The Veggie Patch
By Stephanie Louise Smith
© Stephanie Louise Smith 2012
*Despite the efforts of the author’s friends to convince people otherwise, this story is in fact a work of fiction and any similarities to real people are coincidental. No matter how much you might think Daniel is a lot like the last guy I dated. It’s not him. Honest.
She jammed the garden fork hard into the soil, trying to angle the prongs under the roots. The ground was thick with clay and the prongs barely broke the surface. The garden fork’s wooden handle had seen better days. Weakened in places by time, the rot of weather and the gradual decay that universally is aging.
She loosened the fork, lifted her arms higher this time and jammed it back in. Her facial muscles were scrunched. She looked pained. Focus and determination. A bead of sweat dripped down from her temple, leaving a trail along the hairline. The prongs were wedged snugly underneath the lump of roots that were now slowing down her progress. She had no idea what they were, didn’t really care, but wanted them gone.
Using the handle as a lever she pressed down to the ground. Heard the satisfying sound of roots loosening. It was a similar sound to the noise you heard when the dentist pulled a tooth. Tearing and cracking as roots were ripped from their bed. She wondered if it hurt the tree the way that it did at the dentist.
Rolling her eyes and giggling, she jimmied the fork loose, preparing for one more strike at the ground. Her eyes narrowed on the target, convinced that one more big thrust of the fork would be enough to rip out the vegetation she found so offensive.
The prongs wedged deep in the earth again, a forty-five degree angle between the ground and the handle. Again she used the handle as a lever, but this time it barely moved. She gritted her teeth. She knew she wasn’t supposed to use her back, she was supposed to use the lever, but the lever wasn’t working. Bending at the waist she pressed down hard with all her energy, feeling her muscles strain along the full length of her spine.
She pushed hard at the handle, forcing it towards the ground. A telltale creak echoed around the yard. The handle shifted an inch or two. She drove through her knees, pushing harder on the handle. There was a loud, hollow-sounding crack, different to the last. She felt her weight shift dramatically, felt her feet losing their grip on the ground. As the law of opposing forces kicked in, she felt her spine extending, falling backwards. Instinctively she moved her left foot back, trying to catch her weight, regain control against gravity.
Her foot caught on something. The large decorative rocks that she’d painstakingly rolled into place because they were too heavy to carry, marking out the area she was attempting to clear of various plants, palm trees and shrubs, they were lined up neatly exactly where her foot was trying to tread. Trying to make it make the garden as aesthetically pleasing as possible they’d been an obvious choice. It was a far cry from proper landscaping, but the rocks were smooth, weathered by time. They would glow white in the moonlight and stood out brightly in the day against the rich green grass.
But right now her left foot had caught one. The ankle rolled outwards. Now her right foot was stepping too. As her legs gave way she threw both arms behind her, palms facing towards the ground, trying to break the fall. The garden fork handle flew across the grass.
Landing in a heap she paused, assessing the damage. There had been a sharp pain in her right wrist, but it had dulled. She rolled her left ankle, clockwise and counter clockwise. Nothing. In front of her the head of the fork was still protruding from the clump of roots. The prongs were wedged tight in its mass where she’d jammed them in too high. The area she had marked out with the heavy rocks for clearing had barely been touched. The rocks had been too heavy for her lift, their smooth surface making even the lightest ones too slippery to grip properly, had provided an excellent slip pad for her feet. Turning her head she saw the handle lying several meters away. Snapped where the weather and age had done the most damage.
She threw herself back on the grass, covered her face in her hands and cried soft, gentle sobs until her cheeks dried. Exhausted, dirty, frustrated and overwhelmed with a sense of failure she lay there perfectly still for the longest time. Her eyes were closed, her face warming under the sun’s glare.
Flushed red from the sun, after a time she gazed over at the garden fork handle lying halfway across the yard. Her eyes drifted back to the rocks, grass and plants that still needed to be dealt with. Accepting defeat she exhaled loudly, sighing into the quiet afternoon and began to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
* * * * *
The morning light was streaming in through a thin slit of space between the wall and the curtain. Rolling towards the window she tried to bat that end of the curtain over the gap. The force shifted the whole curtain towards her, closing the thin slit, but creating a larger space where the two curtains met. Sunlight tumbled into the room, lighting it up. She groaned.
“Babe, what’s up?”
She felt a hand on her back and braced her body trying to prevent the reflexive urge to pull away suddenly.
She lay there quietly, unresponsive. Curling herself into a tight little ball, the covers wrapped snugly around her like a cocoon, she let her long brown hair fall in her face and stared at the wall, away from the voice. She felt a hand on her arm and then his chin gently resting on her shoulder, leaning his head into hers. Her hands gripped harder at the covers. She fought the desire to push him away.
“How about I make us some breakfast? I’m a fantastic cook you know.” He brushed his lips over her arm as he spoke, working his way towards her ear. His voice was soft, attempting sultry, but the more he spoke, the more she knew she needed him gone.
“You know I actually don’t feel so good. Maybe you should go,” Her voice was gentle. “I’d hate for you to get sick and I’m not really one for having people around when I don’t feel well”
“Bailee, what’s up? Did I do something?” There was hurt in his voice. She winced at the sound. It was a terrible lie. She didn’t even have the energy to try and sell it to him. He wrapped his arms tighter around her but she refused to turn her head because she knew what she would see. Concern. He would have concern all over his face. It was always the nice ones who got caught in her web.
“No, of course not. I just don’t feel well. I think I’m just going to go back to sleep.” He lay still beside her. At the thought that he might not leave she felt her pulse quicken. “Can you lock the door behind you?”
Even as she said the words she tasted bile. Her pale blue eyes were shut tightly, feeling the bed move as his weight shifted.
He slowly pulled last night’s jeans on. She could feel his eyes on her. His lips brushed over her cheek as he leaned in to kiss her goodbye. She stayed perfectly still, stubbornly not returning the affection and feeling her stomach knot in self-disgust with each second that passed.
Hearing the gentle click of the front door locking behind him, Bailee curled up into the covers, wrapping them tightly around her body, and tried to ignore the waves of nausea that were slamming her like the ocean pounding into a cliff face.
* * * * *
“Why did you sleep with him?”
“Because I wanted to. Because it seemed like a good idea. Because I thought he was cute. And because I am an idiot and a bad person.”
Harper rolled her eyes behind her thick dark frames. She tossed her fire red bob. She was one of the few women who could pull off both looks. It wasn’t that she was classically beautiful or looked like a supermodel; it was that she wore the look with such confidence. “You’re not a bad person. Yes, you are occasionally an idiot,” she held her hand up in front of her body, “You gave me that one and I’m taking it. So you slept with a guy, what’s the big deal?”
“Harper, I was so mean to him. The minute he woke up I basically kicked him out.”
Harper’s jaw shifted slightly, but she caught it before Bailee noticed. “You’re right. That’s bad. Although…” She lifted her fork to her mouth and began chewing thoughtfully, “It’s not like no guy has ever done that to a woman.”
“But I’m not a guy! And no guy has ever done that to me.” Her voice got louder and the pitch rose the more she talked. Bailee could feel her cheeks on fire. She shook her head to wipe the memory of yesterday morning from her mind as nearby diners started to glance up.
“It doesn’t matter. If you feel that bad about it you just need to ring him and apologize. It’s not that big a deal,” Harper said sympathetically, but without the softer tones that most people would deem necessary. “What was his name anyway?”
“Adrian? Well, I’m sure Adrian’s probably over it by now anyway. He’s a guy. They move on quickly.”
“I can’t ring him though… He’ll think that I want to see him again…”
“Not if you say ‘Hi it’s Bailee, I don’t think we should see each other anymore’.”
Bailee groaned, slumping down in her chair. “I hate that talk. I’m no good at that talk.”
“ Sweetie, if you can’t do the talk, you can’t do dating. Occasionally you are going to go on dates with men you don’t want to see again who will want to see you. Learn to have the talk or become a nun. You’ve been on so many dates lately. How did you even meet him?” Despite her class and confidence, Harper was talking through a mouthful of food.
Bailee grimaced. It was in part at seeing Harper’s lunch reduced to a pulpy mess swirling around in her mouth, but also at having to finally own up to where the dates had been coming from. “Internet dating.”
“Ah.” Harper nodded knowingly to herself.
“Wait – you knew?”
Giggling, Harper tossed her hair. “I’d be lying if I said that Scarlett hadn’t perhaps hinted at it.”
“I have no secrets from you two! In my defence, it was completely her idea.” She took a bite of the chickpea salad, wishing desperately that it was a pizza, and tried not to notice how bland it was and how little she’d felt like eating since she’d kicked Adrian out.
“Sure it was,” Harper smirked across the table.
The café was crowded for Monday lunchtime. A trendy health food inspired café, it sold only dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free meals and it was the exact kind of place where Bailee struggled to find anything on the menu that appealed to her. While Harper loved it, each time they ate there Bailee was struck with a sense of being completely oblivious to the struggle the earth was facing and also that she may be the world’s biggest carnivore. The soy burger with its vegan patty, sweet potato fries and all organic ingredients really wasn’t comparable to a burger and fries in her mind. Not that it mattered today though.
Despite barely eating since the day before, she’d been pushing her fork around on the oversized plate since it had been placed on the table. So far she’d managed one bite and was convinced that if she ate anymore, the gurgling in her stomach would intensify dramatically. She shifted the salad side-to-side on the plate for several more minutes. There was still only one forkful gone.
Harper swallowed her last mouthful and let the fork clang down onto the plate. She closed her eyes, savoring the last bite. “So good!”
Watching her friend Bailee tried to force a smile. Harper’s theatrics were for her benefit, she knew that, but it didn’t ease the general sense of unease she’d felt since she’d let Adrian into her bedroom.
“So what was it about him that made you want to kick him out then?” Harper sipped her juice, peering out over the top of her glasses.
Bailee hesitated even though she knew. Just like she knew that the gnawing feeling wasn’t going away any time soon, she knew why she’d needed Adrian gone as fast as was physically possible. She sighed, closed her eyes and tilted her head in thought, knowing that she needed to phrase it exactly right.
“You’ll think bad of me”. She screwed her face up, wishing there was some way to avoid the conversation and trying to buy herself more time.
Harper snorted. “Bailee, I have seen you play pash n dash, I’ve seen you run into the ocean butt naked in front of a group of tourists and once in college I counted while you competed to see how many phone numbers you could collect in one night. And let’s not forget the time you met that professional footballer - what was his name? And you-“
“All right!” Bailee cut her off, her eyes wide. “Let us never speak of that again…” She covered her face in her hands, trying to suppress the laughter. Harper joined in, uncovering Bailee’s face as she did. Harper held Bailee’s hands either side of her face.
“What could you possibly say that is going to make me think bad of you?”
Bailee cleared her throat but let her eyes wander out the café window and onto the bustling midday city street. “It’s just…” her voice trailed off and she felt a surprising warmth behind her eyes as she fought against tears that were suddenly threatening to well up. “He was…”
“Just say it!”
Pulling her hands away from Harper’s Bailee tugged on her long ponytail, flicking it back and forth, while she wondered why it was she was fighting the urge to cry. She took a deep breath and let the words blurt out.
“He was too safe.” She lifted her eyes to look into Harper’s as she blinked back a single tear. She shrugged. “He was just too safe. I know how stupid that sounds but he was the kind of guy who was going to fall instantly in love with me because I was the kind of girl he thought was out of his league. And the stupid thing is that I’m not. He only thinks I’m out of his league because I’m not interested and he lacks the confidence to see that he could have someone amazing. We would’ve been in a serious relationship within a month, in a year he would’ve proposed, another twelve months we’d be married and talking children.” Her voice cracked as she got louder. “And the entire time I would’ve had to keep telling myself at regular intervals that I was happy, it was what I wanted. That I did love him. That even though I was thinking about other men and all the things I was missing out on, that would be ok because he really loved me and everyone felt like this. It was Dean all over again, and Matt all over again and I don’t want that. It’s Rule #9 - If he doesn’t make your heart skip a beat then he’s not right. I would’ve been content for a while and then just like Matt and Dean I would’ve been miserable again.”
“Oh sweetie!” Harper moved across beside Bailee and wrapped her arms tightly around her. Bailee forced a smile at her friend, the thought of tears long gone, replaced with a disappointment in herself and how completely unrealistic her expectations sometimes seemed. “He’s not right for you then. You did the right thing and I don’t want you feeling bad about it anymore. What’s the point in being with a man if you spend the entire time wishing that you were single or with someone else?”
Bailee rested her chin on Harper’s shoulder, no longer trying to fake a smile, and completely oblivious to the curious diners. “Do I want too much? Am I looking for something that doesn’t exist? You know me. I’m fine with not being in a relationship, I just sometimes wonder if the reason I’m single is because I’ve created this impossible standard in my head of what love and a relationship should be. I don’t even know if it’s possible for someone to live up to the standards that I set. And I’m just not ready to sign onto the role of wife just for the sake of it. I don’t know yet if that’s what I want and I certainly don’t just want to dive headfirst into something where that is the expectation.” She shook her head. “I want too much. I know that.”
Harper kept her hands on Bailee’s arms but pulled her body back to look at her friend. “No. Wanting happiness is not wanting too much. We don’t all get it as soon as we’d like, some people need to have a trial run or two first to know exactly what it is that they want and it doesn’t always come cheap or easily. Some people have to look a little harder to finder it and then work a little harder to keep it. But somewhere he is out there and he’s getting to you as quickly as he can, it just doesn’t feel like he’s moving that quickly at the moment. You just have to believe that.”
Bailee sighed. He was out there. Somewhere. But how long would it take him to find me and why wouldn’t he hurry up, she wondered.