Fiction

The Last Garden Contest

By: Jim Bates

“And the winner is…”

            Blake Jorgenson held his breath. This was it. This was his chance. Was this the year he’d win first place in the Long Lake Garden Contest? He closed his eyes and thought back over the past two years. The memories weren’t pretty: two years ago, second place; last year, third place. This year, could he hope, could he even begin to imagine that he’d win? “Yes,” he thought to himself, “Yes, he could.”

            Next to him Alicia, his wife of over forty years held his hand and said a silent prayer, “Please, please,” she thought to herself, “Please let this be his year. Please let him win.”

            Last year her husband had suffered a mild heart attack brought on by doing battle with a female rabbit who’d been spending much of the summer eating his prized flowers, especially his pretty blue and white and pink straw flowers, often referred to as bachlor buttons. He’d placed third, which to her highly competitive husband was unacceptable. A slap in the face really. And that wooden third place plaque he’d been awarded? Not even worth mentioning. This year Blake still had his heart set on winning first place and the big, shining, gold trophy that he’d already cleared a space for on the fireplace mantle in their living room.

            Alicia sighed, something, it seemed, she was doing way more often than she used to the last few years. She really could do without having a trophy in the living room for the whole world to see. There was no doubt in her mind about that. None at all.

            Blake felt the calming touch of Alicia’s hand in his, and he appreciated it, he really did. But he was here to win, not be gently encouraged by his wife. Or his friend, Toby, for that matter, who was standing with him too. Toby McCourt, his best buddy, the guy who’d loaned him the Haveaheart trap last year that he used to try to catch the pesky rabbit, the one he often referred to as That Damn Rabbit.

            Blake still bristled sometimes when he thought about it. The trap has proven useless, and the rabbit too smart or too uninterested, or too something, to be enticed into it. Yes, Mrs. Bunny Rabbit apparently was not the least bit interested in partaking of the delectable salad mixture he’d baited the trap with: romaine lettuce, baby carrots and sliced radishes. No. All she wanted were to eat his beloved nasturtiums, bachelor buttons, delphiniums and any other flowers she could sink her rabbity teeth into. It was horrible. Then, to add insult to injury, she started bringing her babies into his yard! Blake sighed at the upsetting memory. It had been a long summer last year, a long, long summer indeed.

            But this was a new year, and he felt he’d spent the intervening months wisely. He’d changed his diet, listened to his relaxation tapes and tried to learn how to calm down. Plus, and this was more to the point, he’d made a plan. Over the winter, he’d studied the behavioral habits of rabbits, specifically cottontails. He found out that among their favorite food was red clover and creeping charlie, plants considered by most, Blake included, to be weeds. They also liked watercress, collard greens, swiss chard. “Well,” thought Blake to himself, “Why not plant all of that for the rabbit to eat? If I grow what they like to eat, maybe the damned thing will stay away from my flowers.”

            And early this spring that’s exactly what he did. He dug out and planted a new garden, one especially for the rabbit. It was a five by ten-foot space, rich with sweet clover, creeping Charlie, watercress, collard greens and swiss chard. The plants had flourished (Blake really did have a green thumb) and the female rabbit fed exclusively there, in her garden, eating what she was supposed to eat. Blake was ecstatic at his success. He even got into the habit of spending a few minutes each day watching her, first, early in the season when she was all by herself, then later during the summer when she brought her seven babies. It was kind of cute, really, Blake thought to himself, when he wasn’t thinking about all the damage she’d done in years past.

            Feedback on the microphone drew his attention back to the present. The past was, as they say, past. This was now. It was a new Blake with a new, rabbit friendly garden, and now it was time to find out who the winner of this year’s garden contest was going to be.

            Everyone turned their attention to the small stage set outdoors down by Lakeside park. Gwendolyn Pickle, Long Lake City Council President, stepped to the mic and said in a voice loud and clear, “And the winner this year, for not only having a beautiful garden, but one that also is home to some of the critters and wild life in the neighborhood…The winner is Blake Jorgenson.”

            ” Finally,” thought Blake, “It’s about damn time.”

            Then he accepted the congratulations from his wife and Toby and about a hundred other people, none of whom he knew. But that was okay. He’d won. That was the main thing.

Later that evening, Blake and Alicia were strolling through the front yard, looking at the pretty flowers and waving at passersby who were stopping by to congratulate them. Then, just as the sun was dipping below the horizon, they took a moment to sit in a pair of white Adirondack chairs, strategically placed to give the viewer a sweeping view of the front yard and all the lovely gardens. After a few minutes Alicia said, “It’s such a wonderful evening. How about if I go inside and bring us out some nice iced tea? Would you like that?”

            Blake smiled at his wife, “Yes, I would, dear. Thank you.”

            He watched as she went inside and then turned his attention to his yard and his gardens. My how pretty everything looked, he thought to himself. The last year had been very trying, what with his heart attack and all. But he’d preserved, and now he’d won the first-place trophy. It was already proudly displayed inside on the fireplace mantel. His garden was the best in the city. Good for him.

            Blake felt wonderfully calm and at peace. All was right with his world. He sat silently as the twilight deepened, listening to the last song of a robin and the final cooing of a mourning dove. Over the past year he’d listened to many different types of relaxation tapes on his road to recovery, but there was something to be said about being in his own yard at sunset. It was better than any damn relaxation tape. He was in the natural world and it was real and it was right here, all around him. He felt himself mellowing out even more. After a few moments, he nodded off to sleep.

            A few minutes later, Alicia came out with their tea and found her husband dozing peacefully in his chair. She smiled and set his glass aside and then sat down to savor a sip of her own tea while she enjoyed the serenity of the quiet evening. Out of the corner of her eye she caught a movement. She looked closely and saw her husband’s nemesis, the big female rabbit, confidently hoping across the yard, carefully skirting the flower gardens, making her way to the sweet clover and watercress and creeping charlie – her garden. She had three young ones with her. Alicia watched as the mother and her young made a meal in the garden Blake had planted especially for them. She wondered if she should wake him so he could watch with her. No. Better let him rest. It’d been a long year. She closed her eyes and rested with him.

            In amongst the creeping charlie and clover the female and her young fed hungrily. The man had been nice to plant a garden for them. She had done her part and stayed out of his precious flowers. It’d been a nice year for her: abundant food, a nice litter of babies and, most importantly, no metal trap. She was happy.

            When they were finished feeding, the female led her young ones away, back to their burrow on the far side of the garage next door. On the way, she couldn’t help herself, she stopped and nibbled some of the man’s bachlor buttons. Oh, did they ever taste good! She’d almost forgotten how tasty they were. She encouraged her babies to have some. They all agreed it was a welcome change from their rather bland diet in ‘their garden.’ Then she led her little family away. Maybe tomorrow they’d come back for some more of the man’s flowers. As she hoped away, she thought about it for a few moments and then decided that, why not? She’d been a good little bunny rabbit all summer. She deserved a treat. Yes, that’s what she’d do. Tomorrow she’d come back for more of the man’s flowers. There were a lot of them for the taking. After all, there was only so much sweet clover and creeping Charlie a hungry rabbit family could eat. Especially with a garden full of so many other tasty flowers to choose from.

Categories: Fiction

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