Lacie toasted my harangues. She complained about the dryer that once sat for a week on Ned’s front stoop, but she only said it so I wouldn’t feel alone with my bitterness. Then she’d remind me that behind the curtain of hanged pandas was a battery-operated cauldron, a hit with the neighborhood kids. And that surely something awful had scarred Ned when he was a kid himself. His father must have taken his teddy bear away from him too early, maybe even cut the bear open and removed the stuffing. What else would make someone hang fluffy endangered animals by their necks? But Lacie was trained to think this way. Had to see past the angry exteriors of her students—the ones who skipped class for the quiet and safety of the counseling office—and dig until she found the repressed emotions, the trauma that explained it all. Dave, our neighbor across the street, was out washing his Honda Civic. I could just see him from the window. Dunking his rag faster now, windmilling his arms over the windshield. Pretending he hadn’t heard Ned’s insistent horn. “She’s gorgeous, ain’t she?” Ned called over to him. He took a rag from his back pocket and buffed the decals. Dave turned off the hose. “What’s that?” he called. “I said, isn’t she gorgeous?” Ned patted the trailer as if it were a horse, like he half expected the hunk of metal to start moving of its own accord. He got back in his truck. I watched him try to back the trailer into the driveway. I watched him drive into the garden instead. The tires flattened the hydrangea that was in full and glorious bloom. Crushed the lavender. Then pulverized Ginger’s Cadenza roses, their heavy, red heads shaking in unsurprised disdain all the way down. Ned pulled forward and then reversed several more times until the trailer was backed right up to the garage, next to the boat. If Lacie had been in front of me on the bed rail, I would have given her shoulders a playful shove, said “Ha!” in my haughtiest tone. There would be no way for Lacie to spin this. No way for her to salvage Ned after he’d uprooted Ginger’s life work. We’d watched Ginger mother her garden—a patch of blues and purples and pinks in the midst of dandelions and ground ivy—for years. Stems and petals were crushed now, making waste of her careful pruning and fertilizing. And Lacie adored Ginger. Lacie liked aberrations, and Ned’s marriage to Ginger was her favorite. How had he snagged her, she’d wonder as we watched them. This petite wife with a trowel in one hand and a paisley bandana tied around her head tighter than a tourniquet. Poor Ginger, she’d say, her hands inadvertently clutching at the generous fabric of her nightgown. Either she’s broken too, or there’s something good in Ned that we just don’t see. Dave spoke up, his voice reaching me over the sound of his hose. “Good thing Ginger’s not here.” He nodded at what was left of the garden. “Fuckin’ bitch,” Ned said. “I wish she could see those roses. Serves her right.” Dave turned back to his car with a shake of his head. Ned went back to buffing, so I returned to the clothes spread across the massive, antique bed. Lacie had found it at the back of a barn full of junk claiming to be an antique store. She’d seen past the wooden crates, the lopsided bookshelves, the dough troughs that slept across its slats. She’d revarnished it and covered it with an overpriced comforter. I unleashed her smell every time I shifted in my sleep, with each piece of clothing I fingered. It was mostly work clothes I was going through, typical school attire, more Mrs. Granger than Lacie: shapeless dresses, silk blouses, linen pants, wool skirts, slips. But her jeans were there, too, and her nightgowns. Her peach one with the little-girl frill across the bottom. I set the peach nightgown aside, then scooped up the rest of the clothes and stuffed them into a waiting garbage bag. “You should come check it out,” Ned called. I climbed back onto the bedrail and watched through the blinds. “Diana’s cooking,” Dave said. “She’ll probably call me in any minute.” He turned off the hose and grabbed a towel. “See, that’s what I’m talkin’ about,” Ned continued. “Ginger can’t make me do nothin’ now. Good riddance to her. She never would have let me get a boat. Flat out refused to get a trailer. Look at me now.” He strutted back and forth in front of Nolookinback. Stepped into the garden and scooped up a handful of broken stems and drooping buds. Held the bouquet over his head in triumph. Over what I couldn’t be sure.
Elizabeth DelConteteaches English in Syracuse, New York, and has twice attended the Kenyon Review Writing Workshop. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and her poem Ode to Edna Pontellier recently appeared in Indolent Books’ What Rough Beast series.