Monthly Archives: February 2019

Warped Tales: The Gardener – Part 3

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’s home was going to be put on the market in June.

John started fixing things before his March retirement, then they had to “de-clutter” to satisfy the realtor and down-size dramatically because the Arizona cabin he’d bought without consulting Anne was a quarter the size of their house in New York. By the end of May, they’d had four garage sales and donated $17,000 of unsold items to charity. Some were family heirlooms that had been sitting in the attic since his mother passed away. Anne had never dared get rid of them before, but John was ready to get rid of everything now. He was ready to move on to a new life.

Anne Davenport, however, did not want to leave the garden that defined her after more than two decades of work, the garden where she could still feel the presence of their deceased son.

When she realized John’s decision was final, she considered filing for divorce. Carefully vague questions led her to volunteer at a woman’s shelter where there were books she could read without any record of her borrowing them. Her problem was that John had done nothing that qualified as “fault” and would never agree to a “no-fault” divorce. She knew this without asking. He’d spoken scornfully of workmates who divorced.

And even if he did agree, everything she read and heard indicated that divorce was a financially disastrous move for both parties. Since John had always handled everything to do with finances, she’d have no clue if he hid assets, either. Her only hope was that the house would not sell and John would let her continue to live in it while he went off to Arizona.

Unfortunately, the realtor caught on to Anne’s subtle attempts to scare off potential buyers and refused to show the house in her presence anymore. So Anne was depending on prayer and a slump in the real estate market to keep her in her home. As a show of faith, she went ahead and planted a blueberry bush on John Jr.’s birthday – blueberries had been his favorite, and were small enough for her to plant on her own. When Memorial Day Weekend arrived with no offers in sight, she went ahead and planted her vegetable garden, even though that annoyed John.

Ironically, it was her established garden and the prospect of fresh tomatoes that made the buyers choose Anne’s home from dozens of houses they’d seen.

The deal closed in late July, so Anne got to harvest her early crops – asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb, peas, a few tomatoes and summer squash, and greens, of course. The best sweet corn was Silver Queen, though; it didn’t ripen until fall. Hopefully the new owners appreciated it. There was no way of knowing, really; those people would think she was odd if she wrote to ask about the corn. She’d left detailed instructions on the garden’s care. She hoped they maintained it as religiously as she had.

John sold his Toyota and wanted to sell her battered little pickup before they moved. “All we’ll need is the Mustang. There won’t be that much driving to do, and there’s a small local airport where we can park it safely and fly into Phoenix international whenever we travel.”

“You won’t want to carry plants and fertilizer in your car.” That ‘64 Mustang was his real baby.

“There’s no garden,” he countered. “I told you that. It’s tall pines and clay soil.”

“That’s all the more reason to have the truck. I’ll probably have to bring in some good dirt as well as fertilizer.”

“You’re not listening!” he shouted. “Since when did you get so stubborn and unreasonable? It’s not the least bit attractive.”

Would that qualify as verbal abuse? Maybe all she had to do is show some backbone and he’d give her grounds for divorce – even if that meant moving to Arizona. She’d checked. Their laws were similar. But she needed to know how much money there was, whether it was enough to make divorce an option.

At least the truck was hers. The title was in her name; he couldn’t make her sell it. She’d still have the freedom to come and go as she pleased, without having to beg permission to take his car.

The calendar turned to August as she drove her pickup to the White Mountains of Arizona, following John as he drove a small rental truck with the few pieces of furniture they’d kept, towing his vintage Mustang on a trailer. Anne had never been west of the Mississippi. She’d wanted to stop in St. Louis, to go up into the great arch there and get closer to the mighty river, but John had no interest in wasting time sightseeing.

As they got farther west, the vast empty spaces loved depressed her.

But she cheered up when they got to the cabin. It was actually a small house with a deck that made it look like a cabin, and it was on the edge of town, not in the middle of nowhere as she’d expected. It looked cozy and it was on a large lot with Ponderosa pines and scrubby little trees that had to be some kind of oak, based on the shape of their leaves. There was no lawn, just dirt, rocks, and weeds.

She envisioned transforming it as she had their huge yard back home.

The first full day there, she discovered she could walk downtown to the Safeway supermarket, the library, the movie theater, and the chamber of commerce. She got a library card and borrowed the book the reading club was reading. She asked for directions to a nursery and found there were two close by – she visited both and asked a million questions.

John had never been a joiner. He spent much of his time fishing or hunting, and he made a short list of minor repairs and maintenance the cabin required. The lack of a lawn under the tall pines was one of the features John had found most attractive. The small oaks created piles of leaves to burn, but that was something they did together. Anne roped him into helping her build her raised beds – the timbers were too large for her to handle alone, but he certainly didn’t want her wasting money hiring someone when he was right there.

She’d rather hoped he’d be loudly abusive about it where neighbors could hear, but he just grumbled, “Anything you plant will die when we travel.”

“I won’t be planting anything in these until spring, but it’s easier to build the raised beds now, while the ground is dry and firm. The only things I’ll plant this fall are roses and berries along the front fence.”

“Why do you want to mess with all that?” he’d complained. “As soon as I get this place patched up, we’re going to do some traveling. That stuff won’t survive if we’re gone half the time.”

“They should get plenty of water from winter snows, even when we travel. That’s when you want to travel, right?” she asked sweetly, but tuned out whatever he said next.

She waited patiently for the right time for her next step.

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Warped Tales: The Gardener – Part 2

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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Warped Tales: The Gardener – Part 1

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.
 

“I bought a cabin.”

John had talked non-stop since she picked him up at the airport, about the cooler full of elk meat he’d brought back from Arizona, how great the hunt had been, how the mountains were wonderful – not the desert he’d expected, how much he loved the Ponderosa pines, and his bad knee hadn’t bothered him – even after walking over rough ground all day. He kept talking as he put his suitcase and cooler into the trunk of his Charger and drove them home. He finally stopped for a breath as he carried the cooler into the kitchen.

That whole time, all Anne heard was “I bought a cabin.” As he continued talking, she stewed about her husband’s complete control over their finances. He gave her an allowance for groceries and her garden, as if she were a child. When she wanted something outside that, she had to ask for it – and if he didn’t think it was necessary, he didn’t always give her the money. But it was just like him to buy a hunting cabin without consulting her. He never asked her opinion when he bought a new car, and he’d had the garage torn down and replaced when the kitchen could really have used an update. But the garage had been in bad shape – she didn’t want it to collapse on John’s 1964 Mustang, either. So that made sense; a cabin in Arizona did not.

Carefully modulating her voice to a neutral tone, she asked, “You bought a cabin?”

“It closed yesterday. I used my Roth IRA to pay cash.” He started transferring white-papered chunks of frozen meat from the cooler to the freezer. “This’ll cook up just like venison.”

Anne had learned how to cook venison the first year they were married – twenty-three years ago.

She forced her voice to sound curious, rather than accusing.  “Didn’t you say this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? That there’s a lottery or something to get permission to hunt elk?” She paused. “Why buy a cabin?”

As usual, John saw no need to answer immediately. Anne looked at the freezer and judged the available space. She’d thought she left more than enough room, but it would barely fit. “That’s from one animal?” she asked.

“Those elk are huge,” he said. This was the first time he’d gone out of New York to hunt. Living in Schenectady, he usually hunted deer in the Adirondacks. “Sometimes they allow hunting in areas where they’re over-populating. And there are plenty of deer and other animals. There’s even a mountain lion season – fall through the end of May. There’ll be plenty of hunting. You’re going to love it there.”

I’ll love being home by myself while you go off to your cabin.

As usual, Anne Davenport kept such thoughts to herself. She never went on his hunting trips. Her Thanksgivings were always spent at the Food Depot, helping make and serve dinners for homeless people. John would have complained about that, if he hadn’t spent every Thanksgiving in the woods with his buddies and his guns.

But John Davenport was a good provider, always had been. Even when they first moved into this house, when it was still his mother’s, John had paid all the bills and insisted Anne never had to work. “My mother never had to work, and neither will my wife.”

When John Jr. was little, Anne had plenty to do taking care of her son and her mother-in-law. Anne was the one who held the woman’s hand as she fought the cancer that ate at her for years. John took his mother’s death so hard, as if it was a surprise, not a blessed release from pain – because he was always at work, always taking extra shifts, taking exams to keep moving up until he made detective,  just before death finally rescued his mother from cancer’s hold.

By then John Jr. was in elementary school and Anne was volunteering in his classroom three days a week. John still didn’t want her to work, so she started to garden. At least that way she felt like she was contributing by lowering their grocery costs.

The one time she’d brought that up with John, he had laughed.

Then he put his arm around her and gave her a hug. “Gardening’s your hobby, like mine is hunting. Both put food on the table, but we spend as much or more money as we would going to the store. It’s okay. It’s a good hobby. And don’t worry about money. That’s my job. That’s why I’m a detective instead of a beat cop.”

At least he admitted the fresh veggies were better than most store-bought. And he did buy her a little pickup truck to use on her supply runs. He even put it in her name. It was the first vehicle she’d ever owned, and she still had it.

Wife, mother, gardener – gardener was the only identity truly her own. Just like being a detective was John’s identity. But she was expected to listen to every detail about his work, while he showed no interest in talk about her garden.

Aside from money for her hobby, John’s only activity in the garden was digging the hole whenever she planted a tree – until John Jr. got big enough to do it for her. John Jr. loved working in the garden with her. For his first birthday, she bought a dwarf apple. He was so delighted, she let him choose a new fruit to plant each year on his birthday. A white peach, a cherry tree, different apples, berry bushes, a strawberry patch – by the time he left home, they’d turned the two-acre lot into a mini fruit farm.

The last three years, Anne chose what to plant and put it in by herself. Berries and grapes didn’t require much digging. She still planted those on John Jr.’s birthday. It helped her get through the day. At least her garden was alive and still growing.

And John had finally updated the kitchen last year. He actually took her away for a week, up into the Adirondacks to see the leaves as they turned, to show her the areas he’d hunted in all his life. When she came home, there was the new kitchen – new cupboards, new appliances, new flooring, and a new window. She liked the window. It was a mini greenhouse over the sink, where she spent much of her time indoors. Beyond, she could see her garden.

“The contractor suggested that,” said John proudly. “He couldn’t believe the old kitchen didn’t have a window on that side. He saw your garden and thought you’d like to grow herbs and stuff you use when you cook, right there easy to use, and I told him he was exactly right.”

The window was the only thing she would have chosen.

She didn’t tell John she’d rather have had a gas stove. That would have been ungrateful, rude. He’d spent a lot of money, and he’d had the workmen put all of her dishes and gadgets into the new cupboards, cupboards that went right up to the ten foot ceiling. She waited until John went to work the next day to use a step ladder and rearrange them with Christmas dishes and other seldom-used items on the top shelf.

She hated that kitchen, except for her window herb garden.

John left a package of elk sausage in the refrigerator to thaw for breakfast the next morning. “They did a terrific job with the spices. We had some before we left. The guy selling the cabin let us eat there, in trade for eating with us.”

“Are you going to spend all of your vacation time there?” After three decades with the Schenectady Police Department, he had a few weeks off every year. He spent many of them hunting, but he usually took a few long weekends too.

His voice was surprised and accusing, as if he’d been perfectly clear all along and she simply hadn’t been listening. “We’re going to retire there.”

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Warped Tales: The Development

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. This is that kind of story. The original version first appeared in The Maverick Magazine several years ago – I’ve revamped it a bit.

The Development

It was Clyde’s last day working on the farm. The truck would pick up the last of the cows after lunch; the wrecking crew would be there the next day. Streets and skeletal houses already filled the lower meadow.

God, that stinks. Clyde was staring at the brown stream of unprocessed manure in the trough behind the cows as he thought this.

You think yours smells sweet? A female voice reverberated in his brain.

Clyde swung his head around, looking for the source of the words, but he was alone. The only other life in the barn was the last three cows and Bootsie, his cat. Clyde had been on edge for the last two days, now he was imagining things. Bootsie rubbed against his leg and he picked her up. As he rubbed her behind the ears he sighed, remembering how he’d had to kill the other cats.

Ralph shouldn’t have made you do that.

“Who is that?” he shouted. He moved toward the door, expecting to find a prankster lurking outside. He swung his head back and forth, but there was no one in sight, only the work crews half a mile away.

The voice came again. Why did he care about the cats, anyway?

It was inside his head, but somehow seemed to be sourced behind him, in the barn. How could that be?

Yes, I’m right here, Clyde.

Where? This time Clyde just thought the question.

Right over here, dummy. The cow he called Betsy turned to face him and flicked her tail, but she didn’t make a sound.

Why am I hearing you? he asked. Am I going crazy?

I don’t know. I’ve always been able to hear you.

Clyde panicked a moment, trying to remember everything he’d ever thought about in the barn. Then he relaxed. What does it matter what a cow knows? Do the other cows hear me, too?

Don’t think so. I can’t even communicate with them. They’re just dumb animals. Betsy quit looking at him and flicked her tail again. We’re going to be picked up this afternoon?

“Yep. You’re going to another dairy farm,” he said as he walked between cows to face Betsy, rather than talk to her rear end.

Can you please repeat that without the sound? She blinked her eyes at him, as if to confirm it was her thoughts he was hearing. When you talk out loud like that, I can’t understand you. It gets all garbled.

Clyde obliged. That dairy farmer who came by last week is picking you up this afternoon.

Good. The rats are terrible with the cats gone.

“That’s what I tried to tell Ralph.” Clyde forgot and spoke the words out loud. He went back to thinking. The rats will move into those new houses, too. I told him. But the realtors said the barn cats were a health hazard … You can’t understand me when I talk out loud?

No, something gets garbled in the process. It makes about as much sense as the sound of a metal box being dragged across the floor.

Clyde stopped breathing. She knows.

Of course I know. I was here. Betsy raised her tail.

It was an accident! Clyde’s response was automatic.

Right. You picked up that iron bar and bashed in Ralph’s skull by accident. Betsy’s bowels emptied, gushing into the trough behind her.

Clyde started babbling out loud so the cow couldn’t hear him. “What am I going to do now? The police have already been to the house looking for him. What if she can talk with someone else like this? I killed him with a witness!”

I can’t understand you when you do that. Betsy complained. Think clearly, please.

“I didn’t mean to do it!” Clyde shouted. Then he went back to thinking. I was mad from having to kill the cats. Then, when I told him I was going to take Bootsie with me, he grabbed for her. He would’ve wrung her neck. I couldn’t let him do that.

I know. You were just looking out for Bootsie. You should have done it long ago.

You think it was the right thing to do? You could tell them he came at me first, that it was self-defense.

I’m a cow, dummy. They’re not going to interview me. Besides, Clyde, think about it. What happened after you hit him?

He fell.

Where did he fall, Clyde? Betsy blinked and looked over her shoulder.

Right behind you, in that muck. You kicked him.

Exactly. I kicked him right in the head. Massive trauma. Very unlikely they’d notice he got hit by a bar first. I did it on purpose, to cover for you. You’re the one who always looked after us.

Clyde stiffened and stared at the cow. He swallowed. But I put the body in the box and dragged it out to the truck.

Well, that’s not my fault. I was trying to tell you to leave him where he was, but you weren’t hearing me yet.

Clyde pictured the place he’d dumped the box.

Betsy snorted and shook her head. So they’re going to find his body in a metal box at the bottom of the river by a bridge. She chided him for his stupidity. Good luck convincing anyone he got there accidentally.

Clyde carried Bootsie out to the truck, leaving the voice behind. He’d move back to Texas. No one would track him down there, even if they did find Ralph. He settled Bootsie into the cab and got his rifle off the rack.

Just to be safe, he went back to take care of Betsy.

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