This story by Jeanne Martin was one of the runners up in our Three-Minute Fiction contest.
On Saturday morning, I go into the kitchen at 7:30. Like most weekend mornings, he stands at the kitchen window drinking a cup of tea, dressed in jeans and a zippered sweat shirt. In his stocking feet and jeans, he seems slimmer and more fragile than he does on a weekday in a white shirt and tie, slacks and polished oxfords. His profile is black against the early spring light that washes all the color from the scene. We sit down to toast and the morning paper. But as soon as we have eaten, he puts on his cap and gloves and a pair of ancient boots and goes out to garden.
Later, I watch as he kneels at the curb, patting the loose black soil flat over the sunflower seeds, building up low berms around the level space. Then he takes five of last year's stalks and pokes them upside down around the bed, their roots raised to the sky, plant guardians offering a plant prayer.
From time to time, I hear him talking or laughing. He is a neighborhood fixture, and the joggers headed for the park and the early risers headed for the coffee shop greet him. He also talks to the birds. He is an affectionate scold, and I know from long experience that he calls all the crows "trickster." What a tricky one, he says. You are such a trickster. In the spring, he protects the sunflowers with a small shelter constructed of sticks and netting; it takes hours to make it crowproof. But the sunflowers grow straight and tall, and he leaves them standing through the cold months. In winter, he will watch the crows and jays fly down and harvest every last seed.
The garden changes a little each year, but slowly. Friends sometimes give him seeds or an extra bedding plant. He buys packets of zinnias, sunflowers and chard from the grocery store, nothing very exotic. He favors red and yellow tulips, zinnias of the most lurid pink and orange hues, and the rainbow chard mixture. When plants reseed themselves, he is pleased with the free gift. Thinking he must know a lot about gardening, people ask his advice on choosing plants or fertilizer or how much to water. But he feigns no expertise or even curiosity beyond whether to sow early or late, in sun or shade, and even these rules fall before convenience or whim.
Here and there, he has piled up little cairns of rocks dug out of the soil over the years. Pieces of polished granite and tile cadged from remodeling sites joined the rocks and became puddles of reflected sky. A couple of years ago, he started picking up shiny or colorful bits of urban detritus, a button here, a key there, a copper penny, a guitar pick, a single broken earring. I watched as he slid them into his jacket pocket and then put them into the garden.
I can see him now, his head tipped up toward the fir tree. I can hear the agitated squawk of a crow hidden in the green-black shadows. He puts his hands in his hip pockets and cocks his head to one side. A trick of the light turns the silhouette of his hat into a beak, his bent elbows into wings.