Because she and Jerry had never been blessed with children, she involved herself completely with her gardening and flowers, treating them as she may have treated a child she loved. But in every other way, she was a very loving wife, allowing her husband the freedom to live his own life. She did not nag him, except about growing things and his inability to find the laundry hamper. Jerry found his passion in photography, and pursued it as obsessively as she pursued her gardening. He was known to spend hours in the garden with her, photographing her as she worked, and their small house was nearly overrun with brightly colored snapshots of flowers, bees, birds and other natural elements. Jerry’s little office, which was neatly tucked away in the nook behind the dining room, was plastered with candid photographs of his wife gardening: pulling off a pair of well-used canvas gloves, sipping lemonade from a tall glass while holding her wide-brimmed hat on with her left arm, garden tools in her left hand. She remembered when Jerry had taken up black and white photography and, for a time, the vibrant colors she so loved were replaced by sharp images in muted shades of gray. When her sweet husband realized she was disappointed by the sudden lack of color in her house, he immediately decided that black and white film was not to his liking and reverted back to color. “It was an artistic decision,” he had said, but she knew he had done it for her. Whatever Jerry did was always for her. A stabbing pain in her right knee brought her sharply back into the present. She sat back, stuck her legs straight out in front of her, put her arms behind her back and let them support her weight as she turned her face sky-ward and admired the blue. How much time had passed since she began gardening, she didn’t know – but it had clearly been quite a while because the sun was nowhere near where it had been when she began. With effort, she hauled her body into a standing position and waited, as the inevitable wave of dizziness that always overcame her after kneeling for so long, passed. Then, steadying herself with a wooden support, she stepped carefully up three risers to a slightly sagging front porch, removed her clogs, hat and gloves and left them on the neglected porch swing. As she gingerly opened the screen door, taking care not to wiggle it off its unstable hinges, she emitted a loud sigh of frustration and disgust. Maybe it was time after all, she thought to herself. Maybe she needed to sell this place and find a decent retirement home where they would let her dig in the dirt to her heart’s content. What a lovely place this had once been – and she was now too old to take care of it. She knew it was a shame to have let such a beautiful little house fall apart, but after Jerry died, the house sort of died with him. She no longer had the drive or the will to maintain it. She lifted the tattered hem of her dark house dress and stepped over the threshold into the cool, dim interior of the only place, other than her garden, she’d ever really felt comfortable. Then, after carefully guiding the protesting screen door shut, she softly closed the heavy oak door against the bright day and found her way to the tiny kitchen. (written by Jennifer Shell, February 28, 2008)

No comments: