Wednesday, September 9, 2009

DAngerous Book - Episode 12

Unless you have cable, your TV watching in this town was limited to two channels---the CBS affiliate and Turner Broadcasting. This was a good thing. It made for more reading, more writing and more neighborly nosiness.

Let me tell you that I was settled in my ample “lawn” chair, gazing at my own garden and at the professor’s. He was on his knees patting the earth of Astible’s grave with yet more little plants. We were no longer worried that our landlords would outlaw the new gardens. Something Phoebe said to Ed Dowling had made them back off. She wouldn't say what, but smiled in the way of parents with secrets they won’t share. Be wise, Nora. If she’s got power over the church board and the willingness to use it for you, just shut up and smile.

At my right Phoebe sat on her little porch. She had been making fun of our crowded plots. "There won't be room for weeds,” she said. Some kind soul had left foxgloves–one for each garden. After some discussion we agreed to plant them together on my side, which has far fewer plants, and give him more of the bricks I’d “collected” from odd spots around the block and cemetery. The effort is beginning to show some belated signs of organization, if not actual planning.

“You’re not a real gardener unless you’ve moved a thing three times,” said Phoebe. But I don’t think either Prof. S. or I will do any more digging this year.

“So, Ed Dowling's father used to live in my apartment,” I said. Phoebe nodded.

“Thirty years ago,” she said. “I lived there.” She pointed to Billie and Allen’s. "I’d gone to Atlanta for a while and when I came back, I took the apartment I have now and have been here ever since.”

“And Veronica ?” asked Professor Sergeant, whose first name, by the way, is John. He is nothing like the painter, but very like the camellia. Not red-faced, but the type that blossoms in winter. (Prof. S. has been here five years, moving in after his “amicable” divorce. His wife and son remain in their large house on Queen City Ave. Because the divorce was amicable, he gets to do yard work and retain a key.)

“While I was away,” said Phoebe. “Then she took a job in Huntsville for a year. When she moved back she was able to get the same apartment. She was lucky. There weren’t a lot of places available back then and these have always been among the nicest. She moved in shortly after Peter was born and used to bring him here in the afternoons after classes. She just loved taking care of that baby.”

“Where were Peter’s parents?” I asked

“His mother was a teacher at Lullwater (Elementary School.) His father had a farm in Huntsville and worked at the space center. When the school year finished, Cecile and Peter moved up there. We didn’t see much of him after that, though Veronica did go up to visit, of course.”

“How long did Ed Dowling’s father live here?”

“Oh, he died here,” she said. A flat silence followed this statement. Professor Sergeant wiped the blade of his shovel with a handkerchief. A blue handkerchief. He wiped the blade and shook the cloth, then wiped his face with it. Both Phoebe and I smiled at him. It seemed to break the tension her words had created.

“Were you friends?” I asked.

“We were all friends then.” She grinned wickedly at both of us. “He planted those azaleas ya’ll ripped out.”

"Well," I whispered to the professor, brushing past him.

"Well, indeed," he said.

And now we are all in our separate worlds, like characters in a painting by Edward Hopper. There is even a hard yellow light filling Veronica’s window. Perhaps she's been up there listening to us, adding her own details, conjuring up memories or being haunted by them.

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