The Word: ROW
Grace hoed away at the tiniest new weeds growing up between the rows of rainbow chard, luminous with the afternoon sun shining though the bright stems, red, orange, yellow. It was her fifth day on her Summerdeep work-study grant, and she had never been a gardener. At home, whenever she’d tried to plant a garden, it had inevitably succumbed to fast growing weeds, indistinguishable from the seedlings of the desired vegetables until too large to easily eliminate.
At Summerdeep, the plants were radiant perfection, grown in the rich compost tenderly ministered by generations of work-study fellows. Weeds had no chance against the chi of such uber-vegetables. They just depressed her–so much healthier and vibrant than she was. Only at Summerdeep, this perfect spot, this anointed parcel of ocean kissed headland, could she participate in even a smidgen of this Edenic life. She should be in such balance with her surroundings. And yet as she hacked at the weeds between the rows, she wept and swore under her breath.
Even these fucking chard plants were beautiful. Everything was so fucking beautiful at Summerdeep except her. She hacked. Fifty years old. She just couldn’t face turning fifty back in LA. She signed up for a month at Summerdeep, which provided a generous word-study program for people like herself, who didn’t have much money, but a desperate need to get in touch with something, she didn’t even know what that was. Mostly, she wanted to get away from everyone and maybe feel a little more at one with the universe–or at least hide out until fifty felt familiar enough that she could bear going home.
Instead of feeling at one with the universe, however, she was doing backbreaking work hoeing in the kitchen garden and turning compost, and spending every evening in a Gestalt group, eating organic vegetarian fare and sleeping in a lower bunk in a four person bunkroom where her dormmates, two other women and a man, talked for hours like it was camp instead of shutting the fuck up.
She had forgotten why she came here. Tears mingled with sweat and stung her eyes as she chopped and uprooted weeds. Why she thought Summerdeep would just be a getaway. Getaway–to hard labor and Gestalt? And 23 days to go.
The young man called Raven wheeled a load of compost to the end of the row and began shoveling it out. “Hey, dump this on top, Gracie Allen. It’ll heat up the row and cook those punks.”
She sighed and shouldered her hoe, and approached the barrow. No one seemed to care she was practically a senior citizen, or stop to wonder if she could do any of this physical work. At home, boys at the market already asked if she needed help out with her bags. But here, it was as if there was a silent pact not to acknowledge her age, when Raven could be her son. His teeth were very white, and his beard seemed ridiculous on his youthful face, as if he was seeing just how big a beard he could grow, impressed with his ability to grow one at all. He was sleeping with a girl at the other end of the bunkhouse, Hills, who wore Indian pajamas and taught community yoga in the mornings.
“Can I use the shovel?” she asked.
“I don’t know, can you?” he asked.
Funny. A funny kid. He’d been three semesters at Reed College and had dropped out to work in a bike shop in Portland before drifting down here. A real Zen clown. She reached for the shovel, and he reached for it too. She was tired and in no mood. She stared at him. He stared at her, imitating her seriousness. She put her hand above his, in the old child’s game. He grinned and slapped his above hers, and they raced them to the top.
She still had to shovel hot compost out onto the rows of bright chard, but she found herself smiling, as the light filtered through the plants like stained glass, and she sniffed the ocean wind and thought how sweet a soak in the hot springs would be that night, leaning back against the chiseled rock, listening to the waves and watching summer stars wheel overhead.
Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”
Next week’s word is: GUARD