He has always liked a garden. He needs to plant the bulbs. They were sent to him from England, from a private botanical society that knew about how he’d transformed an old abandoned lot in Brooklyn into beautiful Schraff Park with the help of the local kids.
The gardener sighs, wipes his sunburned forehead with an old-fashioned cotton handkerchief. Squints up at the sky. A good day to plant.
The English people had also just heard about his son. They were, he supposed, trying to say something about renewal, about cultivating one’s garden (he had gone to college once and he remembers that line), about life in the very heart of obliteration. He remembers gathering leaves in the park with his son George, and comparing the colors, red brown, dark brown, black orange with the skins of the people in his family. Aunt Bess was a maple leaf—part Cherokee, part Irish, and Uncle Geoffrey an oaky dark frond—from the Caribbean. George married a woman part Scot, part Cuban—sharp and sweet as a tanned pine needle, and now the peach and dark rose-colored grandchildren were frolicking in the dry leaves in November. Without their father.
He burned, he told the children in the strange, quiet voice he’d been using lately as they sat in a circle around the plot of earth cleared for the bulbs. He burned trying to help a lady who burned. The gardener swallowed and took a breath. In a tower. That’s like a fairy tale, said the granddaughter, excitedly. Yes, he said, just like one. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair. She shouted and ran across the footage of the lot, stopping at the maple trees, her black hair flying like wild dark grass.
But she didn’t let down her hair, did she Grandpa?
Did the paper angels take Papa? The paper flying from the buildings?
He almost said no but then he thought of something he had heard from a friend of his who sold hot dogs downtown; the friend said pots of geraniums were sailing out high-rise windows, and ivy chains, and bonsai trees. They didn’t show that on the television. It looked too strange. But the hot dog man thought the gardener would understand it. This wanting to save the green.
Well, he said at last to the granddaughter. Maybe. He smiled at her, picked up two trowels and let her choose. He slapped his weathered brown work gloves against each other. Nervous. Deciding.
Now he stares at the bag of bulbs, the naked little bodies burgeoning, begging for life in the sweet dark ground. The ground that buries. The ground that remains. Mysterious. Like the faces of the many colored kids in the park, clearing out the rubbish and the dead branches. Making way for new life, he told them. Their faces were covered by something cautious but that heard him. Together they made a garden.
Let me show you how to dig, he tells her. She kneels down, gripping the trowel. You have to plant them deep, he says. Deep so they’ll grow.