I'm Laura Wildmann
It's 9:49 AM. From my room, I can hear my mother playing one of her Beethoven CDs on the stereo downstairs. Beethoven's 6th symphony at the moment. My mother and I live in a two-level apartment in the medium-sized city of Terryvile. She's a classical-music-and-everything-else nut. She's five one, slim, and has shoulder length honey-colored hair. I've never seen her do anything normal besides eating, but even with that, she's always cooking up something--different. If you're wondering who I am, my name is Laura Wildmann. I'm sixteen, with brown curly hair, a light reddish-brown complexion and if you must know, one quarter black, another American Indian, and half white. When I'm out with my mom, who is white, some rude people ask if I was adopted. Some people...
Today is the first day of summer--that is, as in out of school, summer break--and my mom wants me to do something "constructive." Last week, I suggested the addition of a skylight to my room, she disagreed, and so got the permission of our building manager to use the back lot and now I'm stuck with gardening. Mrs. Parker, who my mother visits at the garden center whenever she goes, says it's pretty late to start from seeds but not to set out plants, not to mention plants would be easier for me to start with. Next year, I have to use seeds. Plants are, according to my mother, too expensive for as long as they last, not to mention, too easy.
After I get out of bed I throw on some clothes and stride down the stairs to the living room and proceed to the kitchen. Mother has set two places at the kitchen table and is slopping yellow grits onto my plate.
"Morning, Laura," she says as she walks to the other side of the table to plop grits on her plate.
"Good morning Mother," I say, and yes I do call her "Mother." She makes me.
"It's getting late. You need to hurry to the garden store because you don't want to be out in the sun this afternoon planting them do you?"
"No," I reply. I take a couple of raspberry biscuits from the pan on the stove and sit at my place. She puts the pot of grits on the stove and sits down as well.
"Hot out of the oven," Mother says referring to the biscuits, as she cracks one to spread squash butter in it. "Tomorrow, if you're not up, I'm not going to wait on you to make breakfast. I have to eat too you know. I may be an artist, but I don't have to starve." Oh yeah, she's an artist too. I really think that she's just trying too hard to do everything. I wish she'd take a break every now and then.
"Hey," she says as she touches my hand, "I sold one of my musicals this morning." By musical she means one of her video compositions of beautiful countrysides and forests, where we'll never live, accompanied by music she composes--classical, of course. "Someone who is holding a landowners seminar liked it and wants to use it between their talks. Isn't that something." She clasps her hands together and throws her head back.
"That's great." I try to show some enthusiasm but she doesn't find it convincing.
"What's wrong Laura? Do you know what this means? It's a whole new field I can get into. I could make a little more money--we might be able to afford a better place; maybe a house of our own, with a backyard. Laura?"
"MotherI don't want you to do something else. Why can't you just stick with what you're doing now?" I whine. Very unlike me.
"Laura, please." She sighs and stirs some squash butter into her grits, "I'm only trying to do what I think is best for you."
"I know, but you're working all the time, too much as it is. I don't have any friends here"
"Honey," she breaks in, "all you have to do is be outgoing. Just summon up a little courage and walk up to someone and say 'I want to be your friend.'"
"Mother, its not that simple. I can't do that, I mean I have to find someone with similar interests, uh, umm…" I stammer for excuses but can't think of any so I conveniently place a spoonful of grits into my mouth. Then a biscuit, and another spoonful of grits.
She puts down her spoon and sits back in her chair. "Laur, you're just being chicken," she says shaking her head slowly, smiling, "and you're too afraid to admit it."
"Uh Uh!" I protest.
She gets up from her chair and comes in back of me. She puts her hands on my shoulder and whispers into my ear,"Uh huh." But before I can respond, she quickly grabs her plate from the table and takes it to her work area in the living room. I'm left to eat my biscuits and finish my grits alone.
I spent a few more minutes finishing my breakfast. When I finished, I got some money from Mother.
"Be sure to spend it on plants and their essentials only. OK?"
"What if I see something interesting?" I query.
"That's it? What if it's plant related?"
"I said essentials, and I mean essentials."
I said, "fine," and within a few minutes, was on my bicycle to the garden center of the chain department store (I'm not saying which). I never knew her to be so strict. On my way, I contemplated the ease in which people get me to do things. I'm a teenager, but I'm not doing any of the typical teen things: hanging out with friends, and whatever. Oh my goodness! I suddenly come to a realization. I'm gardening. Gardening!
"Hey! Watch it!" Some angry gray-haired man was yelling at me. I seemed to have grazed him with a bicycle handle. "Maniac," he mumbles, but audible enough for me to hear. There weren't too many people walking now, and I had to hit this one.
The buildings lining the road were once homes, but many had been converted into businesses. Most were two story, a few three. Every now and then, I'd pass a tree shooting up from protected holes in the cracked sidewalk.
Oops. I ran a red light as I was turning onto the main road through town. I suppose I'd better concentrate on the task at hand. There are two cars up ahead. One red, the other white. A blue car just went by going in the opposite direction. Wait a second. Those two cars are stopping. That's right, two kids are crossing the street at a crosswalk. One of the kids is carrying what looks like a skateboard. When I stop I decide to check out the action behind me.
"Oh no, not again," I say to myself. A man that's been stalking me for as long as I can remember is standing about ten yards behind me. When I look at him, he looks away. He's kind of tall, with curly, light brown hair and a wimpy-looking mustache. Today he's wearing a bland yellow sports coat with matching slacks and a blue shirt, and he's wearing sunglasses. Every time I tell my mother about him she just tells me to ignore him. Yeah, right. He's probably some kind of rapist or maybe a child molester. He hasn't made his move yet, but when he does...I kinda get the jitters just thinking about it.
The kids up ahead have finished crossing, and the cars waiting have started, so I resume pedaling. A quick glance behind reveals that the man has began walking in the same direction. I peddle faster, he picks up his pace.
We continued in this fashion until I got to the garden center. I chained my bike to the bike rack right out front and went inside. Mr. Stalker, as I've come to call him, stayed outside.
As the doors opened, the sweet-earthy aroma of moist potting soil and flowering plants came out to greet me. After being outside in the heat, the high humidity around all these plants nearly made me pass out. A net served as a ceiling, allowing filtered sunlight to reach the plants below. A couple of large ferns caught my eye. I checked the price of these "Boston Ferns" and was stunned. Eighty-five dollars. If plants were this expensive, I wasn't going to be able to afford even one.
"Laura. Can I help you?" It was Mrs. Parker.
"No, No. I just thought that a few plants wouldn't cost that much," I said pointing to the ferns.
"Oh," she said and gave a hearty laugh, but then tried to control it when she saw the look on my face. "Those prices are for mature perennial plants--old ones. You did want some simple sets didn't you?"
"Like corn and stuff?"
"Yes. They're very inexpensive. I have a sweet white variety that's 99¢ by the tray. That's, uh, let me see." She closed her eyes as if trying to remember something from way back when. She was still pretty sharp considering she was in her eighties. "Ah, yes. That's sixteen per tray. There are eight little mini-pots with two corn shoots each," she said and smiled. When she put her arm on my shoulders to guide me to the "vegetable start" section, I got a powerful whiff of a whole lot of something I assumed was perfume. Oddly, I didn't smell it until I was within physical contact of her. I tried to keep a smile on my face as she explained and described the plants to me.
"These here," she said while pointing to what looked like overgrown grass shoots, "are the corn I was talking about. They need plenty of nitrogen so you'll either need some chemical fertilizer, or something organic like compost. And from what I here about that lot of yours, you're going to need the compost. It'll soften up the soil, and help it to retain water.
"Here are some tomatoes, over there," she says, pointing just to my right, "are watermelon"
"You mean I could have watermelons if I took these!"
"I don't see why not, as long as they get enough water. Hence their name." She giggled at what she thought was funny. "Anyway..."
Hmm. Gardening seemed like more fun than I thought, at least after all the work has been done. What do you do with a garden besides eat stuff from it. Maybe take a nap. Something suddenly came to mind.
"...and if you"
"Mrs. Parker. What about flowers?"
"I'd like to have a flower garden as well as a vegetable garden."
"Sure. Sure, we have some flowers here." She led the way back to the flower section. "Do you know what kind you want?"
"Not really," I said, trying to think of an interesting flower.
"Maybe sunflowers. They're easy to grow."
She pointed to one of them and I looked at the little marker stuck in the soil. It said that this variety could grow up to be eight to twelve feet tall. "This isn't going to be easy," I said under my breath.
"What was that Dear?"
I came out of the store with a tray of white sweet corn (sixteen of them), a six-pack of tomatoes, a four-pack of seedless watermelon--the ones that are yellow inside; how interesting. I decided to wait on the flowers since I could get bulbs and tubersthe root kind of part of plantsfor a whole lot less than ones that are potted, and when planted, they're instant leaves and flowers. However, Mrs. Parker insisted I buy a packet of sunflower seeds. She says they should get big enough to flower and set seed before winter sets in.
After I evenly distributed the bags on the handle bars of my bike, I searched the parking lot for Mr. Stalker. He was returning a shopping cart to the cart corral. When I gave him a wave, he abruptly turned away and pretended that he was not watching me. As I started back home, I could see he was still following me. So much for being friendly.
It's kind of strange the way Mr. Stalker disappears when I get close to home. After unloading my bike and putting it away, I went inside carrying the bags. When I got to Mother's work area, I gave the packet of sunflower seeds to her.
"Since I have to start from seeds next year, I think it's only fair that you plant these this year." Mother looked at the seeds as if she didn't know what to do. "So..."
"'Giant Greystipe'? So what?"
"Are you going to plant it?" I begin to take all the plants from the bags.
Mother saves the work she was doing on the computer and turns off the monitor. "I don't have time to plant these. Can't you do it? I mean, you're already going to be setting out those plants."
I didn't give her an answer and went through the kitchen, and out of the sliding door leading outside before she could say anymore. There was a shed in the back lot, and I was able to find a shovel among other things. When I tried to dig into the dirt, the shovel wouldn't go in. I managed to balance on the head of the shovel and jump up and down on it. This only bent it. Hoping no one would be looking for this shovel anytime soon I placed it in back of some old paintings in the shed and found a fork. A digging fork.
Trying to abstain from the same technique that ended the useful life of the shovel, I was finally able, after some effort, to break out a large clump of rock solid "dirt". I checked my watch. I'd come out at 10:51 it was now 11:34. This is going to take a while. I was feeling very hot and so decided to go back inside and cool off for a while.
"You haven't given up already?" Mother asks when she comes into the kitchen and sees me stretched out on the floor.
"That's not dirt out there," I say, "It's hard...hard, andit's just too hard to work with."
"What! Shouldn't you have done that before you bought the plants?"
"No. I didn't know. This is the first time I've planted anything you know."
"Laura," she sighed.
"What do you expect me to do?"
"You could try softening it up."
"With what?" I say defiantly.
"With water." She says this with a dumb look.
I felt a little dumb after hearing this. Of course water turns dirt into mud. I suppose I was so preoccupied with finding an excuse to stop that I wasn't really trying to think of a solution.
After getting a quick drink from the fridge, I head back out into the desert. After searching for what seemed like hours, I managed to find a hose. When I turned the water on, it rushed over the hard surface of the dirt, mixing with the dust and then drained into the cracks that the big clumps of dirt formed. I figured it would take quite a while for the water to soak into the clumps so I watered the plants to keep them from drying out before I planted them the next day.
The next day, after letting the soil soak. I checked it and it was reasonably soft. I dug up a small four by four foot area. Following the directions of the little markers included, I planted the tomatoes. Since I hadn't eaten breakfast, I decided to take a break and eat.
Mother had to meet with a prospective client this morning, so I treated myself to a regular bowl of raisin bran. Because I was feeling so good, I decided to have a second.
By the time I got back outside it was a quarter past noon. To my horrified astonishment, the tomatoes were so wilted that their tops touched the ground. In a state of panic, I grabbed the hose, turned on the water, which came gushing out and drowned the tomatoes. Now instead of having six wilted tomatoes, I had five muddy, wilted tomatoes, and one uprooted one.
When my sanity returned to me, I could see the terrible mess I'd made of the patch. I replanted the displaced tomato, and cleaned off as best I could the ones in mud puddles once the water drained. It seems that gardening isn't going to be as easy as it had seemed.