Saturday, August 19, 2006


The cool almost cold shower felt especially good today. It hadn’t been any hotter than usual. In fact there had even been a bit of a breeze. A cool shower just felt better in this climate. Hot showers were a rarity on the few cold days in the winter.

The water pouring off of his body was twice as black as usual. It mixed with the dust and dirt and goo that attached itself to him during the day. A black puddle formed in the bottom of the tub before it drained away. The removal of this extra thick coating of filth must account for the bliss he was feeling.

As the dry summer wore on the layer of dust that covered all the tropical foliage kept getting thicker. The last garden he cleaned today was always filthy. The scale, aphids and all the other sucking bugs were out of control on a regular basis, the result of a routine pest control service. They added their own sticky wax and excrement to the plants that helped the dust cling to them even better. When he left this place his skin and hair was coated in sticky dust and bug excrement and the black mildew that grew in it.

Underneath the five extra pounds of a firmly established middle age was a strong taut body. The cool water rushing over his skin began to turn clear as the first layer of dirt was removed. His hands and forearms were constantly covered by small scratches and stab wounds injected by thorns. The dried flecks of blood from today’s injuries began to soften and wash away. As his skin aged and his eyesight got worse the number of tiny wounds increased. Things that used to bounce off of firm flesh now left their mark.

His right index finger started to sting when the soap began to penetrate the layer of dirt that hid a fresh scrape. He squeezed his finger with his left hand to ease the sting. In a way he was enjoying the cleansing sting and stopped his mind to examine the feeling.

Company was coming this weekend and this was the beginning of a long overdue beauty treatment. Everything needed to be attended to. Several rounds and procedures were needed to get this aching body looking refreshed.

He wanted the news he had to share to be seen in a positive light. Despite the turmoil in his mind he hoped to portray a calm appearance. This last month had been some what of a strain. His usual routine and predictable maintenance of lush tropical landscapes was being disturbed. As it kept getting hotter and more crowded in town and as the news of the world kept getting more ominous, his clients individual oddities seemed to become more pronounced. The determination to have every thing just so in their landscapes was becoming more intense. It was also possible that his tolerance for these long standing oddities was lessened from the same causes.

Carol had a particularly bad spell of her Munchausen by Proxy of plants. The lawn was finally beginning to turn green again and the shrubs were recovering and growing after her extended absence, when she flew in for a week to abuse the garden.

She refused to use the irrigation system and insisted on watering by hand with a jet spray nozzle. It seemed she felt the plants needed a deep water injection right at their base. When he told her she was damaging the roots it had no effect. She liked to weed this way as well and the lawn and beds where constantly filled with craters from a full force pinpoint spray nozzle. The weed seeds and dirt went flying and the wet lumpy ground made excellent germination conditions and the process fed itself nonstop.

The Pikake shrubs were half burned and leaves littered the ground. The impatiens were just green sticks, stumps of their former selves from just a week ago. Possibly a pest control service had done a treatment around the house or Carol had doused them in a strong potion of Miracle Grow. He didn’t ask. He didn’t want to know.

The dueling addicts were still at it and the cat lush with a feral colony seemed to be gaining the upper hand over the plant junkie with the birth of three new litters. Despite the loss of a kitten in the swimming pool and the large territory of the cats, they multiplied faster than the garden could cope. The whole place was a giant litter box with all the digging that entailed. Every tree and palm and most of the shrubs were covered in claw marks from climbing cats and kittens. Several new plants were added every week despite the carnage. The place always stayed lush. The plants were incredibly resilient, if tattered, but too many new purchases to count had just slowly faded away and been forgotten.

The lawn freak was having him apply fertilizer on a monthly basis to rid the lawn of some yellow bands of grass that he was unable to detect. Some other worldly color of hyper-green seemed to be the goal. What he was noticing was a shift in the dominant grass species away from the seeded and intended one to a wide bladed crab grass and an increasing number of weeds. The first suggestion that the half acre lawn needed to be hand weeded of the thorny sensitive plant was not a good sign. He could only hope this would be forgotten.

There was also the regular list of plants to spray for scale and aphids and the regular admonition that he was causing this problem by the routine non-discriminate use of preventative pesticides. That was met with the usual you wouldn’t believe the centipedes we have here, countered by the, I crawl around this place on my hands and knees rooting through things and have never been bitten and a centipede never killed anyone.

He came to with a big knot on his head lying halfway in the tub. The towel was tangled in his legs. It took a few moments to grasp the position he was in and try and make some sense of it. He must have fainted and fell backwards into the tub. With the breeze today he hadn’t felt so bad from the heat and didn’t drink a Gatorade for lunch. He must have been more dehydrated than he thought. He had felt dizzy before from the heat but had never fainted. Getting older sucks he thought because this never would have happened in the past nineteen years he had been doing garden maintenance. He would only have to last just a little bit longer, rubbed the knot on his head and got out of the tub.

The next morning he loaded the truck for work and topped it off with a few extra bags of rubbish from his own pile. The largest dumpster a garbage truck could lift was parked at his morning job. It was fortunate that he had one real gardener for a client who allowed him to keep his green waste dumpster at his house just a few blocks from his own. The lay of the land at his place made a truck pickup impossible. He filled this dumpster to the brim and overflowing on a weekly basis with the excess growth and natural shedding of jungle plants that never stopped growing over the course of the seasons and were crammed onto small suburban lots. He attempted to keep these landscapes under control with a non stop editing process that produced mountainous heaps of rubbish.

This garden was different. It had a wonderful park like setting because there was no separate cottage and tenants for income on the property and no swimming pool to take up space. It was a single family home with large open grounds. The owners lived here four months of the year and unlike most of his other clients, the Gardener’s joy was to actually work in his own yard. Each year he made improvements. When he left at the end of the season he asked him not to pull or cut certain things that had come up on their own because he was curious to see what they were and how they would grow. Compost was the only chemical he used and the garden thrived.

It was already muggy and he was sweating profusely as he walked the grounds gathering up anything on the lawn and doing some light trimming before he mowed. It was nice to have the dumpster so close at one place and not have to load the truck with piles of fronds to be driven away. He wondered if all his other clients had any concept of what dealing with all this refuse meant for him or if with “out of sight out of mind” they never gave it a thought. On the rare occasions when he was forced to leave a pile in front of their house because things were backed up, they were sure to let him know this was a major inconvenience for them.

He tossed some large fronds into the dumpster and the bin began to look full. He would need some more room in there for this afternoon’s job and if he was lucky would be able to top off the dumpster with more from his own pile at home before it was emptied in the morning. The filling of the container often left plenty of fluff so he climbed into the dumpster to pack it all down.

The moment he put his full weight on to the pile of rubbish, both his legs sank up to his hips in to a cavity hidden beneath the top layer. He steadied himself against the sides of the metal box to begin to extract his legs from the green waste when his body started to convulse. He thrashed uncontrollably and sank deeper into the grip of the tangled branches and fronds heaped into the dumpster. Exhausted his body slumped over and lay down.

Every once in a while the next door neighbor couldn’t resist the temptation of a green waste dumpster so close by. The Royal Palm fronds at twenty feet long were sometimes just too much to deal with. The leaf base in particular was an open cylindrical six foot long mat that was difficult to cut and dispose of. That evening knowing the garbage truck came in the morning, Karen snuck over and under the cover of the Bestill shrub that the taller back of the metal box was up against, she dropped two of the six foot long open cylinder leaf bases of the Royal Palm into the can.

The next morning the garbage truck arrived and emptied the dumpster.

Unfinished maybe? What do you think of this story?


christin m p in massachusetts said...

Nooooooo... It can't end that way! When Karen dropped the Royal Palm leaf bases into the green waste dumpster, it woke you up and she helped you climb out of it. And you eventually wrapped up all your affairs on the island without a hitch and, together with Greyman and Darkie, moved to the North Carolina mountains where the plants aren't so heavy and grow at an easier pace, and the weather is cooler so you wouldn't faint any more. And you lived happily ever after like Henry David Thoreau (a naturalist and philosopher just like you) with your good friend Annie and your two cute pets in your cabin in the woods.

Christopher C. in Hawaii said...

Now divorce yourself from my reality and how does it work?

The maintenance gardener must die at least metaphorically. They are as loved as lawyers in many people's eyes.

Let's just call this chapter one. The real cause of death is still unknown.

christin m p in massachusetts said...


I'll think on it some more, but I'm not very creative when it comes to suspense stories. I have a strong appreciation for reading them, but I'm lost when it comes to thinking up interesting scenarios out of the clear blue.

And since when are maintenance gardeners "as loved as lawyers in many people's eyes"? What an ugly world it would be without all of you gardeners...

Cheryl said...

I like it. I hope you have a few more twists in mind.

I enjoy the garden descriptions in your stories.

Christopher C. in Hawaii said...

Chapter two has been running around in my head but I haven't started to write it yet.

I want to make it less personal to me somehow.

Annie in Austin said...

What intriguing stories you write, Christopher! I don't know whether to just think of the ending as enjoyably macabre, like the end of "Once Upon A Time in America" or hope that the gardener will somehow escape to North Carolina. It depends on how well I can divorce myself from your reality.

What an enormous volume of debris you have to deal with! It was stupid of me not to have realized that irrigation in a tropical climate means unending green stuff.