A Prayer at Twilight

A Prayer at Twilight May 7, 2024

weeds on a lawn
image via Pixabay


I dreamed she was still alive.

My stalking neighbor went into hospice in January of 2023. Early this morning I dreamed I heard her letting out the German Shepherd on its chain, as she’d done hundreds of times in the years she lived next door. She liked to do it as I came out, to menace me. In the dream, I told myself “that’s impossible, she’s dead and the dog was rehomed,” but I ran to the window. There was that dog on my grass, looking like the Big Bad Wolf. There she was, alive, dressed in a bright pink dress that looked lovely on her, instead of the bath robes and sweat suits she always wore in life. She wasn’t standing on her own property, but on the alley. She was taunting me, mocking, that endless track of obscenities pouring out of her mouth just like it used to.

I woke up in terror.

Of course, she wasn’t there.

Her potted philodendron in the window across from my bedroom was completely dried out like a mummy. The “PSALM 119 AMEN!” signs she taped to the window were gray and nearly illegible. Her yard was still dotted with dandelions wat the spot where Jimmy’s mower ran out of gas a week ago. All was quiet.

When Adrienne came home from school, we went out and started taking the cardboard off the garden.

I’d been solarizing a new patch of grass, to have more space for plants. “Solarizing” means you use the warmth of the sun to kill weeds and get your patch ready without any chemicals. I’d covered the grass with long, flat strips of cardboard from a box a neighbor had put out for the trash when they bought a new television three weeks ago. With all the rain, the cardboard was soft and floppy like a sheet. Underneath, the grass was tawny gold instead of green. Earthworms curled away from the light and disappeared. The roots of the grass were much softer and easier to break up with my shovel. Adrienne and I took turns turning over the grass while Michael pulled weeds and Lady Mcfluff the guinea pig nibbled clover under a laundry basket.

I kept jumping at nothing. I’d hear a dog in a nearby yard or somebody walking in the alley, and I’d panic, thinking of my dream.

At one point I attacked the dead grass with a little too much vehemence, and I broke the old shovel in half. I didn’t have another shovel, just my little gardening spade, and there wasn’t any money for the hardware store.

The rain started to sprinkle just then, so we went in.

An hour or so later, I went out by myself.

I did all the chores I could think of without a shovel. I pulled the remaining weeds. I planted the tomato seedlings and caged them in the cages I pulled out of the failed community garden. 

I tried to use the metal shovel blade without a wooden handle to finish digging up the solarized grass, but that proved impossible.

I ripped open my sunflower seed packets and started planting them at the corners of the garden where they won’t cast too much shadow.  This year I’m going to have more varieties of sunflower than ever. I want a whole world of sunflowers, to make up for the ones the stalking neighbor beheaded. I puttered around the patch, saying the names of sunflower breeds to myself over and over as a stim. Mammoth gray stripe. Autumn beauty. Black beauty. Harlequin. Lemon queen. Ruby eclipse. Teddy bear dwarf. 

I looked at the neighbor’s side of the property as the sun went down beside her house.

There was a shovel leaning up against her porch with the lawn rake, just where she’d left it. For a moment I thought about borrowing it to finish the garden, but it was rusted and useless even if I’d dared.

She used to run out of the house screaming whenever anyone came near her house. Now Jimmy comes on the lawn to mow it when he doesn’t forget. The neighbors on the other side of her house sometimes mow the front. People cut through the yard to get to the alley. Children play hide and seek behind her garage. Jimmy’s boy and his friends sometimes run up on the porch and ring the bell– he says he’s playing ding dong ditch with a ghost.

She used to be so persnickety about that yard. She would spend hours tearing up every weed to make the grass smooth as velvet, except the places where the dog went– even then, she preferred to chain up the dog so it would urinate on my side of the boundary and kill my clover instead of her grass. She threw her garbage on our grass and sometimes the dog droppings as well. She thought we were rats, and said so. Now her lawn looks rattier than any other on the block. All those planters she bought were full of dandelions and other weeds. There were weeds in among the dead daffodils in front as well. The weeds were high enough that the ordinance officer would give her a ticket, if there was anyone to ticket at all.

It felt like justice.

Of course, there’s more than one kind of justice.

Next thing I knew, I was pulling her weeds.

I only got the ones I could reach from my side of the yard, which were plenty. Out with the dandelion. Out with the chickweed. Out with the bittercress and the overgrown grass. I pulled up the weeds that were choking out the hostas she used to be so proud of. I made a great big pile, and I used it all to cover my compost. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life.

My compost was heating up for the year, bizarrely warm, warm as a living thing.

It felt like letting go of a grudge.

It felt like exorcizing a ghost.

It felt like a prayer.

Gardening is the best prayer I know.



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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