Well if it isn’t little miss thang, he sang out in an exaggerated drawl.
All grown up. You done got purty gal.
She assumed he was mocking her, in the way he would tease her when she was small and deeply peripheral to his orbit.
Once her eldest cousin had abandoned her in exasperation after she slammed a door on her little finger. He had gotten her a bag of frozen peas and then a bowl of cool water. As she could hear the sounds of laughter and a game of some sort in the driveway, he told her stories about getting up early in the morning to set decoys out for duck hunting and the way a man could lure a bird forth by working on his call.
She hated the dove hunts when the men would come back with mounds of bloodied doves, their bodies so small and helpless, shorn of all life, but still warm if you touched them.
Were there recipes for dove?
Her sympathy was with the ducks, but because he was beautiful and kind and the balm of his voice made her forget the throb of her swollen pinky, because his passion for hunting came through, she listened and remembered. Not just or even especially, his words, but the rapt fascination in his tone.
Now that she was old she understood better that men reserved that sort of passion for football and fishing, but she couldn’t help but wish that someone would…
Love her like duck hunting? What the hell was happening to her thought processes?
She could not afford these sorts of reveries.
She gestured toward the house. Have you been in there lately?
His face had been animated and full of fun until she asked him this. Then there was just the most naked pity. She hated it, not because she was proud, but because she knew his face meant the story told so concisely by the law offices of…was true and the details of it were going to be there in this old, beloved house.
She wanted to cry, but told herself to focus. Too much work to be done.
Looks like you do a nice job with the yard. Mamaw would approve. She gestures toward the freshly mowed grass, deep and lush, and an explosion of trees, azaleas, and Texas lilac framing the house like a glorious Elizabethan collar.
I’ll have to show you the saplings in the back. He gestures toward the narrow space between the carriage house and the main house.
She follows him that way, with Betsy Lee coming along behind.
Sure enough Papaw’s tool she’d has been transformed into a tree nursery. Little shoots of hack- and mulberry trees, ash, lilac, and pecan.
Chris tells her he uses root growth hormone to grow the genetic clones of trees from shorn branches, and others are from seeds.
They call the earth around her gumbo–soft and alluvial, with rich nutrients from a long ago sea.
They are beautiful, Chris. She says as she examines this nursery cache.
I noticed so many beautiful trees already out there.
Well some come up of their own accord. You gotta just watch for them when you mow.
Is the water on? How have you managed all of this since…?
Well, city water isn’t on anymore, but there is an old pump…hand-levered, miracle worker era. A real antique.
She remembers it now. Out by the old fig by the back fence.
She pulls the mailer from her bag and the keys from the envelope and moves toward the back porch of the house, fumbling a bit to get the keys out and into the door. The lock slides open and she turns the knob, smells the hot wash of sun and old wood before the door has even opened.