She splayed her fingers and slipped her old hand into the earth like a fork, feeling for beets. She touched one of them—two, each as big as her fist, and still growing because the black earth hadn’t squeezed them to the top yet. The earth was the key, and the only way to maintain it was through hard work. There was the earth, but also the sun, the water, the ritual pruning and shooing of pests. You prune just to get close to the plant, just so the plant knows you’re there. She had the best garden, the best grass, her flowers were impeccable—a perfect mixture of old and new, annuals and perennials.
She didn’t mind that her neighbors kept their compliments to themselves. She knew that they knew. She’d caught the movement of a curtain, the nervous rattle of blinds on many occasions. As long as they knew, she’d accepted long ago, then that was good enough. Besides, they were too busy with their topsy-turvy lives, their fighting and yelling, to notice the broccoli, the specimen tomatoes, the bell peppers. The earth was black beneath her vegetables, one color and soft to the touch up to the elbow. But they didn’t care.
She’d thought about moving to the country, even discussed it with her husband. They could get a satellite dish, find a home with a big porch and hang an extension wire so he could bring his TV outside. She let him get excited, and then took back the idea. What if something happened to one of them, or both? A heart attack? What if there was a fire, or a snow storm in the winter? Settle back, she’d told him, we aren’t moving anywhere.
When they first bought the house, they’d been the youngsters. But it was a different time then.
They did what they could to fit in, pretty-up the house, and they beamed with pride whenever they’d get a friendly nod from a neighbor.
“We talked tomatoes. We talked flowers. We washed our faces and brushed our teeth before coming out into the yard. We were people then.” She pulled on a tuft of carrot green, stared at the lone filament of root, the colorless worm of a carrot, and quickly stuffed it in her mouth, tuft of green and all.
She listened carefully for the rustle of a curtain, the rattle of a blind, and then shook her head. What did they care if her carrots weren’t ready yet?