Her concern oozed over me like a BPA-filled plastic film. I couldn’t stand her false pity, so I looked down, my feet at the edge of the dirt pit. I leaned slightly forward and let my shoes sink into it.
“Well?” she said. “Are you ready to talk solutions? Are you ready to let us help you?”
“Help me?” My brain suddenly felt fuzzy, my thoughts muddy as my shoes. “How would this help me?”
The silent pause that followed was brimming with awkwardness. The two women pretended I hadn’t said anything and looked at me with feigned compassion. Mr. Eckhardt seethed. Jackie went off to have a smoke. Glynnis began to fold into herself for protection from their scrutiny.
“Can I ask you to step over to my vehicle?” The cop’s voice was raspy, but still it sounded too loud.
“What?” Was I being arrested? Should I ask someone to grab a phone and start recording? I scanned his chest for a body cam.
“She doesn’t have to do that,” Mykia said. There was steel in her voice. The cop smiled, revealing crooked teeth. His eyes twinkled. With his red hair and bristly red beard, he resembled an overgrown, slightly chubby leprechaun.
“I’m not hauling her into the station . . . yet. I just think a private conversation at this point would be most productive,” he said, and gestured for me to follow him to his copmobile, parked in front of my house.
“I’m recording you,” Mykia said, holding up her phone. “It’s not illegal to do so.”
“Go right ahead, ma’am,” he said.
“I’d prefer all conversations to be had in front of everyone,” Mr. Eckhardt said, using his voice of authority.
“Sir, I think it would be more productive for me to speak with Miss . . . uh . . .”
“Mrs. Moresco,” I said. “And if you give me your word you aren’t going to try to bully me, I’ll talk to you.”
He placed three fingers over his heart, like a Boy Scout. “You’ve got my word.”
“Every move you make,” Mykia called out as we walked toward the squad car. “Every single move you make. I’m recording everything!”
Once out of earshot, Officer Leprechaun started laughing, a great big guffaw. “Lady, what the fuck are you doing?”
My mouth dropped open. “Did you just swear at me?”
“I did. Your friend’s phone won’t pick that up, so you’ll have trouble proving it in a court of law,” he said, still laughing.
“I’m having trouble figuring out the source of your humor.”
“It’s just I haven’t seen that trio so worked up since that homeopathic doctor opened her doors downtown.”
“Oh. So, I’m off the hook?”
His expression turned more serious. “They weren’t blowing smoke when they said there are ordinances. I’m not well versed in the bylaws of this particular subdivision, but I do know people who stop mowing their lawn or put a car up on blocks are soon convinced to change their habits ASAP. I don’t even think they allow garage sales.”
“Who stops them? You?”
“Not me.” He glanced over at Mr. Eckhardt, who was sandwiched tightly between the two elderly women. “However, I do need to come when they call the police, or else I’ll hear about it from my sergeant. And I wasn’t kidding around when I said you need to call the gas company. You start digging seriously and that could go wrong pretty quickly.”
“A garden,” I said quietly. Suddenly my plans felt foolish. “I want to plant a garden.”
He whistled. It was an old-fashioned sound, and I smiled despite myself. “Have you ever heard of starting small?”
“I’ve always started small,” I said. “I figured it was time to go big.”
“That’s a good attitude, but fair warning—you’re going to have a battle with them. They don’t give up easily, and they’re always convinced they’re right.”
I smiled up at him. “I’m learning to deal with people like that.”
He smiled back. “And how’s that going?”
“Not good,” I said. “But I’m optimistic.”
“I swear that tasted just like a bowl full of heaven.” I sprawled over the lawn, full of food and satisfied, and stared up at the darkening late-spring sky. We were all stretched out over some old blankets I’d found in the linen closet. Somewhere in the pantry Mykia found a tray Jesse’s aunt Tess had given us, and it made a nice centerpiece, citronella candle burning away in the middle. Still, we alternately swatted at the early mosquitoes sucking our blood, enriched as it was with the sweetness of the strawberries Glynnis had bought at the market.
“I told you,” Mykia said. “When it comes to food, I’m a genius.”
“Alchemist,” I said as I poured us all some more wine. “That’s what you called yourself. I like that better, turning something boring into something spectacular.”
“I’m not sure what that means exactly,” Jackie said, “but that was amazing, and I don’t even like vegetables.”
“Anyone can do it,” Mykia said, her voice growing soft. “Like anything else, it just takes a little effort.”
“I don’t know,” I mused. “You planted those vegetables. Cared for them. Plucked them at the right time and made something incredible from them for us to enjoy. Circle of life right there.”
Mykia turned on her stomach. She toyed with one blade of grass, not snapping it, but not letting it go, working it between her fingers. “You’ll do the same, in time. That’s the goal, isn’t it? Some kind of subsistence garden?”
“I don’t know. I started digging because I was feeling shitty and it felt good. Then I kept digging because I liked the feeling. The idea of actually planting something came later. I didn’t seriously start thinking about it until I saw your stuff at the market today.”
Mykia nudged me with her foot. “I always tell my father that gardening gives me endorphins. You know, like a runner’s high.”
“I believe it.”
We grew silent for a moment, taking in the great gaping hole of dirt, which suddenly seemed to beckon with possibility.
“Well, you have to do something with this,” Jackie said. “It seems a shame to sod it over, and I don’t even know why. This is a fancy suburb. It does look awful. That snobby lady was right about that.”
It didn’t look awful to me. The dirt was dark and rich and teeming with worms. That should have grossed me out, but it didn’t. “I’m not going to cover it up. I’m going to keep digging.”
“It’s not too late to plant this season,” Glynnis quietly contributed. “My mom always put in tomatoes late, and peppers, eggplant, zucchini. It usually worked out.”
“That’s not the way to do this,” Mykia said, shaking her head. “You should do raised beds, maybe build a small greenhouse on one side of the yard. This requires planning. You can’t just dig up your yard and drop in a few plants.”
“How much would the raised beds cost?” I had no idea.
She thought for a moment. “You could fit about six here, maybe eight. Fifteen hundred dollars? And that’s conservative.”
“I don’t have the money for that right now.”
Mykia took her time before she spoke again. “Well, I guess dirt’s dirt. If you’re not going to resod that hole, then you might as well do something with it. We’ve got some guys who work at our farm. I can send them out with a rototiller if you’re serious. I’ve got some scrap wood, and they can squeeze a few raised beds out of my stash. It’s not going to be pretty, though.”