Penny munched her filet o’ fish sandwich and scanned her shady backyard. Birds chirped in the stillness of the early evening. A dog barked a few yards over. The new garden ran around the perimeter of the yard. Flowers grew in profusion.
Two ancient citrus trees, a lemon and an orange dominated the back yard. They grew there long before Penny arrived on the scene. Glorious Hummingbirds nested in them and would dart about all summer.
The sun had already passed behind the big tree in front. Hours of light remained but she had a lot to do.
Knowing her penchant for depression, she urged herself onward. Penny designed this task to avert that outcome.
“Stay busy,” she told herself. It kept her from thinking. Penny moved into the yard with her towel to kneel upon and some gardening tools. She pulled on gloves for the work at hand.
She grew up in this house. It had not been hers for long, though. When her father passed, the property came to her. It all happened so fast, Penny had not found time to cry. He would want her to be strong.
Memories of her perfectly enchanted childhood flooded her wherever she looked. How could sadness prevail? Because the man who engineered that magical life lived no more.
How does one encapsulate a life? A yard or a house cannot contain it. He went to war and returned. He could fix anything. He knew everything. How can all that experience be gone in a heartbeat?
It is inconceivable that the constellation of a life, any life, but his life especially, with its memories, experiences and the ripples of his being coursing into countless other lives could be snuffed out so absolutely. It made no sense. Death is an affront to everything we know.
Surrounded by this teaming life, Penny reeled at her loss. But she was strong.
The world felt empty without him. Who were these fools in the street, carrying on as if everything were normal? Driving their cars. How could they not know what had gone missing?
Penny would gladly tell them. Calling from the rooftop at their ignorance. But she knew they wouldn’t listen to reason. The world’s siren call would drown out her feeble protests. Reason fled like a phantom. It couldn’t compete with the daily diversion.
She set about pulling weeds. Penny always started her daily routine this way. And every day there were more weeds to pull. They were relentless as death.
She encountered a spider and withdrew her hand. Despite having seen the intricate web, its size startled her. Big and lethal-looking, it wasn’t a Black Widow. Spiders disgusted her. Their whole lives dedicated to killing. In a stand-off, Penny observed it watching her. Fight or flight? Kill or be killed? Must it be that way?
Penny refused its challenge. She moved on.
After weeding, Penny filled a bucket and carried it to each plant. As she made her way around the circuit, she refreshed and encouraged every plant in turn.
A friend suggested she use a hose. But she chose to water by bucket. One by one. Individual care.
She loved roses and had many lining the yard. It disappointed her that roses do not come in blue. Only the silvery purple Sterling roses suggested her mood.
One day she came home to find the gardener had cut them all back. She furiously left notes on each hacked bush warning him to stick to mowing the lawn else jeopardize his job. She wouldn’t really fire Jose. Her father hired him years ago.
She came to her beloved foxgloves. They were so magical. Summer twilights she would sit by, awaiting the fairies to come out and dance around them. You might scoff but sometimes they did.
Penny always wished fireflies would visit. Her father told her about seeing them back east.
When Penny had a nightmare her father would take the monster from under the bed and out to the driveway. He would back the car over it so it would never bother her again. And it never did.
Each corner of the garden reminded her of different events. She played in the wading pool on the grass between the trees until the giant black bees tormented her.
Her favorite citrus bush bore the juiciest hybrid oranges and lemons. It grew against the back of the garage where Penny’s famous Valentine’s party took place.
She’d invited her friends from school but neglected to tell her parents about her big plans. She had no concept of how to put on a party. Don’t they just happen?
The mother of one of Penny’s guests called that morning to confirm when the party would be over. Penny’s parents pulled it together as if they had nothing better to do. They ad-libbed the decorations in a few hours. Prizes. Snacks and a cake. No one knew anything but that the party was a rousing success.
Her father cared so much for her. What had gone wrong? She couldn’t help it. She grew up. He never forgave her.
Penny spent the rest of his life trying to mend the unspoken damage between them. The effort toughened her ‘too sensitive’ temperament. How long would she need to atone for past failings? Could she forgive herself?
Penny planted a single Morning Glory with a trellis along the back wall.
“They are invasive,” the man from the nursery warned her. “They’ll dominate the whole garden in no time.”
Penny didn’t care. She loved their deep blue blossoms. It had already sent thirsty tendrils out, greedily seeking water. Perhaps she would try to contain it later in the summer.
Nestled here and there were concrete garden décor, angels, cherubs and fairies. Nothing cute like those silly gnomes. They were not allowed in Penny’s sacred garden. In the back corner stood St. Francis’ statue in what she called ‘Frank’s Garden’. He held ceramic birds cupped in his hands. Frank entertained the birds amidst the rose bushes.
The neighbor’s ginger cat skulked under the purple flowers of the potato plant. Always hunting the next victim. Penny left it in peace. She hated finding some poor bird’s scattered feathers. But the cat went after rats too.
Sweet Jasmine grew high and escaped into neighbor’s trees. The blossoms filled the nights with their perfume.
The gloom of evening settled. Dew formed on the leaves from the dusk cooled air.
Penny came to a favorite part of the garden where a bed of delicate blue flowers lay like a blanket. She stopped in shock. Her flowers had wilted and browned. What could have happened? And so quickly? Weren’t they thriving only yesterday? Her mind went blank.
Penny fell to her knees. Uncontrollable sobbing welled out of her. She covered her wet face and rocked back and forth.
“What have I done?” she said through her despairing tears. “I’m so sorry.”
The cat stealthily approached Penny. It sniffed her hair. Penny continued weeping, silently now. Unnoticed, the cat turned and continued on its way.