Jane carries her twill basket through the front door and around the side of the house. The basket has seen better days – the handles are unravelling where they are seamed to the body – but it does the job. Still, she makes a mental note to see when the next crafters’ market is being held so she can shop for a new one. With any luck she can find one with a similar floral print.
Inside the basket are the tools of her hobby: knee pads, gardening gloves, shears, seed packets, a trowel, a small hoe-cultivator combo, some facial tissues and a tiny first aid kit (since her accident last summer with a Swiss army knife, of all things). The shears are quite large and the wooden handles stick well out of the basket; she also uses them for trimming the branches on the neighbour’s birch tree when they lean too far over their shared fence. Jack kicks up such a fuss when he has to rake the birch’s leaves each fall that Jane just started cutting it back to avoid his tantrums.
Jack and his friends from work are in the backyard on the deck, unwinding after a day on a new construction site. Jack always says the first week is the hardest, which would explain his extra-short temper lately. It’s always difficult when the peace and tranquility of her home are interrupted by her husband’s boisterous return from work in the evenings, but it’s more so when he’s In A Mood. He’s been In A Mood all week, so she is relieved he’s relaxing on the deck with his friends now. Hopefully things will settle down.
The west side of the house gets the most sun, so that is where Jane put in her garden when they first moved in. It’s not large – Jack says she won’t have time for a big garden once they start having kids – but it’s a good size. She had started with one row along the side of the house, then added another the next year, then another, until she had a good size garden and did not dare dig out any farther into the lawn. That would just be tempting fate. Jack kept pushing back the year they would try for kids, but in the meantime she doesn’t want him running the lawn mower over her flowers simply because the garden is “too big.”
The border of daffodils stands sunshine yellow and proud. Jane calls them the early risers. She smiles at the tulips that she’d planted between the still-sprouting asters. The tulips are several different colours and are such a treat to the eye after a dreary, grey winter. Thank goodness it’s a warm spring; her flowers will have a wonderful year, provided there isn’t a late frost.
She pulls out her knee pads and trowel. Laughter can be heard from the backyard. Jane had tried to play hostess, especially since she hadn't met them before, but Jack had made it clear she should leave them alone. His friends all seemed nice enough, calling her Mrs. Collins until she’d asked them to call her Jane. One of his friends, Greg, even removed his baseball cap. Jack had told him to put it back on. Greg had laughed but then realized Jack was serious. An awkward silence followed after Greg put his hat back on. Jane offered some lemonade she’d made that morning for them, but Jack waved her off, saying they were fine, they had beer.
And with that she had been dismissed. In a way she is relieved; she tries to avoid Jack when he starts drinking in the afternoon. It can make for a very long night.
Jane digs several holes between the asters and the tulips. The topsoil is warm to the touch, but as she digs down it becomes cool and moist. She picks up a handful and squeezes it through her fingers. A tiny bug pops out of the dirt and skitters across her wrist, falling to the ground. “Sorry,” she says, brushing the soil from her hands. She retrieves a packet of shasta daisy seeds from her basket and shakes a few into the first hole. After covering it up, she moves from hole to hole, dropping and covering, until she reaches the end of the row. She knows she is late getting these planted, but hopefully it won’t make a difference. “Be kind enough to share your space with the daisies,” she says to the asters. They have yet to flower, but it should be soon.
The laughter has become louder. Jane wonders how many beers they brought with them and how long they will be drinking here. With any luck they will move on to a bar. Their voices sound closer now; they must have moved from the deck onto the lawn. Then she hears “Over here!” and realizes they must be throwing a ball around, probably a football. So long as they don’t send it sailing over the fence into the neighbour’s yard. They’ve already had enough of Jack and his silliness over the leaves from their birch tree.
Jane stands, brushing her hands down her pants and glancing around. She should give the new seeds a bit of water. It’s not supposed to rain for several days. She may have to water the whole bunch.
The football turns end over end in the grass. Someone missed the throw. It’s Jack. He comes ambling after it, glances at Jane, then laughs and hurls it back. They are trash talking, from what she can make out. Jane stands frozen in her garden. Her stomach tingles with dread. Should she take her basket and go back inside, or perhaps for a walk and not return until they’ve all gone? What if they stay for hours? Can she stand here all night, standing sentinel over her flowers?
They are making their way to the edge of the backyard. Jack is moving them in her direction. They are following like idiots. No, not idiots – these are perfectly nice men. They simply don’t know what Jack is doing.
So he has noticed the growing garden after all.
“Here! Here!” Greg throws the football to Jack, whose back is now to Jane. He backs up and up, eye on the ball. Jane squeals and stumbles out of the way, heel coming down on an aster. She can feel the stems crushed under her canvas shoe. Jack plows through the garden, taking out two rows of daffodils and young zinnias, kicking up dirt and then turning and taking out two more rows, this time jogging with the ball tucked under his arm. “Beer break!” he calls, but his friends act as if they haven’t heard him. They stare at the destroyed garden, eyes flicking between the trampled flowers and Jane, who stands to one side with a look of horror on her face.
Jack is forced to double back. “Guys, come on,” he says. His friends look around. Greg mumbles something about having to get home. “Sorry, Mrs. Collins,” he says as he carefully sidesteps the garden. The others make their way back to the deck. Jane can hear them gathering up their coolers and keys. One says he’s going to the Double Deuce in about an hour. “I’ll meet you there,” Jack says.
Jane continues to stand. She is afraid she will throw up. She holds out her hands as if to raise her garden from the dead. Her head feels empty. With effort she turns and watches Jack’s friends get into their cars and trucks and drive away. Not one says goodbye to her, and they certainly don’t make eye contact.
She can sense Jack standing behind her, waiting. She can almost see the arrogant smirk on his face as he waits. He wants her to turn around; he wants to make some remark about the garden. She can outwait him. One needs patience when growing flowers from seeds. It takes time and the right environment. She can stand here until midnight if need be, watching the sun slant across the street, watching the streetlights come to life, watching the stars come out, watching the moon arc across the black sky.
Finally Jack sighs. “Time for another beer,” he says. He turns and disappears around the house. A moment later she hears the back screen door slam shut. He will have another beer, then he will drive to the bar to meet his friends. They will be uncomfortable about the garden, but after some more drinks and chumming they will all be laughing, and this will become a funny story they tell their wives and partners, who will probably have to be convinced that it’s okay to laugh at Jane’s expense.
She twists from the waist and looks down at her twill basket with the unravelling handles. The sun is glinting off something inside. The answer has been here all along. Her mouth twitches into a smile. With halting steps she approaches the basket and grasps the wooden handles. Pruning is another important factor in gardening. Sometimes a plant becomes infected, and then the diseased part simply has to go. The blight must be removed before it destroys the entire garden. Then she can thrive and flower and live a long, happy life.