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The Garden (a short story)
Growing up, Sundays after church my parents typically felt good enough about themselves to take us out to see our aging grandmother in her nursing home some thirty minutes away. Naturally my little brother and I found it an annoyance on those bright almost-summer afternoons that were designed for playing catch and whatnot. Regardless, we managed to play nice instead. One Sunday I remember quite vividly sitting in the backseat with my brother, sliding back and forth across the vinyl seat of the town-car on every turn, listening to my father talk about church.
“I’ll be god****ed if I go back to that church one more time, I really mean that. The guy’s got no idea what the hell he’s talking about and he goes on and on about it. It’s unbearable.”
His cigarette was only half-smoked when he dropped it out the crack of the window.
“I know it isn’t exactly what we want to hear,” my mother submitted, “but I really doubt we’d find anyone we liked better. Besides, I go mostly for the people anyway, not the preacher.”
Her dress looked to be made out of a delicate table cloth, and because we were driving in the direction of the sun, all I could make out of her was a shadowed outline of frizzy blonde hairs that erupted from beneath her large hat. My father lost slight control of the wheel trying for the matches, and his new, unlit cigarette danced freely between his pursed lips.
“Why do we still read the bible if it isn’t true? That’s what I don’t understand. The guy’s a quack.”
We arrived and my brother and I covered our eyes from the sun in a salute-fashion march across the parking lot. My mother had pinholes of sun draped across her nose and cheeks from her sun hat, and my father scowled from behind his wayfarers. My brother tugged at his necktie as if his bus stop had just passed, but only forced more aggravation upon himself. We walked down three hallways to get to room 207(b), where my grandmother was just getting up (she was accustomed to the routine by now).
“Hi, mom,” my mother exclaimed with a deafening smile.
“Hello, Margaret,” my father gently voiced, looking around for an ashtray.
My brother seemed to understand my grandmother more than I did, perhaps because he was too young to feel uncomfortable. He walked to the bed, turned around and thrust himself up, to the side of the feeble woman, who roughed his hair before kissing the top of his head.
“And how are you there, little fella?” she asked, genuinely.
“Good! Do you have any sunsets?” he asked, cutely. Sunsets were what my little brother called the crescent shaped orange bonbons my grandmother would give us on occasion.
“Why of course I do!”
She stood up and took her time meandering to a cupboard on the opposite side of the room. A nurse walked in and asked to see my mother and father. My grandmother stopped when she heard this, and looked concerned, but she only paused long enough for me to catch it, and continued for the tin of sunsets.
She sat back down on the bed beside my brother.
“Boys,” she said, quietly. “I am so glad that you come see me like you do. Not a lot of people here get regular visits from their grandchildren! It’s very important to me. Did I ever tell you about my grandmother?” We shook our heads questioningly.
“Well, she was a marvelous lady. My grandfather died before I was born, so she took care of things on her own. I remember summers we would go down to South Georgia where she lived and she would tend her garden and her fields and take care of us kids, all with such grace and patience. She used to tell us that nobody knows how hard you work until they see your garden. I never really understood what she meant back then, but I believe she was truly on to something.”
Just then my parents re-entered the room, informed us that we were leaving, and stood in the door frame until my brother and I had said goodbye, and left. They didn’t say goodbye to my grandmother.