I was ready to go back to bed or make a drink. Poor choices, but grief does that. It was 10 o’clock in the morning a month after Deirdre’s funeral. I tackled the first problem on my list of chores and looked up landscapers in the Yellow Pages.
“I’ve got devils growing in my garden. Can you get rid of them?”
“You talking crabgrass? Moss? Grubs?”
“No. One. A little….” I didn’t want to use the D word again, worried the landscaper would hang up. “I’m not a botanist. You have to see it.”
I’d heard about devils growing in a rich guy’s lawn. Rich people don’t have yards. They have lawns. This was some banker in Kansas — Wichita, I think. The landscaper turned in the guy to the religious wing nuts who ran the town. Self-styled evangelicals and the like. They picketed his house, then they posted signs that it was okay to kill the banker because he consorted with the devil.
My wife, Deirdre, had told me to keep quiet about politics and religion. “Just shut up about it,” she said.
“But, you can’t let this stuff get away from you,” I argued. “Evangelist is an anagram for ‘evil’s agent.’” Matter of fact, the rich guy was shot to death going to the drugstore to get the Sunday paper. A 13-year-old did it. A mental defect, yeah, but one with a fully licensed assault rifle. That’s what happened to my wife last month. A crazy guy in a 7-Eleven did it, and I keep asking why. Why’s the world going crazy?
Larry’s Landscaping truck pulled up in front of my house. Not in the driveway. That was too close to indicating he’d take the job.
“Let’s check this out,” Larry said. Judging by his truck and demeanor — maybe the cigar jammed in his mouth like a rotten fence pole — I believe he was more a yard maintenance guy than a landscaper.
I pointed to a patch of ground. “Under that dirty elm.
“That’s not a dirty elm,” he challenged.
“It’s dirty to me. The damn roots pop up yards away. I have to cut the grass twice a week just to get rid of them.” I pointed to the little spike sticking up near the surface roots. “See the devil there? Red spike with tiny horns.”
Larry peered at the thing, then stepped back. “You should get some Roundup. Kill the mother.”
“And everything else in the neighborhood?” I’d had enough with death and dying.
“Cheaper than me doing it at 75 an hour.” He turned and walked away. Right over my petunia bed.
I was alone, except I wasn’t. There was the devil in the garden. The problem bedeviled a lot of people, like that guy in Kansas. Or the legislator we once had for a couple of terms. He found ground devils. Soon afterwards, he turned liberal, denounced the Repubs and began sitting on the other side of the legislature in the State House. Then he simply got up and walked away and was never seen again.
Back to the Yellow Pages, only to have three different companies hang up when I used the D word. One even screamed, “Fag Commie pervert, you deserve what you get.”
Meantime, the devil had grown another foot taller, taking on a funny shape.
That night, sitting on my patio with a beer, I could hear the devil singing, maybe humming. Hard to make out what it was, like a siren’s song. Not a police siren. Those Greek singers who lured sailors onto the rocks. The song was louder than the night before. I wished my wife was here to tell me what to think.
My neighbor, Morty, came over to sympathize. “We live in a funny age,” he said. Morty was a doleful person. “Who knows what these devils are doing to people? It’s like those Asians exporting invasive species. Walking catfish. Fire ants and killer bees. Now we got aliens that attack our lawns. Next thing, our schools and churches. And don’t get me started about weird processed food, things that we least suspect.”
“Maybe it’s a sign. Not really a plague. Could even be a nice plague.”
“You know, miracles and signs are highly suspect.” His elbow poked me for emphasis. “It’s like those people who see an image of Jesus in the screen door. Hey, woman in Florida sold her piece of toast with the image of the Virgin Mary. Got twenty-eight thousand for it.”
“All I know is that the little bugger is growing fast. Into a big devil.”
I was mystified when the doorbell rang. Clock said midnight. I expected Morty, but it was a tall woman with long wavy hair, a heart-shaped shaped face and a smile. She was draped in a transparent white gown, but like some biblical prophet, she didn’t seem to have any possessions. No car keys, purse, cell phone. This was a woman without so much as the fig leaf I remember from my Illustrated Old Testament.
She stepped in and I watched her track dirt. Garden dirt. From my back yard. Deirdre would’ve been pissed. I began to suspect why the Kansas banker and the lawmaker who’d gone liberal got that way. This wasn’t a devil. It was an invasive species of angel come to distract me. From what? My grief? The betrayal of love that my wife had taken with her?
This one with the muddy feet didn’t speak. I did the only polite thing. I invited her to sit down and put a beer in her hand. Artisanal beer seemed okay to her.
She never said a word, just smiled with all the radiance of a sunrise. I tried to find some way to communicate. “Are…you…from…New Jersey?” I asked. “You lost?” English wasn’t working, so I put my hand on her arm. Braille seemed to work better than English. She reached out with two fingers and put them on my forehead. Wow!
Those fingers worked like Walgreens’ best pain killer. Stuff for spiritual pain. She sat and smiled silently for the longest time while I sifted memories. I thought she might be sleepy since it was since it was two in the morning. I took her smile for a yes.
Angela — which is what I named my mute companion — stayed in the spare bedroom. I was surprised she was still there when I peeked in the next morning. Watching her sitting on the bed staring and smiling made me feel blessed. I felt now I could manage the crap at home, the bills and taxes and stuff Deirdre used to handle that was making me crazy. It was like I had renewed faith. I could cope instead of going ballistic, even if Angela waved goodbye and went to the next suffering bastard.
Morty came to the hedge when I went out to get the mail. “Still bedeviled?” He winked, punched me in the shoulder.
“Not really a problem, Mort. No devil to speak of.”
“Never know,” he said. “We live in a funny age. Miracles of all kinds are suspect. Miracle workers may really be insane people.” He gave me a funny look.
“Maybe we’re all going mad,” I told him. “Look at those palookas in Washington, Congress and all. But there’s a difference between madness and evil. Between sanity and grace. Perhaps there’s salvation in our self-destruction.” I smiled and went back inside to see what Angela was doing.
But she was gone, like the dew in the morning sun. I sat on the edge of the bed, on the impression she had made, and said, “Yes.” I didn’t know what questions to ask about Angela. Or Deirdre. But I knew there were answers.
# # #
Bio: Walt bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, speculative fiction to romance. His work has appeared in over a score of print and online publications. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, are available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other online booksellers. He's also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and a couple of Asian countries