THURSDAY: A Perfect Day

BY NANCY PAZNER

Copyright is held by the author.

IT WAS one of those rare, wonderful days, the air still nippy but the sun brilliant and warm. A day meant for gardening, for celebrating the exuberance of new growth after yet another endless winter, stuck indoors with only the meagre comfort of the seed catalogues.

The garden had always been his zone, the place where he found a sense of peace and rightness. Let other people do their yoga and meditation and zen whats-its. Give him a patch of dirt and the chance to grow things and he could just feel everything inside him settling into place.

It had always been that way, and now, even more. The garden was the one place that he knew exactly what to do. He didn’t have to think, he didn’t have to remember, he just did, the way he’d done for years.

“Hey, Frank!” Doug’s greeting jolted him out of his reverie. They had been over-the-fence buddies and friendly rivals for years. “Don’t you think it’s a little early to be putting in the tomatoes?”

“Nah, it’ll be fine. Look — everything’s coming up gangbusters, especially the weeds.”

“That’s the truth. Still, on the radio they’re still talking about frost warnings for the next little while.”

“Let them talk. It’s all good.”

“If you say so, Frank. If you say so.”

Not deigning to answer, he bent over the hole he’d been digging for the next tomato plant. He worked in a shovel full of compost, enjoying the feel of the loosening soil and the mucky, fertile smell of the compost. Doug disappeared. Everything but the garden disappeared. There were just the plants and the soil and the eternal, comforting cycle.

“Dad? Dad!” Once again he was pulled, unwillingly, from his cocoon. “Dad, are you all done with the composter?”

What was she going on about? “Yes, I’m done with the composter. That’s why I closed it.”

“Well, actually, Dad, it’s wide open and it looks like a racoon got into it. Do you mind if I tidy up the tools and get everything closed up before the varmint comes back and makes an even bigger mess?”

Louise was a good girl, but she was always after him about something or another. Remember this, remember that, go here, see this doctor, that specialist. He didn’t recall her always being such a nag. Just recently, it seemed.

“Suit yourself.”  He turned back to the tomatoes, trying to lose himself again in the annual planting ritual. This time it was harder. He could hear Louise rattling around, banging the damned composter, clanking the tools. How many tools was she dragging around? It sounded like she had the whole garden shed out there.

He gave up on the tomatoes for a while and moved over to where he’d planted two rows of bush beans. The gentle curls and nascent leaves of the bean sprouts were just rising above ground — and so were the weeds. He’d put in some time pulling weeds. For sheer, mindless comfort it was hard to beat weeding.

He was just starting to relax again when Louise barged in again. “Hey, Dad — I brought you some water. You’ve been out here for a while.”

He crouched lower over his weeding and refused to answer.

Louise stood there and tried to out-wait him. She always tried and she never succeeded. “Dad? Your water?”

He kept weeding, pulling little green sprouts out of the Spring earth, leaving a growing patch of clean dirt.

“You know what the doctor says about keeping hydrated.”

No, he didn’t know what the doctor said about keeping hydrated and he didn’t want to know. Most of what the doctor said these days he didn’t want to know. He just kept weeding.

He felt more than saw Louise kneel down beside him. She brushed her hand over the dirt where he’d been weeding. “Dad? Why are you pulling up all the beans?”

“I’m not . . . I’m pulling up . . . I’m . . .” He stuttered to a stop as he finally processed what both his eyes and he daughter were telling him. He’d been pulling up the beans right along with the weeds. They all lay limply commingled in the bucket.

He sat down hard, tried to breath, choked instead. Then he choked again and suddenly realized that his cheeks were wet, he was crying for the first time since Angie had died, however long ago that had been. He wasn’t crying for the stupid beans, though; he was crying for himself, the himself that remembered things and didn’t screw up and didn’t need an adult daughter to remind him and watch over him. The real Frank, the real him, wouldn’t have cried over that. He would’t have cried over anything. He was a man. He did things. He knew things. He remembered. . .

Gradually he realized that Louise’s hands were on his shoulders, her forehead leaning against his. “I’m sorry, Dad. I distracted you. I was wrong to nag.” She paused and they both just breathed together for a bit.  After a long, bleary while, Frank opened his eyes. Louise stood up and offered him a hand.

“C’mon, Dad. Those tomatoes need to get in the ground. I’ll help you if you show me how. You’re the expert around here.”

Frank stood, brushing off the seat of his pants, the beans forgotten. It was time to get those tomatoes in. It was a perfect day, a day meant for gardening.

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