Gracie’s Garden is a finished manuscript. Want to be my agent? Below is chapter 1, enjoy. SLW
Chapter 1: Two Strangers Meet
Wednesday. Food Section Day. Ignoring the front page scandals for more pertinent news, Gracie tsk tsked her dirty fingernails while discovering it was Celebrating Figs week. She wondered why anyone would celebrate a fig, but her pen remained steady making out her shopping list. With her last sip of Red Rose tea, Gracie folded up the Weymouth News, and stood to stretch her sore back.
The familiar scratch at the kitchen door alerted Gracie that her dog wanted in. She glanced at the color-peel rainbow that coated the old wooden entry; one of the few things Gracie didn’t change when she bought the North Street house. The array of color on the door perhaps indicating a change of mind for every season by the previous owner. In any case, Gracie admired the stick-to-it-ness it took to continue searching for the perfect color. And, she figured, one of those colors was probably the right one, so she kept them all.
She pulled on the metal knob allowing sun and scent to drift in on the morning air, the door creaking open just wide enough to let Rambler squeeze by his mistress. Gracie reveled in the scent of her latest prize, a Miss Canada lilac. “It was a banner day yesterday. Can you smell that?”
Rambler yowled his affirmation.
“Good boy.” Gracie scuffed over to the treat jar and tossed Rambler a biscuit. “Almost time for our walk.”
The dog’s head cocked to one side at the word walk. But Gracie moved on with her clean up, all the while rubbing her fingertips with her thumbs and mumbling to herself. Rambler watched as the last dish was put away wagging his tail in earnest. Nudging Gracie with his wet nose, the dog insisted she hurry up her shoe tying. “Okay, Okay, hang on Ram. Shoo.”
Finally ready with leash in hand, her plant journal in her sweater pocket, Gracie set out for the west end of town with Rambler in tow. Their daily jaunts bring them to either the waterfront by the shipyard, the west end of town on admiration and scouting missions, or to the east end to purchase groceries or take care of business. This day, it is a west end trip. And like most days, their respective senses were in high gear. Gracie with her keen sense of direction, sight, and smell, was a human divining rod for elaborate gardens. Except on rare occasions when he felt up to a good chipmunk chase, Rambler was all nose.
North Weymouth residents, Gracie and Rambler lived a mile or so from the water. There, small working class homes enclosed in clapboard and asbestos pack the coastline in a defensive stance out of necessity from New England weather and the open ocean. They are sturdy houses housing sturdy people; plumbers, electricians, firemen, and shipyard workers.
The town, first a native enclave for the Wessagusset tribe and their subsistence living, was eventually settled in the early 18th century by farmers and fishermen from faraway places like Ireland, Wales, and Portugal seeking religious freedom and a new start in a new world. Eventually wars and industry tied the knot making the precise locale between the towns of Quincy and North Weymouth with its deep Fore River tucked inland and access to open ocean the obvious choice for a shipyard. It wasn’t long before the hard working people of the area were well employed in shipbuilding and raising families in the shadows of battleships, destroyers, and carriers that would eventually be the home of thousands of sailors heading back to Europe and beyond.
The residents of this coastline live mostly one car to a family, with many members who walk or take the bus to and from work. They pay their taxes and raise their kids. They go to little league games at night and barbeques on the weekends. And they are proud of their contribution to their families, to their town, to their country.
The west end of town, where Gracie and Rambler were headed, is where the owners of industry live. In the old days they owned shoe factories and mills along the river. Some managed banks or hospitals in Boston. Today, they are more high tech oriented; engineers and dot com start up owners working off route 128. They have means other than their feet or public transportation to get them to work. They live in big homes made of brick and glass. Expansive lawns separate neighbors who know each other only well enough to wave at one another from their Mercedes as they speed past. They wear suits to work and play tennis and golf on weekends. They give to the Girl and Boy Scouts, sit on boards at the library and local bank, and through taxes help educate other peoples’ children while their own attend Andover and Exeter. They, too, are proud of their contribution.
For the residents of these two distinct neighborhoods, the chance of meeting one another in town most likely falls on the east side, where the town hall, police station, and most of the schools are located. Not friends, but certainly not enemies, these two groups co-exist understanding the natural order.
Gracie adores her adopted home and its people. At least from a distance. She lets in only as much as she finds necessary and keeps the rest at a distance, enjoying an occasional hello and nice day on her walks around town.
50 yards from her home, Gracie paused for Rambler, who was intent on a dandelion poking up in the middle of the sidewalk. She took the moment to study the junkyard that has been there since the mill days in town. When picking through the heap, one can still find odds and ends left over from a century of industry. Spools and spinning machine parts from the woolen mill still poke up from under a rusting Frigidaire, and an occasional sole stitcher or shoe buffer are easy to spot with their Stetson Shoe company logo still in tact. But mostly now, the two acre site is a graveyard for cars and old appliances. A fixture in the neighborhood, the townspeople don’t give the junkyard a second thought, unless they ship their kids over to look for spare bike parts, or to fetch an errant sibling.
Gracie noticed among the old cars, trucks, and assorted junk parts, a teenage boy sizing up an abandoned Good Humor truck, it’s signage of delectable frozen treats barely visible on the panel facing the street. She watched the teen move on toward a heap of car doors leaning against a tractor trailer that had the words RIPSTOP emblazoned in orange on the back doors.
Her eyes on the young man, Gracie was reminded of the season. With early summer comes the kids, their cigarettes, and their beer. Friday nights will soon be filled with teenagers making a party of every night; The season of relative solitude far behind them. They are like stray cats looking for mice after a lean winter, thought Gracie.
Still observing, Gracie wondered about this boy. Only twenty yards away, she watched him make easy work of the sliding lock and pull back on the towering rusting door of the RIPSTOP truck. She watched one door sweep to the left with the word RIP on it, and the other swing right with STOP on it. Then, in one smooth movement, the teen pushed aside his long brown hair from his eyes and took the three foot leap up into the back of the trailer landing graceful as a cat. He began organizing the contents of the trailer bed; he pushed chairs and milk crates to the back while setting up a table in the middle. Gracie thought this boy was much like the robin building a nest in her backyard. Then Rambler pulled on the leash enough to give Gracie a twinge of pain in her arm.
She took a final look at the junkyard and said, “Let’s go boy.” With a tug on the fraying leash, Gracie set off again to the West End, with hopes of viewing a prize winning garden.
Only a mile away from her home, the West End feels like a completely different town to Gracie. With gleaming granite curbs and hedgerows that would be at home in House Beautiful magazine, this neighborhood set itself apart in more ways than one. The change in landscape from the corner of West Main to Bellevue is startling to the newcomer. The neighborhood, with it’s manicured lawns, show roses, wrought iron fencing, and granite posts, is a world away from North Street.
Happy to be bumping about on a warm June day, Gracie, familiar with all the streets, still looked down at the her journal. The carefully lettered address, 101 Bellevue Avenue was just around the corner. She whispered, “Okay, Ram, almost there. The article said this won the South Shore landscape architects grand prize last year. We may actually see the iris we’ve been looking for. It should almost be ready to transplant.” Rambler responded by keeping his attention on the smells of the West End, as if he were helping discover the new find.
Gracie knew she was close, she could smell the peonies, lilacs, and early lavender, before she could see them. This property, designed for a young couple by a landscape architect from Boston, was jumping off the earth at all angles and displayed all colors. The garden reminded Gracie of a woman she had seen in the park the previous day. The woman, resplendent in her colorful jacket and summer perfume, her blonde hair teased and held up by a pale pink comb, looked at home in the park among the spring beds bursting forth.
But the garden at 101 Bellevue rivaled any of the park’s gardens. Pink Cape Cod roses spilled over a white fence, magenta dianthus nestled themselves into a small rock garden, blue Bachelor Buttons flopped this way and that, ribbon grass reached for the sky. Elegant and soft white peonies heavy with their top-weight and supported by stakes, released their perfume to the rest of the garden. Thankfully, at the edge of the yard, Gracie spied the three huge clumps of tall blue bearded iris; majestic and in charge, and almost gone-by.
Tears filled Gracie’s eyes as her thumbs went to work on her fingertips. She could feel the loose mix of compost, rich dark soil anchoring the beautiful iris. She could taste the just-right acid in the soil, but most of all, she could see these dark blue beauties clumped up next to her soon-to-be rock garden filled with sedums from the blue-ribbon winning Richelson’s yard over on Eaton Hill. Gracie was mumbling and twitching, so Ram started to whine and circle, alerting his owner to his presence. She snapped back to attention. “It’s okay, boy. Let’s go.”
The next part of the job, to scope out a parking spot, was on her mind. She needed to be close to the iris, but from street lights. In a perfected routine, Gracie figured out the best route to and from her home on North Street. The paper posted that it would be overcast, so Gracie figured she’d better take advantage and rescue her iris while conditions were perfect. Besides, the plant was ripe for transplant. Any later in the summer and there might be problems.
Almost home from their day’s journey, Gracie glanced down the junkyard slope once more to see that
the boy was still rummaging around the back of the tractor trailer.
His back to the street, Dalton assessed the trailer. Needing a spot to keep his art supplies and to draw, he zeroed in on a yellowing Formica table turned on it’s side. But first he had to allow his eyes to adjust to the change in light. Sunbeams were playing tricks on the stuff in the trailer. A white rectangle of light erased half the surface of the table. Another beam reflected off a metal fender, creating a movie screen squarely on the wall in front of him. He stepped to the side, standing still for a moment to wait out the illusion. With paint-stained palms he smoothed back his thick brown hair. The decision where to move the table made, Dalton reached out to right it the grab the aluminum edge and instantly felt something slice through the heel of his hand.
“Shit.” A rivulet of blood trickled from the base of his pinky finger to his wrist. Scrambling around for something clean to wipe his hand on, Dalton turned toward the open door and the street. He blinked spastically in the bright sunlight. He squeezed his wrist, holding his hand up above his head waiting for his eyes to adjust once again.
Up on the sidewalk, Gracie didn’t hesitate. She waved, calling out to wait right there, and gingerly made her way down the loose gravel slope to where the teen was standing and holding up his injured hand. “Let me help you with that.” She pulled a hanky out of her pocket, offering it to the boy. “I just saw what happened. We were walking by.” Looking down at her dog, she explained, “This is Rambler, I’m Gracie.”
“Oh, yea, uh, thanks. I’m Dalton.” Dalton took the white hanky embroidered with pink roses and with his left hand wrapped it around his right fist. The blood quickly spread across the cloth, erasing any evidence of the pink roses. He pursed his lips. “Uh, I’m really sorry. I’ll get you another one.”
“Not to worry, young man. I have plenty. Do you live close by? You should clean that up.”
Getting a good look at this lady now that his hand was wrapped and his eyes were adjusted, Dalton was surprised. She was tiny and old and wearing a pink track suit. Her dog, was panting and eager for attention.
“Uh, not really. I live up by The Rock.”
“Well, that’s too far to walk for this. I live right there.” Gracie pointed to her yellow half-cape. “Come with me and I’ll get you my first aid kit, you can clean up in my bathroom.”
Not sure what else he could do with his hand still bleeding, Dalton followed Gracie and Rambler home.