Fiction

Mellowing Out

By: Jim Bates

Alicia Jorgenson set the cup down and said, “Here you go, Blake. A nice cup of chamomile tea for you.”

            Blake held up a hand, smiled his thanks, and said in a low voice, “Come and join me. This will be done in just a minute.” Then he closed his eyes and went back to his relaxation tape, ear buds firmly in place, listening to the melodic strains of “Trickling Forest Stream.”

            Alicia went to the kitchen, made herself a cup, came back to the den and sat down. She wasn’t sure what to think about her husband, recovering from the mild heart attack he’d suffered earlier in the summer. A heart attack six weeks ago brought on by his obsession with his garden and with ridding it of the female rabbit and her babies that had taken over. He’d wanted to win first place in the garden contest this year after settling for second place last year. Well, this year he’d placed third.

            Alicia remembered the outcome of the judging very well. At the time, Blake had been into his third week of recovery. When the announcement was made, Alicia had expected him to explode and rant and rave and go completely nuts and out of his mind. It would have been par for the course given his competitive nature. But he hadn’t even gritted his teeth or swore an oath of revenge. Instead, he’d shrugged his shoulders and grinned, “We’ll, at least it’s something,” meaning the third-place award, a simple plaque, not the shining gold trophy he’d envisioned. It was so out of character for her high-strung husband, that she’d had to look twice to see if the tall, slightly overweight man she’d been married to for over forty years really was, in fact, the same man. He definitely was. Maybe, Alicia thought to herself, as she went back to sipping her tea in companionable silence while Blake finished listening to the trickling stream, maybe he really was starting to change.

At just that moment, Becky Johnson and Maggie Jones, two old friends who had outlived each of their respective husbands by over twenty years, were walking past Blake’s house.

            “Look at how lovely the pink geraniums are looking in those hanging baskets,” Becky remarked.

            “Humph. That Blake, he’s such a jerk,” Maggie rejoined, “Thinks he knows everything about gardening.”

            “Well, his flower beds do look awfully nice.”

            “He’s just so full of himself. He doesn’t even bother to help out at the community garden. He’s a jerk in my book.”

            The garden Maggie was talking about was the recently established Long Lake Community Garden, a lovely planting space donated to the city by Wilber Smith and his wife Edith after they had passed away. The two friends volunteered their time, both being avid gardeners themselves, usually for a few hours most mornings before the summer days became too hot.

            Becky grinned at her friend. Deep down she agreed with her assessment of their arrogant neighbor, but she enjoyed winding Becky up occasionally. It helped keep their friendship interesting. It was easy to do, too, since Maggie had opinions on nearly everything and everybody under the sun, Blake Jorgenson being near the top of the list. Not that either of them was happy he’d suffered his heart attack. They weren’t those kinds of people, not at all. But they both secretly agreed that Blake really was, in their opinion, a little too big for his britches. Plus, the fact that the heart attack, which had been brought on when he’d freaked out over what he referred to as “That Damn Rabbit,” well, you had to admit, in the right context, it was kind of funny.

            That being said, Becky pointed and grinned. There was the aforementioned rabbit, calm and unafraid, nibbling contentedly on one of Blake’s orange nasturtiums. She was about to shoo it away when Maggie put her hand on her friend’s arm to stop her. Becky just grinned, “Okay. He does sort of deserve it, doesn’t he?”

            The two smiled at each other and continued walking on, arm in arm, happily enjoying the tranquility of a quiet August morning, ambling down the street and away from both Blake’s garden and the healthy-looking rabbit, who, having finished with the nasturtiums was now moving on to some delectable looking bachelor buttons.

Back inside, Blake’s tape had ended. He happened to glance outside and spied the two elderly ladies. “Look at those two old bitties,” he said to Alicia. “God, they’re so high and mighty.” He took a gulp of his supposed relaxing tea, choked on it a little and coughed.

            Alicia patted him on the back. “Blake, calm down. You know what your doctor said.”

            “I know, ‘You’ve got to try and learn how to relax and mellow out,'” he said, in a sing-song voice, mimicking the words of Dr. Rose, a doctor chosen by Blake as much for his last name as anything else. “I’m trying.”

            Alicia took a sip of her tea, “I know you are dear, but you really do need to try harder. Especially when it comes to your gardening. It’s supposed to be fun you know. Relaxing. A hobby.”

            Blake gazed at his wife with affection. Of course, she was right. He wasn’t a dummy. He knew that for the sake of his health he needed to learn how to relax, but it was hard. If it wasn’t for that Damn Rabbit, he’d have won first place in the garden show this year. A big, shining, gold trophy instead of that stupid wooden plaque. Everyone said so. But, no, Mrs. Bunny Rabbit had chosen this summer to not only return to the neighborhood, but to have about a million babies, all of which she brought to feed on his prized flowers. Damn it, life just wasn’t fair. He felt himself getting worked up all over again. Alicia was right. He really did need to learn to calm down. To mellow out, as the doctor had said.

            He took a deep breath and let it out, “I know, dear,” he said, sighing.

            Alicia stood up. “Well, that’s good. Now, I’ve got some errands to run. I’ll be stopping at the grocery store. Need anything?”

            How about a shotgun for that Damn Rabbit, Blake thought to himself, but, instead, said, “No, I’m good.” He paused and added, smiling, half way joking, half way not, “How about maybe something stronger than this tea?” He grinned and mimicked a drinking motion.

            “Blake,” Alicia admonished him, “You know what the doctor said.”

            “I know. No booze. No red meat. No nothing fun. I get it. Tea and saltines.” He sighed again, starting to feel just ever so slightly sorry for himself.

            “It’s not that bad. All of us just want you to get better.” She bent to give him a kiss on the forehead, “I’ll see you in a little while.” She patted him on the arm, “Good bye, dear.”

            Blake waved her goodbye and returned to his iPod and his relaxation music. He scrolled down the playlist until he found, “Soft Springtime Rain,” and set it playing. He sat back and closed his eyes, dreaming of better days. Better days when that rabbit was finally gone. They couldn’t come soon enough as far as he was concerned. It was frustrating. All the time he put into his garden, gone to waste. Third place. What a disappointment. Alicia didn’t care about the award, she just liked to garden. Maybe he should be more like her. Food for thought. On the other hand, maybe he really should get a gun and blow that rabbit to Kingdom Come. He thought about it for minute or so, picturing a disgusting, bloody scene. Naw. He could never harm any animal, even the rabbit, much as he despised it. Maybe he really should learn how to relax. Yeah, that would be the best thing to do. He signed once again, leaned back in his chair and drifted off to sleep, the sound of soft summer rain in his ears.

            Blake didn’t see it, and it was probably a good thing, too, that out in the garden the female rabbit that Maggie and Becky had seen was still there, only now her four babies had joined her. They moved as a group through the flowers, happily feeding on newly sprouted bachelor buttons and whatever other delectable treat they could find. They were so many choices. After a few minutes, before they became too full, the big female gathered her young ones to her and led them away. She had learned over time to never completely eat all the food in a given location. She always left some for another day, and that’s what she did now.

            She began making her way to a field of clover across the street and the next block over, down by the railroad tracks. The clover was sweet and tasty, a nice change from the flowers in the man’s garden. In fact, the more she thought about it, maybe she’d just leave his garden alone for the rest of the season. There was whole summer’s supply of clover, fresh for the taking in the field. She could always come back to the man’s garden. Anytime. If not this year, for sure next year. As she hoped along leading her babies, she made her decision. She wouldn’t return for the rest of the season, but next year she’d be back. Maybe with a new batch of babies, too. Why not? It made perfect sense to her. She liked almost all the flowers in the man’s garden. The food was good for her babies, a welcome change from the clover in the field. Besides, in a way she felt she owed it to the man, especially since he had so thoughtfully planted such a lovely garden with all those delectable flowers. It was almost like he had done it just for her. She was finished with his garden for this year, but next year? Next year she’d be back for sure.

Categories: Fiction

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