Planting by Design
Marisol bought the strange butterfly bush from Rex Ferdinand, the one-eyed garden man who ran his stand out off Foxlanta Road. She saw it tucked in between two Mother’s Day lilies on the old newspaper rack where Rex kept his scant supply of blooms.
Maybe Marisol purchased the thing because it was so unlike the buggy combs of small purple blossoms her mother loved—instead, the flowers were a tricopia of color and shape spliced together so pleasingly: orange, heart-shaped tea roses, winey bellbottom pansies, the eyeshadow-pink Sharon of the Valley. Maybe Marisol considered the unobtrusively tucked vinelike leaves, green as bottle glass. Maybe Marisol bent her hands around one of the sweet-smelling and tender blooms, somewhat tacky and almost cool to the touch.
Whatever the reason, Marisol bit into her bottom lip when she saw the butterfly shrub on Rex’s sale rack, planted into a family-sized Cool Whip container Rex had irrigation-poked with nailholes, the plastic still jagged at the bottoms like feet. Marisol knew she would buy it to fill a table collecting dust, or sit out on a gray stair.
The day Marisol bought the butterfly shrub from Rex Ferdinand’s, Rex sat in a nylon camp chair in between the shack and a table of Styrofoam baskets with cherry and grape tomatoes, some with black fertilizer on their red bottoms like crumbs, others topped in green leafy vine. Rex Ferdinand looked old to Marisol that year, finally, as if age had fallen around his shoulders in the night like a frost. His bald head was still smooth and buffed shiny, and his jumpsuit looked as blue as clean sky, but Rex’s stubbly jaw lacked a certain firm clench, and the bulb of his nose seemed a little too red.
Rex Ferdinand’s loud-mouth stories of his other life in Florida sounded, to Marisol, a little less wild: Now he talked about playing chess and mahjongg at the cement tables in St. PetersburgPetersburg, Kentucky’s sister city. He told no stories of running his metal detector up and down the beach, nor shared any tips from the annual Horticultural Academy conference Rex loved and attended every July—all he had talked about the entire year before.
She hadn’t grown a garden in at least 20 or 30 years, since she grew up with her grandmother out past Creech. When she began working as a nurse’s aide down at the county health center, things just got too busy. Marisol missed the nostalgia of the garden, had this recurring dream of walking out to the garden in the early-summer morning dew, picking a ripe red tomato, and eating it outside in the sun, wanted to can for the winter, like her mama and grandma and great-grandmothers. She wanted to send her future grandkids home from Sunday visits with jars of green beans, corn off the cob, pickled okra.
She turned to Rex and said, “I forgot about the way my great-grandparents looked to the moon before they dug a garden.”
She felt the rust in her voice, like tears about to come. She ran her hand through her hair. Marisol could remember pieces of it, like a long-ago nursery rhyme. Plant potatoes in the feet so they grow big, underground. Plant corn in the arms so it spreads out tall. Leafy greens turn out best in the heart because they don’t rot and have strong leaves.
“My daddy used to plant by the phases of the moon, too.” Rex Ferdinand stood, rocked his weight from one foot to the other.
“You know,” he started. He held the bill of his cap narrow in his palm—tanned skin worn hard to the bone—when he pressed the change into Marisol’s soft hand. “My pa knew it all by heart, but I keep me an almanac, always hanging on a nail in my barn. Somehow, it still tells me what to do.”
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