Modern Gardens

by David Hansen

My father took me on many trips, with and without his wife’s approval. The joy this brought me! His wife was new in our lives then and the cause of his sobriety. She approved of nothing, me least of all, and I lived to displease her. It’s hard for me to blame her, though I know I could. I wasn’t her daughter and didn’t want to be. Nor did she. Want me to be her daughter, I mean. By no means. On this we agreed. What she wanted was for my father to be sober, but even that had its uses for her. She’d lost a child in another marriage that was as miserable as her marriage to my father, though not nearly as long. I had nothing to do with that, but I could see it had something to do with me. We don’t talk about that, only about the present, which is full of gardening wisdom and complaints about our repressive, frightening government. She has made my father put up a privacy fence along their property’s back edge though there is no one back there to keep out, just a grove of ugly gray trees that is, come to think of it, getting a bit big for its britches. As yet there is no fence, only a fence in the making, a fence to come. It reminds me of the Wailing Wall, which I have seen, though not with my own eyes. She has not seen it with her own eyes or anyone else’s and would take my mention of it the wrong way. Not everything old is dead between us. I have come to see my father but my father is out. She doesn’t know where. She’s watering the rhododendrons and the lesser flowers though earlier today it rained. Of the government she says that it is bad and getting worse and God knows where it will end. I have come to tell my father that, among other things, I have been arrested. I will need legal help and money to pay for it. She will hear this eventually, but from him. I was not ashamed before I got here. Back then I was proud. But I am ashamed now. I felt ashamed the moment I pulled up in front of this house, which is, I merely mention, not the house I grew up in, but a much finer, grander house, with eaves, etc., though I can well imagine my little self in its rooms and halls, and often do, as a way of improving the past. This shame is not mine, but hers on loan to me. I say to myself what I hate saying about her, that she is not my mother and has no right to these routes into my heart. My well-being is my father’s concern and has always been, an old disagreement between them. She asks me if I’m hungover. I am, but I say I’m not. She says I look hungover. That’s a hell of a thing to say and I say so. She says she calls them like she sees them, which is a line of my father’s. I ask when will my father be back. Over the broad leaves, the brown and red and white petals, water descends in a fine mist, water mixed with something blue from the canister she has affixed to the hose, full of something wondrous, I’m sure, something necessary in these trying times for proper growth.

Published on November 23, 2022