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  • Writer's pictureSheri McGuinn

Warped Tales: The Gardener – Part 2

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

Warped Tales – be warned. As a child I read piles of books filled with short stories – the complete works of Poe, stories from the Twilight Zone, collections from Hitchcock, etc. As an adult, thrillers rule. This is that kind of story, in six parts.

Anne Davenport sat in her son’s bedroom. John had removed every piece of John Jr. after the first year, except the ornately carved box that held the boy’s ashes. If John had had his way, those would have been scattered to the wind, up in the Adirondacks where he and his son had hunted together, but Anne refused. She couldn’t remember another time she’d ever asserted her wishes over her husband’s, at least not about anything important. Little things, she generally capitulated or let him think he was having his own way, while she did as she pleased.

But tell him no? She’d never argued with him. She followed her mother’s example in that.

John Davenport was at work. She could talk out loud without him thinking she was losing her mind. “I don’t want to leave. This room and the garden are the only places I feel you anymore.” She spoke to her son, but of course there was no response; she didn’t expect one.

Anne sighed and stood up, crossing the room to look out the window. John Jr.’s room was on the back of the house, overlooking the garden where he’d grown up helping his mother while his father worked. He was so excited when John decided he was old enough to go hunting. The two had bonded over guns and blood.

John Jr. went into the military to be like his father, headed off to war and died at nineteen, blown to bits so cremation was the only option, nothing left for a casket.

Now John wanted to uproot her, take her to some cabin in Arizona, a place she’d never been, that he bought on a whim without talking to her, where he could retire and hunt all the time.

Hunting and his Mustang, the only things he really cared about. Nurse to his mother, mother of his child – those roles were done – all she was now was his cook and housekeeper, and on rare occasions he needed her body for his physical relief. She’d read enough now to know she’d never had a man make love to her.

She was so young when they met – just eighteen and so inexperienced in love, in life, so vulnerable. John was the kind and concerned responding officer when her father put a gun under his jaw and pulled the trigger. When her mother told him how they’d been nursing her husband after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, John shared that his own widowed mother had just been told she had cancer, he wasn’t sure what type.

He came back on his own time the next day and offered to help fix some things around the house that had fallen into disrepair. Anne’s mother was so grateful, so impressed, and so glad when he wanted to marry her daughter – despite the fact he was ten years older than Anne, who’d never had a real boyfriend. She’d never gone past a closed-mouth kiss at the end of a date. John courted Anne in his 1964 Mustang, wooing her with talk of all the exotic places they would see together, respecting her, never pushing for intimacy before marriage.

After the wedding, they moved into his mother’s home – John was an only child, so they were the only ones available to help her through her illness. John worked all the time, so that meant Anne became nurse and companion to his mother. Anne’s own mother, convinced that her daughter was taken care of for life, sold her house and took off on a trip around the world. Her last letter came from Australia, where she’d met a most interesting man. That was while Anne was pregnant with John Jr. Her mother knew where they lived; if she was alive and wanted to stay in touch, she could. Anne let go of the uncertainty and hurt and focused on her baby.

She gave up on hearing from her mother a lifetime ago. A lifetime of losing herself in caregiving, her garden, and volunteerism, keeping herself busy so her marriage wouldn’t become another statistic as her husband centered his life on his job as a detective with the Schenectady Police Department, hunting, and his car.

They never had traveled, other than a weekend drive to a car show.

The Mustang was Anne’s one hope to dissuade John from selling the house – the house he had inherited. Anne had never thought to lobby for her name on the deed, so she had no say in the sale now. But John belonged to the Mustang Club of America and the Adirondack Shelby-Mustang Regional Club. He hadn’t been able to be very active, because he worked such long and irregular hours. Retired, he would be able to attend all their events.

Unfortunately, there was a club in Tucson and the mountains where he’d purchased this cabin were a favored spot for summer gatherings of car lovers in the southwest. The altitude provided relief from the heat.

Anne leaned her head against her son’s window, took a deep breath, held it, and then exhaled. She spoke to her absent son again.

“Your father’s been with the force thirty years. He brought home the retirement papers last night; he’s turning them in today to retire in March. He’ll be using some vacation time between now and then to freshen up the house with new paint and repairs. He already talked to a realtor who came and told us everything that’s wrong with it.”

A violent urge to strangle the woman, to stop her from talking, had poured through Anne. That wasn’t something she’d say to her son, though, even if he wasn’t really present to hear, even though she’d politely smiled and nodded instead of throttling the woman.

It felt as if John Jr.’s spirit was in the room, and she wasn’t about to tell her son’s spirit, or anyone, how angry she was with John. For years he’d neglected maintenance of their home; now he’d decided to sell it, he was eager to do it all. She had to let go of that anger if she was going to make him see the foolishness of this move.

Anne turned from the window. “I’ll try to reason with him.” She brushed her hand along her son’s container on her way out of the room. It was a mahogany box, with a pretty garden-like scene carved into it. She had broken into tears when she first saw it. John would have been happy with a plain metal box.

When her husband got home that night, she had elk roast with potatoes and carrots waiting for him. She of course let him talk first.

“They were razzing me all day about being an old man. I told them early retirement’s my way of assuring I’ll have a chance to be an old man.”

“I’m glad you’re retiring,” said Anne, though it wasn’t really true – even if they didn’t move, he was sure to upset her routines. “But why rush into selling our home? You were only in Arizona a couple weeks. What if you don’t like it as much as you expect to?”

“I don’t want to keep up two places, and even if I did, this house is too big.  I’d want to move into something smaller, maybe a condo.”

Did condos have any space for a garden? “But you grew up in this house,” Anne started.

He cut her off. “And so did our son, and you’ll never let go of him as long as we live here. It’s not healthy. You need to move on.”

“And there’s my garden.”  I’m a gardener, that’s who I am. She heard the panic in her voice and tried to put it in terms he might understand. “That’s over two decades of effort.”

“And it’s way too much for the two of us.” He pointed his fork at her. “I know, I know, you give the surplus to that place that gives food away. Someone else can do that. Our income’s not going to cover that kind of charity anymore.”

Anne started to speak but was instructed to stop by an abrupt wave of his hand.

“Instead of spending all your time gardening, we can finally do some of that traveling we always wanted to do,” he said.

As if it was her fault they hadn’t traveled, and had nothing to do with his using vacation time for hunting. Truthfully, Anne didn’t really care about traveling anymore, hadn’t since her mother dropped off the face of the earth, but she would have gone along with him. She was still trying to compose a response when he spoke again.

“We’re moving to Arizona.”

She could hear in his tone that his decision was final.

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