The Night Gardener

by Rob BURKE

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.

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