“On the Importance of Growing”

Before his liver failed, Pop tended to the garden. I tend to it now. I did what Pop would’ve done. I started seeds under lights, turned compost, plowed, planted, watered, weeded, and pruned. I’m even picking now.

Pop’s a writer. He taught college with Amy Hempel. He always said, “Read Amy Hempel. It’s important.” I never got on with reading all of her. But, Amy’s all right. She had dinner with us once, laughed with Pop all night and ate nothing but tomato salad. I’ve suspected something between the two ever since.

Our garden is one of about forty in a field with a couple of pecan trees out by where you pay your water bill. Pay a little and you get yourself a plot of land with water access and hoses, even. I grew all heirlooms. Cherokee purple, brandywine, black krim, and some little green zebras. I like heirlooms best cause they don’t have those eroticized names like “beefsteak” and “big boy” you get from the big-box store.

Pop needs a liver transplant, that’s certain. So I spend a lot of time out at the garden hoping for car crashes, thinking about slick, purple livers on ice, and stretching my ears to hear ambulances. Maybe all my time out at the garden and me being in down spirits all the time over Pop is why Frankie said she had to end it with me. But, Frankie doesn’t even understand what growing’s about, anyway. She’s this one that always has self tanner on. Doesn’t even like the sun.

Pop’s a drinker, sure. Bet you he went through a bottle and some of wine before Amy Hempel even rang the doorbell. Then had another after she left and left nothing but her perfume hanging in the house. “Read Amy Hempel. Read Amy Hempel!” But, Amy really is all right. I remember glancing over at her when she had a slice of one of Pop’s brandywines on her fork up to her mouth. I was thinking her hair was so blonde it could just dry up and break off. But, I kept looking, maybe too long, and realized that her hair wasn’t dry, it was just so soft and fine it floated around her face like she was under water.

Frankie did it to me under a big umbrella by the pool. I was wet and shaking, standing over her. She’s lying there in the shade with sunglasses on. She says, “It’s important that you get over this quickly. We’re grown-ups now.” I thought about tearing up.

Now I’m out at the garden plucking a big brandywine off the vine and I hear an ambulance a ways off. When I turn it over, the tomato is all cat-faced on its bottom. It’s pulled in on itself and scarred a leathery brown. I must have damaged the blossom when it flowered. I take my knife out and slice the thing right through the equator. My hand is wet and dripping. There are the seeds, flesh, and jelly, the pinks, reds, and purples. When I look up, Amy Hempel is walking toward me, blurred around the edges in the heat. Her face is glistening. She tells me Pop has passed. She hugs me and I get pink on her white blouse. My face gets wet and I smear it around her cheek, neck, and hair. I whisper in her ear things about Frankie. I tell her that I need her, mommy, and that I love her. My lips are around her earlobe. Amy Hempel pushes me away, has her hands on my shoulders. I see her hair has taken on the flashes of the sun. She looks right at me, but I can’t make her out in the noon light.

“Gordy,” she says. Says my pet name just like that. “It’s important that you–” But she can’t finish the line, which I find mighty odd for such a writer. Read Amy Hempel.

About Noel C Hoffman

Noel C. Hoffman is a Canadian raised in Alabama. He holds a B.A. in International Trade and Spanish from Auburn University and an M.B.A. from the University of New Orleans. He is a fiction editor with Kudzu House Quarterly, works with Gigantic Magazine out of Brooklyn, and cofounded and coedits the writing community, www.simmr.org. His work can be found at Newfound Journal, Crack the Spine, The Monarch Review, Kudzu House Quarterly, and elsewhere. Contact him through www.noelcoblickhoffman.com.