Throughout the day, each saw the other, going about their business. Cindy with the kids and the wagon filled with water jugs passed in front of the Adair place, and that fool was flower gardening! Digging bulbs in the August heat! James smiled at them, his hands dirty as he dug and pried with a curved, sharpened stick. He put the bulbs in a bucket and went up the steps toward the house.
He stopped at the top of the stairs and turned. “Hey? See any rabbits around here?”
Cindy looked at him. He was dirty, with his sweaty hair in his eyes, holding two big buckets of lilies. She suddenly saw him as comical. She smiled.
“Nope! Too many cats!” she shouted back.
James nodded thoughtfully, as if that news confirmed something in his mind. Then he called out, “See you all tonight.” Cindy waved her hand ambiguously without looking back as she and the children walked up the brick path to their door. “Kids,” she said quietly, “we’re all going to take a bath today.”
Caleb and Janey cheered. Robbie was indifferent.
James walked to the left—south—side of the house. There was a gate leading into a large walled patio courtyard overlooked by the tall dining room windows. There was a broad, shallow, raised circular fire pit of stone. Around the fire circle was a ring of free-standing, post-and-lintel doorways, a modernist Stonehenge. There was a cut stone table and benches, and a large cut stone charcoal cooking grill.
James had searched the storerooms around the greenhouse in back and found a good galvanized watering can, a washtub, a dishpan, a large cast-iron kettle—a cauldron, really—weighing at least eighty pounds, and several buckets. After several trips to the water tower, he half-filled the kettle with water and built four small fires around it. He set another bucket of water on the table.
He set the washtub in one of the doorways of the stone circle and threw a length of cord over the lintel.
While the water heated, he sat at the table cleaning and cutting lilies. The roots, with some non-dairy creamer, would make a soup. The green leaves go in the soup, giving it an oniony flavor. He would stir-fry the flowers with a package of honey-vinaigrette dressing he found at that fast-food joint. He had some other ideas, too, but he would have to see.
James looked at his the kettle. A watched pot, he told himself. He checked the smoke and satisfied himself that his fire wasn’t going to be a signal to the whole valley to come here for a visit. He tested the water. Almost warm enough. He retrieved the watering can and undressed. He checked the water often enough that he laughed at himself for it. He thought of the story of the frog in the boiling water.
Finally he dipped the watering can in the kettle and filled it with water hot enough to steam in the summer afternoon. He carried the can, a small bar of motel soap, and a small bottle of shampoo to the washtub. He tied one end of the cord to the handle, and he tied a shorter length of cord to the spout. He hoisted the can up to the lintel overhead, stepped into the tub, and tied the distal end of the longer cord to the washtub handle.
James pulled the cord and tipped the spout, showering him with warm—no, hot!—water. But he couldn’t bask in this shower like he might have once at the motel chain whose shampoo he lathered into his hair, whose soap took off days and days of road grime, poison ivy oils, and blood. He used the water sparingly, but the can was empty earlier than he cared for, so he slapped wet feet across the stones and dipped the can in the kettle again. It was a bit too hot now so he cut it with cool water from a bucket, and took a second shower, just because. He checked himself for ticks and found none in any uncomfortable places.
James air-dried, breaking more deadfall branches to feed the fire, spreading the coals around the kettle. He dumped the lily bulbs and leaves into the water and stirred it with a stick. He wished for more pepper. He wished for garlic. The kitchen and pantries here were empty. He had found an old back of salt rock in a gardening shed, pure sodium chloride. He pounded it and ground it with his empty whisky bottle as a pestle and added it to the lily soup.
James dressed in fresh(er) clothes, combed his hair (handy things, combs, especially in tick country) grabbed his bag and his rifle, and stepped out the front gate, which was similar in construction and design to the back gate. An empty bucket banged against his leg as he descended the steps to the street. He glanced at the manager’s residence and wondered if eyes were upon him. A few houses down the street on the right was a bungalow with a wide front porch. He stopped at the weathered fence and cut several large sprigs of rosemary from an overgrown bush.
A thought occurred to him. A bungalow on the south side of the street, with rosemary growing in the front yard, might well have had a kitchen garden. Maybe something is growing feral. He walked around the house through a corridor of giant shady crape myrtles to the back yard. There was a long porch on the back, too, and James imagined the trees being smaller years ago, and the view that would have been enjoyed by the people who lived here. He could glimpse the horizon through the trees, but that was all.
The yard had once been far sunnier. James could see landscape timbers forming rectangles in the weeds and leaf litter from gardens past. He wagered the soil was fine in this yard. He walked among the planting boxes and found what he had been looking for. It was late in the season and the green was withering. He pushed his digging stick into the soft, yielding soil and twisted, tuning up a big bunch of feral garlic bulbs. He realized he was grinning. He had a plastic grocery bag with a large yellow smiling face on it. He filled it with bulbs and tossed the rosemary on top.
Still smiling, he looked around and thought he recognized potatoes. He had plenty of starch for tonight, so he would come back for them. He saw some onions gone to seed and he dug some up. There was some Queen Anne’s lace near the fence, which he dug up. He cut the stalks and left them on the ground. This was going to be a fine soup!
He walked jauntily back to the street, with another house in mind. One he remembered. It was a Tudor style of post-and-beam construction. He remembered eating grapes there. He found the house a couple of lots down on the left. It had diamond-pane windows and a high, pitched roof. There was a conical tower with bay windows at the back. He went through the collapsing garden gate to the back yard. The yard sloped steeply and was terraced. At the back of the first terrace, a fieldstone patio with a waist-high wall at the rear, overlooking the hillside. Below the wall, there was a thick mat of green vines that the untrained eye might mistake for kudzu, but which was in fact the interwoven thatch of various grape varieties. The arbors had collapsed here and there from neglect, but the vines looked healthy enough—no Japanese beetle infestation—and he thought he spied some bunches in the tangle.
He looked out from the terrace and saw that the trees were not deep here, for the hillside dropped precipitously not far beyond the third terrace. He could see the par and the ballfields. There were humanoid figures walking slowly and aimlessly about, through the tall weeds, across red clay diamonds, among the playground equipment. He wondered if a good marksman could discretely put them out of their misery from the tower on this Tudor house with the grapes.
He filed that thought and waded into the tangle. He reached into the leaves and pulled the vines, looking for berries. Some were hard and green. Some had already withered. But he found some Concord-types, that had big seeds and tough, tart skins, but the meat was sweet and juicy. He filled—overfilled—his bucket with grapes, and climbed the steps to the patio.
James decided to try the back door. It was locked. He filed that thought, too. He went back out the way he came in.
About thirty minutes had passed since he left the soup cooking. As he passed the brick house, he saw faces looking at him. He waved and lifted the bucket, pointed at the grapes. Whether they saw or not, he didn’t know. Through the courtyard gate he went and to the table. He cleaned and cut his garlics, his onions, and his wild carrots and put them in the soup. He stripped the rosemary with his thumbnail into the brew. The coals were fading, so he added fuel to get it going again. He rinsed the grapes and piled them in the middle of the table. He realized he didn't have any bowls for guests. Well, they can share my bowl if we have to.
It was late afternoon now. The pot began to simmer again. James put a few more sticks on and went into the house through the kitchen door near the back of the courtyard. He entered the pantry, unlocked the secret cellar door and clicked on his light. He scanned the bottles to see what might go with lily soup. Deep in the cellar he found a rack of white wines. Most will taste terrible now, he thought, but maybe a Riesling or a Chardonnay will still be drinkable…. He found one of each from a later vintage and started to leave.
Then he stopped, because he noticed a thin disc on the wall behind the wine rack where the Riesling had been. He pressed his finger to it and pushed it laterally. It swiveled on a pivot and exposed another secret keyhole.
Last edited by dogbane
on Thu Aug 09, 2012 10:34 pm, edited 2 times in total.