“You have a lovely garden ma’am. Been meaning to tell you so for quite some time now.” The old woman’s voice startled me as I jabbed my key into the lock of my front door. I had grown accustomed to viewing the silent figure by the door of 2B, as a piece of furniture. Nothing more.
“I beg your pardon?” I pulled Jason’s cap down below his ears and fussed with the collar of Brian’s polo shirt. “I don’t have a garden. The patios here are too small for that. And forgive me for saying so, but if I were to have a garden, how would you know it’s lovely? I always thought you were blind.”
“There are all sorts of gardens ma’am. All sorts.” My neighbor sat rocking slowly in her wooden chair as she spoke her riddles. “I used to have me a wonderful garden, I did. So beautiful. Shoulda spent me some more time enjoying it while I had it. Drunk driver put an end to it though. Put an end to my eyes too.”
“Well, I’m sorry for your loss. Maybe one day you’ll plant another?” I was running late to get Jay to school and was too short on patience to figure out the ramblings of an eighty-year-old blind woman with imaginary gardens.
“My time for gardening has come and gone. There won’t be any more flowers springing up for this old soul. Just make sure you enjoy yours while it lasts. The blooms fade so quickly sometimes. So quickly.”
“Yes, well, I really must be going.” I tried to scoot the boys past her door and down the hall.
I had almost made it to the elevator when she called out. “The names Clara Johnson. Ms. Clara’s fine. You have a lovely day and take care of that garden now.” She continued rocking and staring off into the distance with eyes as clouded as her thinking seemed. I pushed the down button a few extra times without saying another word.
When we returned that afternoon, I was in a foul mood; Brian’s diaper had leaked all over me. I hardly noticed Ms. Clara with all the scolding I was busy doing.
“Bri, when are you ever going to learn to use the potty?” The overstuffed diaper was creating an awful stench and I couldn’t wait to get inside.
“Sounds as though you’ve got your hands full.” The crackle of her voice matched the creaking of her rocker perfectly. I hardly glanced up as I dug around for my keys, which had managed to settle to the bottom of my purse already.
“Oh. It’s this stupid diaper. It leaked all over my new blouse.”
“You have to expect a little dirt if you want to have a garden.”
“Dirt I wouldn’t mind. It’s this fertilizer that’s getting to me.” I managed a smile at my own cleverness. “If this kid would just stop being so dense and catch on. I think he takes after his father. He wasn’t too bright either.”
“Now how on earth will your buds blossom if you pelt them with pebbles like that?” A wry smile spread across Ms. Cara’s wrinkled face.
I had to stop and think about that one for a minute.
“Each one is different. Some will thrive in the bright sun, while others would simply wilt. Some need constant pruning so they won’t snap beneath their own weight. Others are meant to grow free and confident. It is up to the gardener to recognize their seedlings and apply the proper care.”
I still wasn’t sure Ms. Clara was all there, but she was starting to make sense. I looked down at my little ‘garden’ as she called it. They really were great kids and it had been awhile since I’d stopped to admire them.
Keys finally retrieved from my bag, I turned to unlock the door.
“Have a good evenin’ ma’am.”
I paused and looked back across the hall at apartment 2B. “My name’s Meg. You have a good night too Ms. Clara.” I herded the boys through the narrow doorway with a gentle, guiding hand.
Remembering the advice to enjoy my garden while it lasted, I inhaled deeply. Then I remembered Bri’s current potty emergency and regretted it. I rushed him to his changing table, but not without offering up a silent prayer for my wonderful garden, fertilizer and all.
(c) 2006 Debbie Sickler
Debbie Sickler, a mother of three boys, began writing as a hobby in 2005. She has since won several awards and been published both on line and in print. She is currently working on a Christian fantasy screenplay.