Johnny America


The Night Gardener


Ang­ie did­n’t date much be­fore she saw Al­fre­do work­ing at the nurs­ery. It was­n’t her weight, for she was large but pret­ty. It was­n’t her in­tel­lect as she tend­ed to fall for man­u­al la­bor­ers. Her on­ly con­quests since high school were a house-painter, an as­sis­tant grounds-keep­er at a mi­nor league ball­park, and the guy who cleared away stray pins at the bowl­ing al­ley. Her brief af­fairs with these men were in­evitably thwart­ed by her im­prac­ti­cal ex­pec­ta­tion to be wor­shiped and all end­ed bad­ly, en­shroud­ed in mu­tu­al ac­cu­sa­tions of worth­less­ness and un­de­sir­abil­i­ty. She pos­sessed a dan­ger­ous sense of su­pe­ri­or­i­ty and a needling in­ten­si­ty that ren­dered her boyfriends emo­tion­al­ly di­lap­i­dat­ed and one sui­ci­dal. But with each failed re­la­tion­ship Ang­ie on­ly be­came more con­fi­dent. It was a cu­ri­ous alche­my that she wrought self-as­sur­ance from rejection.

Al­fre­do Canseco was bent at the waist spread­ing thick chunks of bark mulch around a bed of ros­es. Sweat was shin­ing on his thick arms when Ang­ie came from be­hind him, tapped his shoul­der and spoke: “Ex­cuse me good man, do you sell al­fal­fa here?” Al­fre­do turned around, then stood and re­moved his mir­rored sun­glass­es. Wip­ing his gold­en fore­head he asked, “Do you want meal or pel­lets?” “Why good Sir, look at me, you’d think I want meal!” He looked ner­vous­ly at her but was ut­ter­ly dis­armed. “Ok, come this way.” She read the name stitched on­to his shirt and said “Ok, let’s get the al­fal­fa Al­fre­do.” She spoke rhyth­mi­cal­ly and fol­lowed, al­most skipping.

As Al­fre­do loaded the last bag of meal in­to her trunk she propo­si­tioned him. “How about com­ing over for din­ner tonight?” He ea­ger­ly ac­cept­ed, hav­ing spent the ma­jor­i­ty of his work­ing hours fan­ta­siz­ing about this ex­act sit­u­a­tion, and here it was un­fold­ing be­fore him.

Af­ter din­ner, he sug­gest­ed watch­ing some tele­vi­sion. Af­ter sex, he sug­gest­ed he would see her an­oth­er time. Ang­ie con­vinced him that there was noth­ing he could­n’t do at his apart­ment that he could­n’t do at her place. She won­dered aloud why he would want to leave any­way, af­ter they had con­sum­mat­ed their chance en­counter with such dev­il­ish­ly ac­ro­bat­ic love-mak­ing. He ad­mit­ted to him­self that noth­ing bet­ter was wait­ing for him at his apart­ment and that he would make it up to his cousin whom he had agreed to ac­com­pa­ny to the laun­dro­mat. She took him out­side in­to her small gar­dens where the moon shone and where Al­fre­do re­gained con­trol of him­self, mak­ing sug­ges­tions about fer­til­iz­ers and al­fal­fa tea and Japan­ese beetles.

Their dat­ing con­tin­ued for a few months but like a full, round­ed bud cut at the stem, it nev­er bloomed, it just stood still; beau­ti­ful, abort­ed. On a warm Sun­day night in Ju­ly, Ang­ie found a bag of Al­fre­do’s be­long­ings un­der some lawn chairs in the shed. He had col­lect­ed all of his things and hid­den them away. At that mo­ment, she re­al­ized he had been qui­et late­ly and spoke in­dif­fer­ent­ly when she tried to dis­cuss sim­ple plans in their im­me­di­ate fu­ture. She felt the pangs of lone­li­ness de­scend up­on her but quick­ly steeled her­self against all neg­a­tiv­i­ty and re­fused to en­ter­tain any thoughts mas­querad­ing as para­noia as they were whol­ly un­re­li­able. She went in­side and be­gan din­ner, which would be wait­ing for him when he got home from work. She act­ed nat­u­ral­ly, per­haps on­ly a bit more ob­se­quious than usu­al, but felt re-as­sured as they lay down to­geth­er af­ter watch­ing the news. She per­formed more slow­ly than usu­al and her care­ful at­ten­tion to de­tail did not go un­ap­pre­ci­at­ed by Al­fre­do who took much longer than be­fore to re­gain his composure.

As he lay sleep­ing in the dark­ened room, her weak­ness took hold and she thought about the bag in the shed. Hor­ri­ble thoughts sprout­ed in­to her head like time-elapsed cro­cus on PBS. Her head ached with mis­ery and pre­vent­ed her from sleep. She got up from bed and went in­to the liv­ing room to read. She picked up “Gar­den Pest Re­me­di­a­tion: Safe Recipes at Home.” She read about bee­tles and wee­vils and ear­wigs and fi­nal­ly aphids. She read with in­ter­est the rem­e­dy for off­ing aphids, the same tiny beasts that she was los­ing a bat­tle to on her broad bean plants. She tried wash­ing them off us­ing soap and force and all for noth­ing, they just kept eat­ing the flow­ers. The next en­try in­trigued her. It sug­gest­ed a so­lu­tion of wa­ter and clay in a spray bot­tle. The spray was the best ve­hi­cle to de­liv­er the clay en­tire­ly around the fat aphid bod­ies and the clay would ac­tu­al­ly coat the pores of their skin which would lead quick­ly to a com­plete ces­sa­tion of res­pi­ra­tion. As the wa­ter droplets evap­o­rat­ed on their en­gorged bod­ies, the clay would dry, caus­ing wel­come suf­fo­ca­tion. She thought about how they paint mute swan eggs with glue to pre­vent them from hatching.

Ang­ie woke up around noon. The sun was ac­cost­ing her through the win­dow mak­ing her nau­seous. She sat up and saw Al­fre­do’s shape ly­ing life­less on the floor. He had strug­gled, but in vain, his corpse lay cov­ered in oil-based paint, the clay mix­ture hav­ing been deemed in­ef­fec­tive for hu­mans. His Au­tumn Wheat frame re­sem­bled a weath­ered sculp­ture in a Vic­to­ri­an cemetery.

Filed under Fiction on July 24th, 2007

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