Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Garden (09/07/06)
TITLE: I'm Being Good, Mama
By Jan Ackerson
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Jim tries to comfort me, but it is construction season in Michigan, and the highway demands his full attention. I gather sadness around me like a shawl, remembering the doctor’s words.
It’s amazing that you were able to conceive even once, Mrs. Lewis. It’s unlikely to happen again, and frankly, it’s inadvisable for you to try another high-risk pregnancy. Go home and hug little Maggie, and be thankful for her.
I stifle a cry of anguish. The doctor had tossed out thankful as if discussing a holiday turkey. Of course I am thankful for Maggie; she has been our shining star for six years. Now is appears that she is a miracle as well. Still, we have prayed for years for a second child, and it appears now that Maggie will not have her little brother or sister.
We enter the town limits; I examine my reflection in the sun visor’s mirror and apply fresh makeup. My mother has been watching Maggie for three days while Jim and I take this fruitless journey, and she will fret if she sees my reddened eyes.
Once home, I scoop Maggie into my arms and carry on a veiled conversation with Jim and my mother. I do not wish to upset Maggie, and I’m not sure how much she understands. Already she has once overheard Jim and me in a baby-quest conversation—we had stopped when she crawled into Jim’s lap and placed her thumb in her mouth.
My mother offers to stay one more day, but I am feeling smothered by sympathy, and I beg her to leave. Her home is only a two hour drive from here, and she can be there well before dark. We hug, and she leaves with her sorrow for me imperfectly masked.
Jim retreats into a book, but I feel the need for sunshine and cool air. I sit on the back porch with a glass of iced tea, while Maggie plays at the borders of the garden. She sings a tuneless melody and touches the squash blossoms one by one, glancing over her shoulder at me as if to say I’m being good, mama. I have often cautioned her to stay out of the garden, and she is eager to prove her obedience. The sunlight creates a halo in Maggie’s hair.
A bumblebee hums in the distance. I close my eyes, just for a moment…
…and then there is no bumblebee, no Maggie singing. I look around; the ice has melted in my glass. There is a trail of muddy footprints from the garden to the house. When I stand to find Maggie and chastise her, I catch a glimpse of the garden, and I gasp.
Nearly every plant has been destroyed. Torn leaves and blossoms are strewn everywhere, and immature vegetables, ripped from their stalks, lie trampled in the soil.
This is not like Maggie, this wanton destruction. I follow the muddy prints into her bedroom, where I find her sobbing on the bed, grimy hands clutching her Veggie Tales bedspread.
“Maggie?” I gather her into my lap. “Sweetie pie, what did you do?”
She hiccups once, her head buried in my shoulder. “I was just trying to help.”
“Did you want something to eat from the garden? Were you trying to get a snack?” I had dozed through dinner. A twinge of guilt momentarily electrifies my heart.
Another gulp. “Grandma told me about the cabbage leaves so I tried to find one.” Maggie’s hair smells of leaves and dirt.
“To find what, honey bunny?”
“I heard you and papa say about getting a new baby and you were sad and papa was sad so I asked grandma where to get a new baby and she said under a cabbage leaf.” Maggie looks up into my eyes. “I didn’t know what was a cabbage so I looked under all the leafs. Are you mad, mama?”
Surely this is the most precious child ever born. She is enough. Heavenly Father, she is enough. “No, sweetie. Mama’s not mad.”
“But I did finded a baby though.” Maggie’s eyes are grave as she indicates a shoebox on the floor. I lift the lid, and there I see a tiny green frog and a handful of grass. It blinks at the sudden light, and takes one tentative hop.
Maggie reaches out with a dimpled finger, and touches the frog with the lightest possible touch. “Oh, mama,” she whispers. “Look.”
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