Oria happened to be standing at the window when one of the boys crushed an empty Orange Fanta can then tossed it onto the edge of the yard. He and his friend were all striped sweats, broad smiles, and voices so loud the sound spilled through the small houses along Violet Drive. If Adam were here, he would have stopped the boy and demanded he pick up the can. But Adam was dead. She’d have to fend for herself.
She slipped a thick, black sweatshirt over her head then crossed the overgrown lawn barefoot to retrieve the crushed can. Under the afternoon’s damp grey sky, the neighborhood looked worse than she remembered even yesterday. Maybe it had deteriorated so slowly she didn’t recognize the dramatic decline until now. Or maybe it happened too fast, like with Adam.
Across the street, a rusty gutter on the Mingus’s house hung limply like a flag at half staff. A broken-down Toyota Truck with the hood up was parked in the driveway. A pit bull with a white muzzle dipped its head. It stared at her with a hesitant wag from its place at the end of a rope tied to the front porch when she clicked her tongue its way. The paint on the next-door neighbor’s house was peeled. The Bryson’s started to repaint. But they couldn’t get the color to match exactly, a slightly off-color blue square covered a spot at the front corner before the project was abandoned last year. On the other side, Mr. Green’s house was the worst. It was a tossed salad of car parts and long-discarded metals some just rusted, others rusted and broken. The pieces and parts spun from one side of the yard to the other, then trailed off as his property line ended.
Oria reached down into the long grass to pick up the crushed can, she should mow tomorrow. As a matter of fact, she should grow a flower garden. The idea appeared like a puff of smoke, then it swirled around and gained momentum as she made her way up the walkway to the front porch. Yes, she was going to grow a flower garden. It was going to be beautiful.
She spent weeks planning the garden. Adam would have laughed at how she took notes at the computer and cornered garden center employees looking for advice. She dug and planted and sowed and watered until pink Primrose sprouted along the pathway to the front door of their little white house. Red Valarian and Black-Eyed Susan blossomed red, yellow, and orange at the corner of the front yard. Day Lilies and her favorite Bleeding Hearts bloomed along the shady side of the house, just under the kitchen window, nearest Mr. Green’s.
In May, six months after Adam’s death, she carried a small bag of fertilizer around the corner to the side garden. Mr. Green was leaning against his garage with one foot hitched up against the siding. He was smoking a cigarette and peering down at the garden. The space was tight between the two houses, not much more than two arm’s distance away. Mr. Green was bald, with a wiry white mustache, a ruddy face, and narrow blue eyes. He made her feel uncomfortable, so she paused about ten feet away and watched as he took a last drag off the cigarette then flicked the smoldering butt into her new side yard garden.
“Good morning Mr. Green,” she said from where she was standing. “I see you are enjoying the new garden. It’s a memory garden, actually. In memory of Adam.”
Mr. Green turned his head slowly toward her as if coming out of a dream. He looked at her with a dark expression and pushed himself up straight from where he’d been leaning against the wall. He turned and sauntered away.
That evening, before it got dark, she went outside to the side garden and leaned a small, plastic-encased photo of Adam against a cluster of Bleeding Hearts for display.
It wasn’t two days later that Oria discovered a half dozen of the lilies scattered on the lawn about a foot in front of the side garden as if they were spit out of the dirt.
She was kneeling over them when Esther Mingus, who lived across the street, stopped short on the sidewalk in front of the house.
“It was his dog, not ours,” Esther said and nodded her head toward Mr. Greens’ house. In her oversized t-shirt and multi-colored leggings, she looked like a square on stilts. “I saw it this morning. That dog just dug everything up. The dog is bad, we have complained over and over. That dog gets into everything. He won’t do nothing about it.”
Oria’s lips tightened, she swallowed hard, and clenched her fists. “Where was he? Did he see it?”
Esther flinched and shook her head from side to side for emphasis. She leaned forward like a co-conspirator.
“He was right here, right here looking straight at the dog. He didn’t do a thing. He said the dog is for protection. Protection for what? We need protection.”
At noon the sun was burning her shoulders. She jabbed the spade roughly into the soil to replant the lilies. When she heard Mr. Green’s garage door grind open behind her, she stood and stomped toward the edge of the property gripping the spade so tight her knuckles were white. Mr. Green’s rusty Subaru pulled to the end of the driveway with his German Shepard Brutus’s, head sticking out the dirty back window.
“I need to talk to you about my garden,” she called to Mr. Green. He jammed the gears into drive and the car jolted forward. Brutus, tongue out and ears cocked, looked back at her curiously as they drove away.
“We are going to discuss this,” she yelled to him as they both disappeared. “You can’t just destroy everything.”
On Wednesday Oria dreamed about Adam. In her dream, she handed him a flower and he handed her a sword. Then there was pounding. It got louder and louder. “I think someone is trying to get in,” Adam said to her in the dream.
She jolted awake and laid in bed for a few minutes to orient herself. Eventually she hoisted herself up to follow the sound, she made her way to the kitchen window with the cuffs of her pajamas slapping into her ankles on the way. Outside, so close she could probably touch him, a round man with shiny black hair in jeans and a white t-shirt stood with his back to her. A second man with a long face, a ponytail and a red baseball cap pounded on a wooden fence post near the side garden.
“Hey, hey,” she leaned over the sink and rapped on the window. “What are you doing?” She could hear country music playing through the window and it must have drowned out her voice because they didn’t turn.
She spun around, yanked her blue nylon jacket off a hook by the door and pulled it over her pajamas. She jogged out the front without closing the door. Around the side of the house, the men looked up at her briefly and then back down to the post when she confronted them. “What are you doing in my yard?” She absently pushed her hair down where it stuck up in tufts when she said it, almost like she realized just then that she wasn’t dressed or prepared to meet strangers.
“Building a fence,” the second man said like she was an idiot. “Guy over here wants a fence.”
“This is my yard, you can’t just build something here.”
“I’m just doing what I’m told. Talk to him.”
No, you don’t understand, it’s my yard,” She was yelling now.
“Talk to him.”
“Look how close it is, it’s almost touching my garden.” she said. “Be careful of my flowers.”
“I’ll do my best.”
A clump of dirt fell on top of one of the Bleeding Hearts. She reached down, picked up the clump, threw it aside and left the men there. They watched her march toward Mr. Green’s house in her yellow pajamas and coat, then started back to work.
Mr. Green didn’t answer the door even after she rang the bell at least six times. She cupped her left hand against the glass window next to the door and used the other to hold her jacket tight over her pajamas.
“I see you in there!” And she did. He was in clear view hunched over the newspaper at his kitchen table eating a bowl of cereal. Brutus, the dog, was gnawing on a giant bone at his feet. Neither looked up.
The officer at the door looked young enough to be her son. He was about her height with soft brown eyes. He listened to her with his head slightly cocked but his hand on his radio, as if he were ready to respond to anything else as soon as it came up.
“This isn’t really a police matter,” the officer told her. “I’m surprised they didn’t tell you that when you called.”
“He is building a fence on my property,” she said she gestured toward the side of the house with her hand. “Can’t you at least talk to him? Don’t you want to see what they’re doing?”
“I’ll tell you what,” the officer said and looked at her charitably. He took a palm-sized notebook out of his chest pocket. “Let me get some information. And I’ll have it on record.”
The officer paused for a minute with his pen poised over the notepad as if trying to snatch something from the recesses of his brain. He repeated her name. “Oria Mason. I went to school with a Mason. Adam Mason.”
He paused again to register her reaction. She felt her throat close. She crossed her arms in front of her. “Oh,” was all she said. Anything else would have been too exhausting.
“Sad story, I don’t know if you read about it in the paper. Shot by his next-door neighbor. I guess the guy thought Adam was an intruder or something, but he was just trying to get some kids off the guy’s property. Too bad” The officer smiled slightly, maybe to lighten the mood. Then he sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and closed the notebook.
“Well ma’am I think I have everything.” He put the notebook back in his pocket. “Like I say, maybe the best thing would be just to talk it out with Mr. Green. These kinds of things, well, they tend to work themselves out.”
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