Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Daffodil

Elijah Poste speared the soft earth with his spade, stomping hard on the edge to force it deep into the soil. He pushed down on the handle, lifted the heavy load and dropped it into the wheel barrow next to him. Tears welled up in his eyes as he repeated the motion. Spear, stomp, push, lift, drop. Over and over until every last flower in his yard was gone.

When the wheel barrow was full, Elijah steered it across the lawn, up the ramp and into the back of his old pick up. It took most of the day and three trips to the community compost across town, but finally not a single flower remained. The garden beds were bare, black dirt and, at last, Elijah returned the weary spade to its place in the shed. He refused to look at the other gardening tools that stood at attention along the shed wall and were lined up in perfect rows along the work bench. As the sun started to dip in the western sky, Elijah closed the shed door and firmly clicked the shiny silver lock into place in the latch. There would be no more gardening at the Poste home.

Inside his big house on Dapple Deer Road, Elijah Poste washed his calloused hands in the kitchen sink. “I’m sorry,” he whispered to the photo of his beloved wife Elaina that stood on the window sill. “I had to do it.” He dried his hands on a tea towel and shuffled through the dining room and into the living room where he took a seat in his favourite chair and waited for night to fall.

The house was quiet. Too quiet. He couldn’t be bothered to turn on the TV or radio, but the quiet was disturbing. It had never been quiet when Elaina was alive. She was always telling her stories or singing along to some old record. At the very least her knitting needles would be clicking; there was never this much quiet. He hated the silent absence that Elaina had left behind. And more than the silence, he hated the gardens that she had so lovingly tended throughout their forty-six year marriage. He couldn’t bear to look out and see the riot of colour that was Elaina’s art. It hurt too much to know that she would never again don her ugly, blue gardening sweater and, in it, recreate Eden in their yard.

“I had to do it.” The words became his mantra.

As day became night and the world around him faded into darkness, Elijah fell asleep. His tired body slumped in the easy chair and his head lolled to the right, coming to rest on the thread-bare antimacassar that kept the fabric clean and safe from wear. His mouth dropped open and his soft snores cut through the stillness. “Just keeping the demons at bay,” he used to tell Elaina when she would nudge him in the night.

A short while passed before Elijah was awoken by a very familiar noise. He jolted awake to the sound of knitting needles clicking in rhythm with the creaking rocking chair that was Elaina’s. He peered through the darkness and there she was, rocking furiously, knitting with incensed determination. He was stunned, thrilled and terrified all at once.

“Well, if it isn’t awake at last,” Elaina chided her husband. “I don’t exactly have all night, you know.”

“Lainy?” He called her by his pet name for her, the way he always did when she used that tone and he knew he was in trouble.

“Why’d you do it, Eli? Why’d you dig up all my flowers?” She was cross and no excuse was going to be good enough.

“I had to do it,” was all Elijah could think of to say.

“You had to do it? Were you that anxious to be rid of me?”

“No, no, my love, of course not. I just couldn’t stand to look at them knowing you were gone and were never going to tend to them again. I just couldn’t do it.”

“Oh, you old fool,” Elaina exploded. She stopped knitting and looked at her grieving husband. “What makes you think that I wasn’t going to tend to them ever again?”

“You’re dead!” Elijah said in the no nonsense pitch he reserved for these types of debates. He harboured no illusions. He knew he was dreaming.

Wasn’t he? A little doubt followed by a little hope crept in. Either way, he thought, it’s good to have her back.

Elaina snorted. “Dead am I? Well, I’ll show you!”

She dropped her knitting into the basket next to her chair and, mustering all the feisty spunk she had been famous for, marched out of the room. Elijah smiled. Dream or ghost, Elaina’s determination was always both endearing and exasperating. He closed his eyes again and let the quiet and darkness soothe him, this time, back to sleep.

In the morning, stiff and achy from the shovelling and the night in the chair, Elijah dragged himself into the kitchen to make coffee and fix himself something to eat. He puttered about, trying not to think of Elaina, but knowing that she would have already had the coffee made and the toast buttered. Recalling her nocturnal visit, Elijah realized that he felt different that morning. He wasn’t sure what it was. He still felt sad. He still felt a bit angry. He also felt a little ashamed about what he had done to the flowers, but there was a tiny spark somewhere deep inside him that seemed to burn with the same determination that had burned in Elaina.

Being a warm spring morning, Elijah took his coffee onto the deck off the dining room and sat in one of the huge Adirondack chairs that Elaina had found at a flea market and had refinished the previous summer. The birds were singing and a dog barked somewhere down the block. The occasional car moved slowly up Dapple Dear Road and he was glad for the noise.

With a twinge of regret Elijah’s eyes fell on one of the bare flower beds next to the deck. The turned up soil looked like the blackness that had filled his soul since Elaina’s death. Was it only two weeks ago that she had fallen down in that very spot, taken by a sudden heart attack? It seemed much longer. It seemed like a lifetime had passed without her singing and stories and passionate gardening. Elijah wondered how he was ever going to go on without her

Then that spark inside of him stirred and pushed against the aching, lonely blackness. “It will be okay,” a soft voice whispered.

Elijah finished his coffee and stood up. He needed a shower and some clean clothes. There was still work to be done. The garden beds needed yet to be raked and seeded with grass. “I have to do it,” Elijah said.

As he turned to go back into the house, something caught his eye. A tiny splash of yellow off to the side of the deck drew his gaze. There, in the middle of the torn-up garden bed was a single daffodil. Elaina’s favourite flower.

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