His wife tells everyone that he’s doing fine and that he just loves to garden and maybe he does. He owns a number of shovels. At least five. Lately he has carved a good-sized garden out of the backyard since the diagnosis. He has a lot of time on his hands.
He owns a number of shovels but really he prefers to use his hands to dig new garden space. He sections out chunks of sod and shakes the heavy clods free of all their dirt like he is wringing out a sponge. The dirt falls away like dirt. Dark soil falls off into the hole where the yard used to be until it’s like the grass never existed the hole gets so full. He digs his fingertips into it and strangles out the rich soil until it falls away. He’s left with a clump of brown root and dead grass in his hands with a bit of green on one side. Like a snarl he holds it in his blackened fingers and then tries to throw it against the back fence but it’s so light without all the dirt it usually falls way short of the mark he’s aiming at.
He tries to provide for them. The kids don’t miss the yard. They never play anymore, hardly leave the house unless going somewhere. He plants tomatoes and beans and red peppers and peas and cucumbers and they all grow sort of. They grow but not like he expected. He imagined a jungle of tall lush plants but instead he gets slightly larger specimens of what he planted. They live but do not thrive. They grow, but crooked and unsteady.
Only the weeds do well in his garden. He tears healthy weeds from around his struggling vegetable plants with guilty fervor. If only weeds created some edible fruit or some beautiful bloom. But then they probably would be too hard to grow. Some of the weeds are really just grass of the same grass he painstakingly cleared in the first place. Weed is a subjective term he thinks.
He feels like the hot sun shines only on him. As he turns and turns the dirt he imagines the individual rays of light born millions of miles away in the nuclear furnace of the sun seeking out his poor back, embedding themselves deep in his skin. They dig right into him, these chosen light beams. They sink their roots into his soil and they prosper within his dark dirt-like self. He can feel the wild growth inside him. He is a solar garden of their most beautiful buddings.
Matthew Smart lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he works as an information technology analyst. His writing has appeared in Vestal Review, Dead King Magazine, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Unbroken Journal, Smokelong Quarterly and elsewhere.