Before dark that evening, Phoebe and I stood admiring the gardens when two men in suits sauntered up the path leading to our building. They stared hard and suspiciously at Professor Sergeant’s additions. Veronica was with them.
“Oh, dear,” said Phoebe, taking my arm. “He has overdone it, hasn’t he?”
Professor Sergeant’s grief for Astible seems Victorian in its enthusiasm. In one short afternoon, he had redesigned the landscaping in front of our building. Unfortunately, it’s made the rest of the property look twice as neglected.
Veronica introduced Eddie Dowling. I clasped the hand of a man with a recognizable face.
“Our state representative,” said Phoebe.
The other was the Reverend Charles Wright, pastor of Calgary, our landlord.
Something about permissions to dig?
“Your little plot is just fine,” she said. “But Professor Sergeant …”
“We think he’s thrown off the balance a bit,” said the politician.
“Though we appreciate his efforts,” said Dr. Wright. Another politician.
“Is there a problem, Edward? asked Phoebe. When she said Edward in her plainest voice, the man’s hair stood up.
He sighed deeply, as men will when confronted with the unanswerable. Clearly there was a problem, why else would they be here? But his old teacher still had power. “Maybe,” he said, with a look to the minister, “we can put in something new over here.” He pointed to the buildings opposite where the original azaleas now looked worse than ever.
“I’ll help,” I said without even thinking. There was a kind of family tension that I, as a middle child, felt rushed to ease. “I bought plenty of manure.”
I was thanked and dismissed with the smooth-faced condescension I’ve grown used to---it’s a southern thing. “We’ll send the boys over with the back hoe,” he said. Overkill.
“We’ll tell William to be real careful with the mower,” Eddie promised. “You know, young lady,” he said to me, as if any second I was going to vote for him, “I once spent a lot of time on this complex.” He looked toward my apartment and sighed. “My daddy lived where you stay now,” he whispered with a glance at Phoebe. Then he shook hands all around and led the minister away.
“What brings a minister around on the busiest day of the Christian year?” I wondered.
“That’s a good question, Dearie,” said Phoebe. “A damn good question.”
And why did Eddie Dowling whisper when he looked at his old apartment?
When they left Professor Sergeant came out and stood on the veranda steps looking like Atticus Finch--- if the role had been played by Truman Capote.
What Professor S. bought:
· Two doomed camellias left over from the fall
· Four gardenias
· Six azaleas. Six!
He lined them up, realized his garden overwhelmed mine and so gave me three of the azaleas, two gardenias and a camellia, doing the planting himself. Because my garden is long and flat, reaching from the wall of the verandah like a large mat, he returned to the Arboretum and came home with a similar number of wildflowers and herbs for himself.
The professor also brought pots of moonvine that we agreed to plant so that when they grew they would reach the columns on either side and entwine them and never stop growing but reach the verandah’s roof some thirty feet above us. Astible’s memory will be fragrant as well as green.
It took him far less time to dig, prepare and plant his garden than it did for me to do mine, but his heart was more fierce and his motivation strong. Monnish Court had such an air of benign neglect it was almost invisible from the street. Our efforts made the courtyard leap out so that when people walked by they noticed we’re here. Maybe Dowling and Wright objected to that?
I’d hoped to hear from Peter that night and kept an ear out for the phone, but alas, mine did not ring. Billie and Alan dashed out before six and did not return until nearly midnight. I was sitting on the verandah worshipping my work and Professor Sergeant’s when they staggered past. Billie waved but did not stop. Take your time, Nora, I told myself. Take your time.
Once a garden is planted, all you can do is watch it, smell it, learn to recognize pests from protectors…. It’s a child and a pet, a busy live thing. Let the tomatoes be lined up along the back and between them gladiola bulbs given to me this morning by Alan. And next to them, let the basil grow bushy and even woody by August. Before them stand the sage, chives, peppers, lemon balm and mint. In the front row are oregano, thyme and lavender. Inside the borders, near the bricks I placed several seedlings of penny royal----a pretty ground cover. I had a rosemary plant as well but at Phoebe’s suggestion planted it separately in a large clay pot. Rosemary for remembrance, I murmured. “It’s tough and woody,” said Phoebe. “You don’t want it taking over.”