In the Garden

Graphic by Joseph Valdez

It’s 6:30 in the evening. The air has lost its smothering, plastic quality, and with a breeze it’s almost cool. I’m sitting on the back porch, looking out on an empty world. The only things moving are the leaves; the only sounds come from birds and cicadas. Back home, “outside” means tiny patches of grass and dying oak trees linked by asphalt, with stucco townhouses on all sides, and the neighbors a constant, cynical audience. Here, outside is where you go to be alone.

I’m not quite alone, of course. Charlie and Luna are out here too. They won’t stop crawling all over me, seemingly fascinated by the jiggling instability of my legs, a drastic change from the hard wood and earth their new-kitten legs are used to. Charlie’s occupied with licking his paws, though, so I’m free to type unaccosted.

I can’t count every beautiful thing I can see. There’s a huge lilac bush just to my left, and moments ago a hummingbird was buzzing around it. In front of me is the old kitchen, a tiny white clapboard building rimmed with pink flowers I can’t identify. Behind it, the old well and the silos, tall and proud and blue as soldiers. There are three of them, plus the burned concrete stump that remains of a fourth, which now overflows with weeds—decades ago, when a random spark ignited the grain stored inside, it became my aunt’s first husband’s funeral pyre.

And I know, just out of sight, there stands the grandest fig tree that’s ever grown, wide and proud as a cathedral, richly adorned with dusky fruit. There’s a garden overflowing with eggplants and okra and yellow squash. There’s a poor, stringy little pomegranate tree, and buckeye plants with swollen pods. And more flowers I can’t name, red and purple and gold, irresistibly attractive to the butterflies that hang about them.

It’s almost unbelievable how idyllic it is here. Everywhere around me are living things that grow wild. Everywhere around me, I see a world ripe with life and richness and rawness and history. Even the air has that heaviness. The humidity isn’t any better or worse than up north, but it can also feel oppressive in an entirely different way—like in the church house when the hymns are sung. In small towns, church is where you go if you crave the sensation of being looked at. Especially if you’re an outsider, like I am: Miss Dorothy’s Yankee granddaughter, a figure admired yet unknown.

I can hear thunder rumbling in the distance. The sky’s gone gray. The cats are roaming. I should head inside. This, I realize, is my last time visiting this house as a child. I won’t return before my 18th birthday. In a year, Charlie will be dead, hit by a rare truck driving past Grandmama’s house, and I’ll be away at college, hardly ever calling home. The farm in Georgia will feel even farther away, even more alien and divorced from the life I will be living. But the view from the back porch, I’m sure, will still be beautiful—unchanged, preserved, as it is and as it has been and as it will be. I won’t really know, though. I won’t have seen it in a while.


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