Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Garden (09/07/06)
TITLE: Seeds of Distrust
By Steve Uppendahl
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Henry and I were meant to be together. He was the only man I ever loved. We passed test after test, hardship after hardship. Our relationship never seemed to weaken. On the contrary, it seemed to strengthen. But, no matter how strong we may be, it never stays. Age catches up, or is it just our human nature to doubt?
It was such a small thing. One day I notice Henry digging in the far corner of our garden. I’m puzzled because Henry rarely works in our garden, that’s my domain. I shrug it off, but it continues to gnaw at me.
During dinner, nonchalantly, “Henry, I saw you in the garden earlier. What were you doing?”
Seemingly unfazed, but with a sly smile, “Just planting some seeds, hoping they’ll grow strong.”
“Really? What? We haven’t bought any seed lately.”
That sly smile again, “Just a surprise. You’ll see.”
But, I don’t. All I see is Henry digging daily in the same spot in the garden. Each time he digs he places something in the hole and covers it up. But that’s not all. Each night Henry writes well past midnight, burning a candle down to a stain. Candles we can’t afford.
Every day Henry responds, “Just planting some seeds, April. Hoping for something to grow again.”
Nothing new is growing in the garden, or the fields. But, there’s plenty growing within in our home, suspicion and distrust. I’m having a hard time staying calm.
One night, Henry stays up even later than normal, using two candles. I watch through the panels of our bedroom. Hunched over our table, Henry is writing furiously. He rises, reads what he wrote, and with a growl of frustration throws it into the weakening fire.
The next morning, Henry rides into town for supplies, hoping to trade his father’s gun for food or seed. I can’t take it anymore. I finally dig in the garden and pull up a black box with a small lock. I raise a rock over my head, but resist. What if it’s nothing? Henry would be furious. I stomp into the house holding in a scream of frustration.
Just as I’m about to light the fire, a small scrap of paper catches my eye. It’s one of Henry’s drafts from the night before, singed but still readable. Placing the section on the windowpane, I use the sunlight to read Henry’s words.
<i>Dearest One, I’ve missed you so…it’s been far too long since we…I’ve always lov-</i>
Panic. <i>Dearest One</i>. I feel a remote memory stir. I’ve heard that nickname before. For who? A former love? I strain but nothing comes.
I’m appropriately enraged when Henry comes home, unsuccessful and desperate; he slides the gun onto the table.
I finally explode, “Who is she, Henry? Your Dearest One?”
Henry turns his head instantly, “What? You’ve broken my box? Why?”
“I didn’t touch your box. I saw the letter, Henry. I saw it in the fire. Who is she?”
“April! I would never-“
“Enough! All these years I stayed by your side and you betray me,” I approach the table, glaring at Henry, fingering the rifle.
Henry stands his ground, “April, I have never and would never stray. <i>You</i> are my Dearest One, don’t you remember?”
Rage, “Stop it. You’ve never called me that. Who is she?”
I pick up the rifle, keeping it at my hip.
Scared now, hands raised, “Our first year together. You were sick with Scarlet Fever. I read you your favorite book over and over. I called you Dearest One as the hero did his love.
“I’ve been writing to you, to try to get back to those times. I just didn’t know how to talk to you, so I wrote letters, then buried them. Think, April. Remember.”
Fierce gaze, “Do you really expect me-“
A sudden trip, a slight pull of the trigger, a fallen Henry. It must be the shock, I finally I remember, my brain floods. My eyes widen, tears fall.
If Henry had tended our marriage and not the garden, we would’ve stayed strong. If I had trusted Henry as I always had, we would’ve stayed strong.
Grief stricken, I lower the rifle and place my chin on the smoking barrel. My toe on the trigger. Darkness.
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