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cultivate





 cultivate

v. to prepare the soil for the growing of something new

 

She is late cultivating her garden this year. Every year. Always the same routine: she sees the neighbors two houses up in their gloves and hats, kneeling on their foam mats with little rakes and trowels in their hands. It’s time. Her own plot – a long, wide stretch beside her driveway – is covered with tiny weeds. Clover. Sheep’s sorrel. Ragwort. Slender Speedwell. It is almost too bad they must go.

But go they must. She brings out her garden claw and starts at the corner closest to the garage. Strike, twist left, twist right, lift, move. Progress in six-inch increments. A quarter of the way down, she begins to feel little white blisters germinating on her palms. Tiny at this stage, by day’s end, they will be the size of oyster crackers and nearly as thick. Why she doesn’t take ten seconds to put on her gloves first, she never knows.

Never knowing what she might find when she begins this yearly cultivation makes for a kind of low-rent, occasionally macabre treasure hunt. When they first moved in and pulled up the overgrown nest the previous owners had called a yard, they found marbles enough to fill a jar. And a condom wrapper. Both, she suspects, were left by their son, at different stages. It was almost sad to place the sea of sod down upon that treasure trove. What else might we find, she’d asked her husband, turning over spade after spade just to see. Junk, he had said, more junk. Still, he let her dig around while he hauled the sod up from the pallet at the curb, and she found a bone. Probably a cow bone, possibly deer, but it had chilled her to hold it in her hands, hard and ivory under its layer of dirt. She stopped digging then, worried it might have been human.

Human bones are weak, porous. Her husband’s turned out to be utterly permeable. By the time they found it – the doctors themselves a particular kind of gardener – it had spread from his spine into his femurs, then his arms. They dug into him, opened him up with their scalpels like the handweeder she uses to probe the earth. They eased out as much as they could find, replanted marrow and plasma, drew his skin back together like she might delicately mulch around the strawberries in spring.

By the next spring, he was gone. It was the only year she beat her neighbors to the task. Morning to night, she was out there, digging and digging and digging. Clumps of mud and compost clung to her clothes, her shoes, her hair, hitchhikers into the house, into her bed, kneaded into balls in the fretting tumble that was her sleep, as though she was remaking a mudman husband. The neighbors brought her easy-to-freeze casseroles. They offered to do the weeding for her, but she couldn’t bear the thought of someone else’s hands in her soil.

The soil gives way beneath her claw, just as she lets out a yelp of pain and sees the white skin of the blister, soft like a baby’s ear, so pale, it is nearly transparent, tear away from her palm and a bubble of clear liquid rises. The claw has sunk halfway into the ground. She pulls it out and looks down into the maw of dirt, the sides of the opening holding together as little pink wormtails wriggle and slide back into sweet, cool darkness.

The darkness scares her, but still she forces herself to reach down into it, to grab a handful of dirt and bring it up into the light. It could have been a rathole, her husband’s voice says to her, himself always the wary one when it came to animals of the night. He was terrified of possums, had once been chased by a raccoon in a gathering twilight on one of their last walks round the neighborhood. But when she removes her hand, it’s clutching a fistful of tiny toy soldiers. Plastic and green. Holding rifles and walkie-talkies and some lying on their bellies with binoculars to their eyes. Handful after handful, she brings up the bodies of these soldiers. By the end, she must lie on her stomach, arm extended until she’s groped for them all.

All of the soldiers line up on her driveway. She brings over the hose and sprays them as gently as a mother might wash a baby in the sink. They still fall over, small as they are, so she fills a bucket of water and dips them in one by one, running her fingers over the ridges of their plastic, using a fingernail to dig out from under chins and in the small cracks between bodies and arms, legs and the plastic platform upon which they stand. The soldier with the bayonet stabs into her opened blister and she drops him in the bucket, clutching her palm with her other hand as a little pindrop of blood rises to the surface of that delicate, vulnerable skin. She thinks about kicking over the bucket, stomping on the soldier, tossing him back into the hole.

The hole is lit through with the sun, shining at just the right angle, and this is when she sees it, there at the bottom. One last time, she reaches down, finds the little plastic baggy shimmering in the slim ray of sun. There is a note inside. She opens the bag. His handwriting triggers the synapses of her brain before the words take shape.

“You’re doing great. Keep up the good work.” On the other side, tiny in a corner: #3 of 8.

She grabs the cultivator and jams it into the earth again. Both hands are blistered and bleeding. Her stomach demands sustenance, but still she digs. She digs and she digs and she digs. She will find each piece of him in that rich, black earth. And once done, she will finally be ready to plant.




Amy Foster Myer



Amy Foster Myer writes and teaches in Portland, Oregon. She holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. Her writing has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Jabberwock Review, Lunch Ticket, Pacifica Literary Review, Fiction Southeast, Literary Orphans and others, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. More about Amy can be found at
amyfostermyer.com.

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