It was cloudy and quiet as I set out for the community garden.
There are two beds that are mine to plant now. There are two beds at the community garden that are for the man who came to mow the lawn. The other four are unclaimed, and if they’re empty much longer, the man and I will split them between ourselves.
One of my garden beds has zucchini, eggplant, red velvet sunflower seeds and herbs. One of my garden beds is supposed to be the Four Sisters: giant yellow sunflowers, winter squash and beans, all surrounding a mound with a magic circle of heirloom popcorn in the middle. You’re supposed to wait until the popcorn is a few inches high before you plant beans to creep up the stalks and squash to creep along the ground. But the popcorn never sprouted. I’ve already re-planted it once, but I haven’t gotten more than a single green spike that was there one evening and gone the next morning.
Not only that, but one of my giant sunflower seedlings was gone: not dead but completely vanished. There had been six plants, three each in two corners, and now there were five.
I looked around as if I’d see my stalking neighbor crouching behind the raised beds, nibbling on a sunflower seedling. I expect to see her every time I go to the garden. I expect more harassment every time I open my door. After the escalating events of last summer and this winter, I’m shaking with panic every time I hear her hateful dog’s chain and frantically praying to Saint Michael every time I have to sprint past her house on the way to the garden. I am afraid she will follow me. Everything seems like a threat.
Was the missing seedling a warning?
Was she taunting me?
I knew, even as I thought about it, that it must be somebody else. My neighbor isn’t subtle like that. She’d have destroyed the whole box.
The bottom of the empty raised bed, the last one that needs to be filled from the mound of soil, was already full of weeds. They were bursting through the mulch like fireworks after the weekend’s rain. Bindweed had already sent its tendrils up over the walls of the box, creeping out to conquer the whole world. Bindweed is the plant I hate the most. At least you can make a salad out of young dandelions. Do that with bindweed and you’ll be on the toilet all night.
The hypervigilance being what it is, I felt as if I had a bindweed twisting around my spine.
I climbed into the eight-foot wooden box, so I could sit on the ground and thoroughly clear a single square foot at once. The bindweed had already begun to send up shoots through more than a foot of soil in some of the raised beds. I wanted to remove every last plant with surgical precision from the bottom of this one before I filled it. I yanked the long skinny tendrils, brown on top and ghostly white under the soil. I heard them snap and watched the white fluid rise up in what was left of the root. I bit my lip in frustration, knowing I hadn’t gotten it all. The weeds would grow back.
As I yanked, I prayed.
I prayed that mantra that I’ve been meditating on lately. “Master, whence hath it tares?” but no answer was given, just more weeds.
Master, whence hath it tares? Master, whence hath it tares?
Brown shoot, white root, milky sap, the smell of bindweed, the smell of loam.
I found several vibrant red ladybugs milling through the mulch. I worried that they’d be buried alive under the soil I was planning to spread out next, so I kept scooping them up and tossing them onto the weeds outside the bed. You mustn’t kill a ladybug. Not just because of that superstition that killing a ladybug makes it rain– I would’ve welcomed rain just then. Ladybugs are sacred to the Virgin Mary. They are red for the Passion of Christ, with black dots for the Seven Sorrows. Besides, they fight the aphids.
“Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house has burned down, your children all gone.”
Houses in LaBelle are notorious for catching fire. The houses are so close together that on some blocks, the eaves overlap. Once in awhile, we get a fire from somebody cooking meth. A year or two ago, during the driest part of summer a garage burned down– the neighbors said it was a little boy playing with fireworks. A few years before that, there was a neighborhood firebug who used to sneak into the derelicts slated for demolition, douse them with kerosene, light it and run. I think they caught him but I’m not sure. And then there was that winter that a slum house with bad wiring went up in flames. You could see the fire rising over the rooftops from two blocks away. You could smell it all over the neighborhood. That house was occupied by five tenants. One ran out the door, two jumped off the roof to safety, two died. The next of kin sued the landlord, but a judge threw out the case and that was that.
Often, when my neighbor paces back and forth between our houses at four in the morning, muttering threats, claiming that Michael is my pimp and she saw him abusing Rose, boasting that she’s called the sheriff and is going to get us murdered by a SWAT team, I’m afraid she’s going to try to burn our house down. Often, when I’m out of the house during the day, I’m afraid there’ll be nothing left of the house when I get back.
This is all ridiculous, of course. Our friends gave us home security cameras after the worst incident, so if she tried something like that now we’d know right away. All she can do now is stay on her side of the property line and threaten verbally, or follow me to a place where there is no camera and do something to me there.
Someplace like the garden.
Don’t be silly, I told myself for the hundredth time. You are hypervigilant because you’ve been abused by her for so long. You’re catastrophizing. Everything will be all right. Just work on the garden.
Ladybug, Ladybug, fly away home.
I wish I could go home to Columbus, or make a new home in Pittsburgh, and never see Appalachia again. An impossibility thanks to the student debt.
Master, whence hath it tares?
Master, did you not plant good seed? Because all I’m seeing are weeds. I’ve seen nothing for my investment yet. If I eat the plants I’m currently harvesting I’ll be sick. What do you expect me to do?
The other gardener showed up just then, startling me.
He showed me where the blackbirds live, in the gutter of a nearby house. They’d taken a few of his carrot seedlings last night. They were the thieves who’d stolen my sunflower, and the reason the corn never came up. He was setting up a blackbird deterrent for his raised bed, a network of strings tied to dowels with shiny tin pie pans dangling on the string. The birds see the pans bouncing in the wind and think it’s another animal, so they stay away. Anything shiny that moves will work, as long as you move them around the garden now and then so the birds don’t get used to them.
I felt the bindweed let go of my spine, for the time being.
Great big drops of water splashed out of the clouds as I finished my work for the afternoon.
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