The garden was a small garden. It was the garden that came with the house. A vegetable garden that, with wood and weed and pest, required frequent tending, even on game days, and Jones could not stand to be in it without a hip flask tucked neat in the seat pocket of his pants. The rain had blown in from the northwest sky hours earlier. The drops from the rain had loosed the loam and the blind roots that never stopped their search for more footage, for expansion, probed for growth and thrived on the moist soil. The rain, arriving in the dark and unsuspected, fell in drops onto the leeks and the lace of bean leaves and into the folds of past-season lettuce. The rain beaded on the wax of pepper and pooled in the intersection of the stem and fruit of the tomatoes. The moisture from the pools would seep into the fruit later that day. It would force a split in its last stage of ripening.
Jones heard the back door slam shut and knew Florine was walking toward him. The rubber bottoms of her thin canvas sneakers squealed on the damp grass as she walked. The mud spread to Jones’ forehead as he wiped the sweat from his brow. The folds of his hands were creased with dirt, dirt too slick, thanks to the rain, even to be called dirt. Mud, he thought, as he watched it harden to a pale paste on his palm, I am covered in mud. Jones thought of the game, of someone else sitting on his barstool, his arm crooked around the waist of the waitress, asking for more. He thought of the small mound of ash and stubs that would grow with each inning, and at the stretch the barmaid would clear the ash from the dish. Jones bent over a network of weeds that had crept from the crabgrass and had made inroads beyond the garlic barriers. The weeds had strangled the carrots. They had undercut the eggplant and honeydew vines and had given inroads to underground crawlers from the lawn. Jones pulled at a weed near his foot and saw a half-dozen shiny pupae just under its uprooted vine. He squinted up into the bright day. Florine came to the edge of the garden.
“Hal… Brought you a drink.”
“You brought me drink?”
“You don’t want a drink?”
“I have a drink. I just happen not to be drinking it.”
“That old flask.”
“Enough about the flask.”
“What? I hardly mentioned it.”
“It’s enough that you did.” Jones pulled at another weed.
“You mentioned it first. You said you already had a drink.”
“But you said flask. ‘That old flask.’”
“You meant flask when you said you had a drink. What does it matter?”
“Give me the glass.”
Florine handed Jones the glass. He drank because he was not thirsty. He drank because it was hot out, because the weeds were always there, because they always needed routing. He drank because the larvae would remain burrowed underground, curled into donuts, lining the soil. He would see to that. He drank because he hated her, to prove her wrong, for once, bygod that bitch always knew how to sink her damn claws right in. He could take whatever she gave him. She kept him penned in, here, scratching at weeds, covered in dirt. He kicked dirt over the pupae and finished the drink in one gulp. He handed the glass to her and returned to the weeds and the waxy peppers and split tomatoes and the melon vine and aging lettuce. She always found a way to keep him from forgetting.