A Time To Plant

A Time To Plant May 12, 2023

strawberry blossoms
image via pixabay


Jimmy came over to repair Serendipity.

I told him again about the car’s alternator suddenly dying, and the mechanic downtown saying it had bad wires and couldn’t be fixed, and getting it towed to the Lost Girl’s house where her uncle put in a new alternator. I told him about how it died again instantly when I went to drive it after the fix. I told him how I’d been told, by the uncle through the Lost Girl, the brakes were metal to metal and he would repair them on his next trip through town, but he never materialized. Jimmy promised to look at everything.

As he worked, his five-year-old son entertained me.

I had been going to plant my corn, but the boy was far more interesting.  He wanted to play in Adrienne’s old sandbox that she’s too grown up for now. He and I made big wet piles of sand in the bucket, and turned it upside down to make a house for spiders to live in. He explained that he’s hoping to catch a radioactive spider so that he can become a superhero. He told me that he also commands an army of trained wasps that will sting the bullies who pick on him at school. I told him that my daughter used to love Spider-Man, and watched superhero cartoons every day.

Adrienne herself came out with Lady McFluff the guinea pig as a distraction. She set him under a laundry basket to enjoy the clover as the boy enjoyed watching him. Jimmy’s boy was enthralled by Lady McFluff. He said he had an imaginary guinea pig of his own.

Soon, the attention turned to my garden patch, the one I dug earlier this week, the one that was fertilized and ready for the corn. I showed him the strawberry blossoms, and said he could have some berries to eat when they were ready. I showed him the big half barrels where I’d planted potatoes. I gave him a watering can so he could be a farmer and water the potatoes for me. I showed him where the popcorn will be planted, and he promised to come harvest it for me by standing on a ladder. Finally, I showed him the compost heap.

He noticed a half-rotted avocado seed that had rolled out from under the cardboard. Before I could stop him, he took it to the garden patch and planted it there so that an avocado tree would grow. Then he went to wash his hands in the imaginary fountain on my stalking neighbor’s property. The boy explained that this is an invisible fountain only he can see, which “makes a sound, but it’s a very quiet sound.”

Jimmy brought me the old dry rotted wiring harness to show it off. It hung from his hand like a dead octopus, bare metal wires twisted and greasy. He pointed to the spot where all three wires leading to the alternator were stripped clean of any covering, and one of them was completely snapped. The mysterious uncle, it seemed, had tried to attach an alternator to a wire that was broken in half. I laughed about this.

The next day he was back, and so was the boy. The boy told me that he was going to fix my car by covering it in superglue and painting it shiny black so no one would notice, and then he asked if the strawberries were ripe yet.

His father jacked up the car and took off one tire. He finished putting in the new wiring harness, secured it with zip ties, and charged the battery for half an hour. Then he put the freshly charged battery in and went to drive Serendipity around the block, to see why the battery light was still on.

He got about four feet.

The dash light suddenly informed him that there was no key, exactly the same way it went for me in January. Next, just as before, the transmission would only go in reverse and not forward no matter how hard he floored the accelerator. He backed back into the spot and turned the car off. When he turned it on again, it revved but wouldn’t start at all. And then it wouldn’t even rev.

Further examination revealed the culprit. The alternator, the same alternator that had failed spectacularly just before Christmas, had never been changed. It was the exact same corroded ten-year-old alternator that came with the car, with a new bolt clumsily installed on top. In addition, Jimmy assured me, my brakes were not metal to metal but brand new– the jerking I’d felt was the sparkplugs. And there wasn’t a hole in the exhaust. And the oil was old and dark and hadn’t been changed as I’d been told.  I’d driven the car for a few minutes on the battery alone as if it were an electric car, and then it stopped, and then the broken alternator and wires had drained the brand new battery into the ground as it parked outside my house. I’d been had– twice, once by the car salesman who sold me a car with a bad wiring harness, and again by the Lost Girl’s family.

He got on his phone to order a cheap alternator, for which I need to pay him back, and told me where to get another battery I can’t afford at Rural King in case this one wasn’t under warrantee. Rent is due this week. It’s going to be interesting.

I started to shake, and I haven’t quite stopped since.

Five months we’ve been without a reliable vehicle. Five whole months.

I went out in the borrowed car, with no air conditioning and the windows that don’t always roll up when you roll them down, to buy greens for Lady McFluff.

When I got back, Jimmy started taking out the old alternator.

As he worked, he chatted. He chatted about the neighbors, all of whom he knows. I said something about my stalking neighbor who slashed my tires, and he knew all about her as well.

“She had a lot of grudges she couldn’t let go,” he said, gesturing around his face with greasy hands as if the grudges were bats circling a belfry. “It made her really bitter inside.”

I told him about the time she took us to court and told a judge we were running onto her porch calling her obscene names.

“She said the other neighbors were doing that too,” said Jimmy. “She even said I was doin’ stuff to her. She attacked me too. I kept callin’ her again and again, kinda forced her to talk to me, and eventually she stopped and said she was sorry. She needed me. When I was mowin’ her lawn last summer, she would call and ask me to do it and I barely heard her voice from the cancer.”

“She really did have cancer?”

“Oh yeah. She went through all kinds of chemotherapy. In the end she was so weak she had to get rid of her big dog. I don’t know if she’s dead yet, but she moved in with her son. He’s a good guy, used to be in the military.”

“Then she’s really not coming back? It’s really over?”

Yes, it was over.

The boy asked if he could pet the guinea pig again.

It was getting too dark to do any more work. Jimmy left Serendipity with one tire off, bricks behind her back wheels, parked in front of my house.

And it was night.


Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.



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