CBN.com May 2
Cloudless and warm and breezy.
Added montbretia (Lucifer) to bed below southern porch. Planted a dozen
bulbs with compost and mulched with cedar. Hope southfacing bed gives
I received a box of flowers from my dead husband.
Thats a stretch. They werent flowers at all but a dozen montbretia
bulbs that looked like hazelnuts with ponytails. Blooms wouldnt
show up until July, I figured, if they showed up at all. The UPS man had
hidden the box under the welcome mat in a clumsy attempt at security.
It amused me until I remembered I had ordered nothing from Burpees.
Within a heartbeat, I knew the flowersbecause that was what he had
intended them to bewere from Scott.
I knew with great certainty the very day my husband had made the order.
The autumn valley had looked like a grade school rendering with the crayons
pressed so hard no white showed through. The golden ash trees lining our
street shimmered below a cerulean sky. Pots of orange and rust and yellow
chrysanthemums lined the porches of Victorian houses painted the extravagant
colors of memories. On any other day, the scene would have seemed gaudy.
But not that day. The day was electric, charged by the crisp snap in the
air. It seemed perfectly normal for the colors to glow from within.
Id laughed at the Weather Services blundered forecast of
bitter temperatures and gloomy skies but then thought better of ignoring
the warning altogether. I washed the breakfast dishes and went out to
the garden to tuck in the flower beds for winter.
Scott found me cutting coneflowers. Love you, he said and
kissed my cheek before leaving with a friend to train for yet another
masochistic bike race, probably the Thankless Turkey Tour. I didnt
expect to see him before supper or the end of the USC-UCLA football game.
By midmorning, it was warm enough to discard my sweatshirt. I finished
cutting back the perennials and worked at laying a heavy blanket of mulch
to shelter the plants during the coming winter. Then I raced against the
setting sun to add compost to the vegetable garden. As I turned over the
last spade of soil, the sun dipped below the plateaus. The dry air of
western Colorado relinquished the days warmth without one bit of
I slipped a sweatshirt back over my head just as Scott pushed his bike
through the side gate. His face was flushed from the last leg of his ride,
the twenty miles from the Timeout Sports Grille to home. His gray hair
stood in disorderly shafts from sweating under his helmet all day, and
while I hoped he had combed his hair before entering the restaurant, I
knew better. Scott raised his eyebrows and flashed a mischievous grin.
I was in trouble.
Aha, he said, pulling the Burpee Seeds and Plants catalog
from the stack of mail under his arm. I have intercepted that which
tempts you beyond your power to resist. Now we can afford to eat this
winter, and Ky can get new cleats, and I can finally get a high-performing,
distortion-reducing Fat Lady driver with a zirconium soleplate.
He had a point about the flower thing. Dahlias, irises, peonies, rosesor
any other flower. My hobby had turned into an obsession and then into
a business, which thrilled Scott. He liked the prospect of reversing the
flow of resources back into our bank account. For every special occasion,
romantic or not, he presented me with books on small business management,
and once he even packed my bags to send me to a cash flow seminar in Denver.
I knew he really believed in me when I came home to find a truck in the
driveway with Perennially Yours, Mibby Garrett, Garden Designer
painted on the door and a box of matching pea-green business cards on
the drivers seat. The red bucket of daisies on the trucks
cab gave the vehicle its name, the Daisy Mobile.
And yet he still protested, however gently, each new flower addition
that encroached his lawn. It was all a part of our marriage dance, the
one that questioned and valued our differences. He claimed to be protecting
the dogs right to his personal space. In response, I declared a
patch of lawn the poop deck, no flowers allowed. It seemed
like the fair thing to do.
Usually I took Scotts ribbing about my obsession for what it was,
a not-too-serious-but-could-you-please-show-some-restraint plea for moderation.
But that day, standing in the garden with scratches up and down my arms
and cedar mulch embedded in my knees, I didnt appreciate his exaggeration
I jabbed the shovel blade into the ground and sighed. Scott stepped behind
me, probably afraid Id whack him with the shovel, and wrapped his
arms around my waist. I pressed the shovel in deeper, tightening my stomach
muscles against the warmth of his arms.
Mibby, I didnt mean it. His breath filled my ear and
poured onto my cheek. He held out the catalog. You can buy a dozen
of everything in here if you want. Im sorry.
Of course, it was clear to me later that I was the one who should have
apologized. But I didnt.
You should be sorry, I said, walking out of his embrace and
into the house. It was time to start dinner.
After Id coaxed a simmer from the spaghetti sauce, I found Scott
looking through the catalog on the porch. The light from the kitchen window
boxed him in a yellow glow. Showered and combed, he looked more like the
steadfast banker Id married. He made room for me on the wicker loveseat
and gave me a cautious smile.
See anything you like? I asked, crossing my arms and leaning
against the railing of the porch.
He held up a picture of fiery red blossoms arching along a stem. These
look like montbretia, but theyre calling them Cro
Crocosmia, I said, trying to sound indifferent. Montbretia
is its common name.
I left the porch to take the last bag of clippings to the compost pile.
Scott walked with me.
Montbretia prefers a milder climate, I said.
So do you, but look how well youre doing.
Youd probably be wasting your money.
Since that day Ive spent many hollow hours trying to remember why
I was so rough on him. Surely something else, something hurtful and consequential,
had triggered my irritation and justified its endurance. Had I resented
Scott for leaving me with all the gardening chores? Had he begged out
of attending a jamboree fund-raising meeting and asked me to go in his
place? Had he eaten the last pecan sandy and put the empty bag back in
the pantry? Those were the worst things I could think of Scott doing,
and even for me, they were trite. What clung most ardently to my memory
was regret. I remembered wanting to tell him how hot he looked in his
snug bicycle shorts. But I didnt.
Scott was killed the next day, hit by a truck whose driver didnt
see him pedal into the intersection on his way to work. Id squandered
the last hours of our lives together nurturing my annoyance with coarse
grit sandpaper and all the while thinking I had the luxury of time to
smooth the agitation with an indulgent polishing of steel wool.
Getting flowers from my dead husband was what I classified as a whammy
o grief. After Scotts accident I worked very hard to
avoid them. I stayed away from people, places, and things that could collapse
the fragile composure Id constructed. It wasnt easy.
Grief is an unfamiliar room on a moonless night. You move slowly, cautiously.
Your arms reach out, swaying from side to side to find the oak dresser.
Your feet slide along the carpet, feeling for the leg of a chair or a
chest of blankets. The light switch is never where you remember. Someone
has moved the rocker.
All of my planning and sidestepping hadnt prepared me for flowers
from Scott. Whammy.
I took the box of montbretia into the basement, where I could wail without
distracting passing motorists. I lay there, face down in a pile of laundry,
until my sobs mellowed into sighs and my sinuses felt like they had been
packed with a king-sized comforter. I realized it was almost time for
my son, Ky, to come home from school, so I blew my nose and moved to the
back porch, where sun and air would dry me out. While waiting for Ky,
I fell asleep.
* * *
I popped up like a mom-in-the-box ready to deliver the after-school litany.
How was school? Do you have any homework? What do I have to sign?
Ky reached out to touch my cheek; his blue-gray eyes dancing with mischief.
Mom, you look like a waffle.
I rubbed my cheek. Sure enough, my nap in the wicker chair had left me
marked. Embossed or not, I couldnt let him distract me from the
one bit of motherly behavior I still performed with proficiency.
Kyle, I said, slowly enunciating his given name, what
do you have for homework?
He headed for the back door and the refrigerator. Not much. Ill
do it after I clear the poop deck and mow the lawn. He stopped halfway
through the door. Well, Ill probably have to do it after practice.
But I dont have much.
The screen door slammed. I heard the quick opening and closing of the
refrigerator. There was nothing inside to satisfy a thirteen-year-olds
growing bodyonly blue Kool-Aid, milk, and a tub of margarine. My
stomach turned in shame. Ky bounded from the house carrying half a package
of saltines and headed for the tool shed. The next day Id go to
the grocery store, I told myself, ready or not.
* * *
Louise Giovanelli came through the back gate just as I was watering the
montbretia. She carried a napkin-covered basket that matched her crisply
pressed navy capri pants and sailor-collared shirt.
Mibby, she called, pulling out each vowel like taffy, its
lemon scone day!
Louises bed-and-breakfast, the Garden House, was across the alley
from my house. On Wednesdays, she baked lemon scones saturated with sweet
cream butter. If her guests were the least bit health conscious, there
were leftovers for her less discriminating neighborsnamely me.
Louise humphed herself onto the bottom stair of the porch, cradling the
basket on her lap. Before she had time to gather a thought, Blink rested
his chin on her knee and twitched his nose at the basket. Louise moved
one stair higher. Blink sat on his haunches and made Louise the object
of his devotion. She rose another step.
Sugar baby, for heavens sake, what are you planting now?
she asked in the velvet timbre of her Louisiana drawl.
Im planting Lucifer, I said, referring to the variety
name of the montbretia. I knew Louise would love the idea of putting the
devil in a hole. I didnt dare tell her the bulbs had come from Scott.
I was having enough trouble breathing around the emotion in my throat.
I turned away from the narrowing of her deep blue eyes, knowing she had
noticed the puffs of flesh under my eyes but wouldnt ask. That was
why I loved Louise.
Oh, really? she said, twisting her blond pageboy off her
neck. Ready for a break? I could use a cold drink.
Since Scotts death, Louise had made it her job to call on me at
least once a day. A well-heeled debutante thirty-something years past,
she always thought up a bona fide reason for coming. Lemon scones were
one of her best, but the raspberry dream muffins from her Monday menu
also earned her an enthusiastic welcome. Her imagination was challenged
on days her guests ate to the last crumb. Then she came with questions
like, Mibby, how do you get the lil ol bugs out of the
window on your stove? That one had kept us occupied for almost two
hours as we read the owners manual and tried to remove parts of
the stove. We finally agreed to let the bugs mummify where theyd
Louise came to make sure my boat was still tied to the dock, that the
knot hadnt loosened and set me adrift. She tightened the knot with
love, southern styleindulgent and usually fattening.
Only after Louise and I had downed our drinks and were chewing on ice
cubes did Blink give up his post and trot down the garden path to the
Ky came out of the house dressed for baseball practice. Blink,
I just cleaned that!
Grass stains colored the knees of his uniform, and a wide stripe of red
clay smudged the left hip. I tried to remember the last time Id
done the laundry. I couldnt. Six months after Scotts death,
I was still surprised by the normal events of an ordered life, like Ky
going off to baseball practice or Louise measuring out the ingredients
for her scones.
How can such ordinary things keep going on when Ive been cemented
in place for so long?
Louise handed Ky a scone. Have you had dinner, hon?
Im eating at Salvadors house. He turned to me.
Mom, Salvadors dad will drive us to practice and bring us
When he leaned close to kiss me good-bye, I made a mental note to do
Mibby? Louise said after Ky left, watching the ice swirl
in the bottom of her glass. Are you fixin to let your hair
I swept loose strands of hair out of my eyes and refastened them with
a butterfly clip. I havent decided.
The line of questioning made me nervous. Other seemingly innocent inquiries
about my hair had led to a frenetic perm and a misadventure with a sun-streaking
kit, all at the hands of Louise.
Some wispy bangs would soften your forehead. Do you have some scissors
I promised her Id think about it. Before she walked back across
the alley, Louise gathered my hands and pressed them to her heart. Our
foreheads touched as she prayed, Sweet Jesus, shelter this precious
child with your everlasting arms. Amen.
She left when she saw I wouldnt drift away.
* * *
After a shower, I slipped into one of Scotts T-shirts Id
scavenged from his laundry basket after his funeral. I breathed deeply
as I pulled it over my head, hoping to evoke his presence with a few drops
of dried sweat and some sloughed skin cells. But sleeping in the shirt
for six months had diminished its magic.
Blink and I shared lemon scones in front of the television in my bedroom.
I chased mine with the last of the blue Kool-Aid and added the empty glass
to the growing collection on my nightstand.
Six oclock. The hour of coming home. I upped the volume on the
television to mask the sound of my neighbors slamming their car doors
as they arrived home from work. But even over the din of soft drink commercials,
the sound of closing doors coughed for my attention. Unwittingly, my heart
pounded a welcoming beat to each coming-home noise they sounded.
Opie was explaining to Andy Griffith his earnest need for a huntin
dawg when Ky slammed the front door and clicked the deadbolt into place.
The stairs creaked loudly as he bounded up. He dropped his duffel bag
and cleats in front of my grandmothers pink damask chair. Before
I could protest, he raised his hands in surrender.
I know! Dont sit down until you take a shower.
And put those clothes in the washing machine.
He came from the shower to the doorway of my room with his sandy hair
slicked back. I wanted to invite him in; I wanted to hold him tightly
in my arms and smell that warm place behind his ear. If he took one step
toward me ...
Im going to do my homework now, he said, leaving for
his room with the last scone and a glass of water.
After the late local news, I checked on Ky. Blink raised his head from
Kys belly when I moved closer to listen for breathing. So still.
His right arm was draped over his forehead with his palm open to the ceiling
like he was shielding his eyes from the sun. I touched his palm. Although
his fingers closed against the tickle, he didnt wake. Alive. He
slept on top of the covers, his young boy body hot from forging the man
I moved his book bag from the foot of his bed to the middle of the doorway
where he wouldnt miss it. By loading his bag at night, Ky gained
two minutes of sleep each morning, something his growing body coveted
more than food. It took him twenty-three minutes from alarm to out the
door. No more, no less. In that time he fixed his own breakfast of instant
oatmeal and juice. My only morning job was to send him off with a prayer
for protection and a quick kiss.
I studied the gallery of Kys dragon art spotlighted by the hallway
light. His latest dragon creature lay on his desk waiting to be added
to the wall. It dripped blood from the corner of its mouth and held a
sinewy carcass in bloodstained claws. Those were new details. I promised
myself Id talk to him about the gore.
Blink followed me into my bedroom and waited patiently while I spread
the sheet on my side of the bed. After I crawled into Scotts place,
the dog hopped up and nestled against my back. Soon his breathing beat
out a rhythm deep and even. Blink and David Letterman lulled me into a
Excerpted from Like
a Watered Garden by Patti Hill, Copyright 2005. Published by
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