Mar '03 [Home]

Fiction

Eduardo Tends the Garden
James Simpson


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Eduardo Alarcón trims the hedges alongside Señor Lansky's mansion. The metallic chink of the blades and thrish of clipped leaves tumbling to the ground soothes him. Chink-chink, thrish.…Chink-chink, thrish. It is an industrious sound, full of quiet purpose, reliable in its simplicity. Eduardo is not conscious of it in these terms; he simply feels it. To him, it is work that must be done.
          The mansion is no longer Señor Lansky's, really. He was too ill to stay. Two weeks before, he had told Eduardo, "I will be leaving, old man. But you may stay and continue caring for the garden. You are so much a part of it anyway, like an old sturdy tree, and you will probably outlive me." Señor Lansky—who next day would be halfway to America in the pre-dawn—had laughed weakly and patted the gardener's shoulder.
          Those of Señor Lansky's men who remained were joined by other men, unfamiliar and grim, moving about the great house. They did not look happy to be staying there, were edgy, always glancing around, peering from windows, watching the road out front, as they stuffed silver candlesticks, diamond jewelry, gold trinket boxes into their canvas bags.
          By then, Eduardo had left for a week's holiday to visit Mañuel, his youngest son, in a town thirty miles inland. On the streets there, everyone was excited about the revolution. Things would change for the better, they said. The rebels and their new eastern European friends would spread wealth throughout the country. Eduardo didn't tell them it was always the same in the end, that you had to concentrate on your work, and do for yourself.
          Even Mañuel had been caught up in the fervor. "How can you not be happy?" he asked his father. "The bastard Batista is overthrown, and Panchín the puppet and all his American mobster friends have fled with him. No more fake elections, no more police brutality and murder! We will all be equal under the new leadership!"
          "You are a middle-aged man now, yet you act like a child expecting a treat," Eduardo had said softly. "Those in power will have different faces, but the same corruption and greed will creep up and curl into their laps just as before."
          He hadn't intended to discuss such wearisome things during his visit. He left Mañuel at week's end, wondering whether his son would be smart enough to survive, to hang back and listen—or be seen through and swallowed whole.
          Eduardo had returned to a front door swung open wide, gauzy white curtains billowing from shattered windows upstairs and down. Inside, the nervous men's bodies littered the rooms, each dozing in his own thick, red pool.
          Chink-chink…thrish. Eduardo finishes the hedges alongside the house, then shuffles to the rear garden to pluck the dead blooms from the camellia bushes. He had learned many years before that this is the way, the only way, to prevent petal blight. He dabs at his brow with a white handkerchief and nods to one of the new men, scanning the lawn from an upstairs window. There are others inside now, none of them nervous.
          Eduardo squints toward the road, anticipating the new tenants' arrival, then turns and kneels in front of the first bush to continue his work.



(James Simpson published his first story with Big City Lit, "Never Had It So Good" (Jan '02), which the editors nominated for a Pushcart. Other work has since appeared online in storySouth, Word Riot, and Flashquake, and in print in Literary Potpourri and Permafrost. Simpson was a finalist in Night Train Magazine's Firebox Fiction Contest, judged by Pamela Painter. He lives in Atlanta.)