“Whatcha’ doing crawling around in that dirt?”
Thomas looked up to see the child Tessa standing before him, hands on her knees. “I’m putting in some annuals, now that I’ve got the grass cut.” He grinned at the child. “Never seen so much grass in my life.”
“Last gardener wanted to pull it all out.”
“Oh, no. I’d never do that. I love mowing too much.”
“Looks boring to me.”
“Are you kidding? Riding that mower, alone with my thoughts, sniffing exhaust and the green in the air.”
She puzzled over this. “You can’t smell colors.”
“Take a good sniff.”
She closed her eyes and widened her nostrils, breathing deeply. “What am I supposed to be smelling?”
“Water and pulp. Cells neatly sliced in two oozing chlorophyll.”
She smiled but did not sniff again. “Lois and Frank say that you’re the best gardener we’ve ever had, even if you do always have gunk beneath your fingernails.”
Thomas chuckled and examined his hands. Dirt, permanently embedded in his knuckles, along the callouses in his palms, in the nail beds. “Why don’t you call your parents Mother and Dad?”
She shrugged and sat on the grass beside him. “Lois says you need a raise so you can get a decent pair of pants.”
Thomas patted the soil around the impatiens. “What’s wrong with my pants?”
“You got holes in the knees.” The child Tessa pointed as Thomas stood. “But Frank says that if he pays you any more you’re going to get greedy.”
“I see.” Thomas had found, early on, that people trusted gardeners. They easily parted with their secrets. Money worries. Wife problems. Illness. People who could convince a rose to climb a fence or coax a tulip from the soil were automatically assumed to be listeners rather than talkers. People who poured their souls into the soil didn’t need to whisper them into the ears of other people.
What people didn’t know was that Thomas really didn’t do all that much. His job consisted mainly of setting the conditions right for growing and then to just get out of the way, to let nature take its course. Everything blooms in its own time and in its own way. Thomas understood this.
But Mrs. Lois Andrews, of course did not: She wanted to rush the color into her garden, wanted to have the most exotic plants in the neighborhood, wanted to argue with nature every step of the way.
“What’s that?” The child Tessa pointed to the container Thomas now held in his hand.
“Changes the color of the hydrangea bloom from pink to blue.”
“Can I use it?”
“What for?” He grinned. “You got some hydrangeas tucked away somewhere?”
“Lois said she’d like me better if my hair was chestnut brown like hers.”
“Chestnut brown? She told you this?”
“I heard her talking to her friends, when I was supposed to be in my room.” Tessa lowered her voice to a whisper. “I was spying.”
“Maybe you misunderstood her?”
“She said she’d like me better if my hair was brown and if I lost twenty pounds.”
“Ah, honey. I’m sorry for that. I think you’re beautiful just the way you are.”
* * *
“It looks lovely,” Lois Andrews gushed, clasping her hands together. “You’re a true master, Thomas.”
“Not really. Parenting is a lot like gardening, that’s all.”
“How do you mean?” She narrowed her eyes.
“The most important thing is to just get out of the way. You may not always get exactly what you’d planned. Blue when you wanted pink. Daisies where you’d figured on roses. But you learn to love and appreciate what you get, even if it’s not what you thought you wanted.”
Her lips pursed. “I don’t follow.”
“A kid with blond hair is just as beautiful as one with brown. And Tessa…That child does not need to lose weight.”
“Do you know about my husband’s affairs?” Mrs. Andrews grasped her wedding ring between the finger and thumb of her right hand.
Thomas grabbed his pruners. “I’d better get back to work.”
“You know how I got them to stop?”
Thomas shook his head. “None of my business.”
“I lost twenty pounds.”
“She’s just a child…”
“What do you know about child-rearing?”
“I know you’re doing a horrible job with that child. She’s lonely.”
“Leave. Now.” Mrs. Andrews pointed, her arm trembling.
“Don’t grovel, gardener.”
He picked up his tools, cleaned them carefully before returning them to the proper hooks in the gardening shed. A shadow appeared at the door. He turned.
“Where are you going lazybones? It’s early yet.” The child Tessa grinned at him from the door.
“I need to get some supplies from town.”
“Lois fired you didn’t she?”
He dropped his eyes and turned away.
“I hate her.”
“I’ll find another job.”
“But I won’t find another mother.”
“I’m sorry,” Thomas said. He passed through the gate and headed down the street towards his wife and children.
The sky was pink and blue and it was lovely.
This was written in response to a prompt from The Blogging Lounge.