He wore a battered old fedora over his eyes, the bleached patches of thinning material drooping carelessly over his ears. His time weathered skin drew tightly over his knuckles as he worked, and dropped in jowls under his chin. As he hummed an indiscernible tune he gently pruned and weeded the rose beds and lavender in the little town’s park, as he had for 30 years.
Nobody ever remembered his name. It did not bother him much – he liked plants better than people anyway and save for running the occasional child off the rose beds and collecting his wages each month from Mr Turner, people did not figure largely in his life. They were like elevator music – there in the background, but none were memorable enough to make an impression.
At least, until Judith came to town. The first morning he spotted her, she was bending over the French lavender, inhaling the delicate scent and trailing her be-jewelled hands over the purple heads to hold the scent a while longer on her skin. And she had lots of rich dark skin, which was brilliantly covered in brightly decorated skirts with long kaftans style shirts. A scarf of yellow was wrapped around her hair and earrings shaped like butterflies jingled cheerfully from her ears.
She looked up. “Hi there, you must be Joe – Bill Turner said I might find you down here.” She held out her hand and Joe hesitated for a moment, unused to social niceties and ever so slightly worried that the heavily jewelled hands might crush his own. He responded gingerly and was rewarded by a warm, and careful, shake.
“I, er, wasn’t expectin’ you,” said Joe.
“Well that’s ok sugar. I don’t suppose ol’ Bill tells you much. I’m Judith Knowles and I’m taking over from Bill when he retires next month. I thought I’d get down here and say hello, and take a look at this fine park of yours. I must say you does a dandy job with this little place Joe – to think that right here in the middle of this dusty town is this oasis of green peace. My, but it sure is pretty here!”
Judith was beaming fit to bust as she looked over the ‘little oasis’ and Joe found an unfamiliar smile tickling the corners of his lips and a strange feeling somewhere near the pit of stomach rolling like butterbeans left on a plate.
“Thank you ma’am,” he managed. “I do my best.”
“Why Joe, your far too modest. This little park is the best for miles around – there ’aint nothing as fine as this park till you get all the way to New York.”
Joe blushed, unfamiliar as he was with compliments. “Thank you ma’am; I ’aint ever been to New York, but I’m sure it’s a fine place.”
“Joe, I have a proposition for you. There’s a little competition being run to find the nicest town park in the state, and I’d likes to enter yours. The winning park gets some money for extra improvements, and the park keeper – that would be you Joe – gets to spend 2 nights in a hotel overlooking Central Park in New York. What do you say?”
No one was more surprised than Joe when Joe said ‘yes’.
Over the next many weeks, Judith came down to the park every lunch time as Joe taught her about the different types of lavender and roses. Joe slowly talked about what he had dreamed of doing with the little park, and the two of them drew plans on wide white sheets of paper as the dreams blossomed with the roses. Joe begun to look forward to every lunch time, working through his morning chores with the feeling of anticipation in his belly, which would leap into his throat when Judith walked through the gates bedecked in her bright colours. He was surprised that he could make her laugh, but blushed like a sunrise whenever she made him laugh.
The Friday that the competition judges came was the worst of Joe’s life: he woke with such cramps that he was sure he would be too sick to be there and answer the judges’ questions. But when he did not get the fever he half hoped for, he walked from his home feeling like his legs were made of lead. The grey suited judges arrived with Judith, who was wearing her brightest lavender coloured dress with a dark purple headscarf. Joe mumbled his way through the questions, and showed the judges the plans for an extension to the park that he and Judith had spent weeks drawing up. Finally they were gone, and Judith came and found him after seeing them off.
“You was just great today Joe. Really – that young man with them was real impressed with your herb garden design.” Joe just nodded. “I’ll come by in a couple of days Joe. Gotta go see my daddy in hospital across state. And Joe – this is still the best park there is, sugar.” He looked up at her smile, and found himself smiling back. It occurred to him that she was prettier to him than all of the roses in his park.
On the following Tuesday, Judith walked through the gates bearing a large brown envelope. Joe knew it was the results of the competition. They sat down together on the bench, and Judith squeezed Joe’s hand.
“Sugar, I think I as nervous as you are. Boy I want you to win this.”
“Us”, said Joe. “It was your doin’ ” he grinned. “And I think we already won a deal more than a weekend in New York.”
Judith, laughing, opened the envelope carefully and read it through twice. Then with a very solemn face she turned to Joe.
“Well sugar, the judges’ agree with me. This really is the best park in the whole state!”
I had to laugh when I realized why you're character's name, Bill Turner, sounded so familiar. I Googled it and found "Bootstrap" Bill Turner. (From "Pirates of the Caribbean)
That aside, you had some great details and fresh descriptions that made this fun to read.
Like Amy, I can't wait to see part two. :)