The garden smelled overwhelmingly of lilacs. Lilacs weren’t like lilies, pungent and moribund, even the stargazers, they held the singular smell of spring. A smell that could stop her in her tracks and make her smile, inspire colorful inks to bleed across her imagination: mauve, and milk-spun indigo, but also this kelly green that Moira’s garden was made of, that rose out of the dirt every year with greater ferocity. It ate the dead gray of Falls Valley and spat back flowers. It was, like Moira, magical.
Willy didn’t like her to be here. It wasn’t safe because Moira didn’t believe in Jesus and she wasn’t saved. She also was not concerned about it, which, was worse.
But Moira knew how to make grilled cheese sandwiches and bake carrot cake and she was willing to tell her about her mother, even if, as Moira said, she was not, necessarily, a woman who left a lot to tell.
Today, though, was business. As Moira harvested herbs from a collection of terracotta pots that lined the porch steps, Lillie was given the task of pulling weeds out of the terraced garden and found it profoundly satisfying to dig a bit around, avoiding the wriggling worms that populated the beds, and expose the network of roots before yanking the dandelions all the way out without breaking the taproot. Moira hummed a tv jingle for a used car dealership. It used to be Crazy Hank’s Car before the days of political correctness and now was just Hank Teller Autos, but the crazy showed through in the gleam of the Hank’s eyes as he rattled off the deals on used Volvos and Buicks. But the jingle with its glockenspiels dancing below a three-part harmony advertising Cars, cars, cars! You can see our lot from Mars! was incredibly catchy and and Lillie bobbed her head along. In this soft, waning daylight, Lillie set about gleefully stabbing the dirt with her spade and digging out around the base of a particularly woody and intractable before gripping with two gloved hands around the sturdy neck of a Canadian thistle, grunting once and watching spatter of earth as she pulled it out and dropped onto the top of her heap of weedy carcasses.
Suddenly, Lillie turned her head towards her ad-hoc guardian, “I feel bad. It was just sitting here, living its life and we said it had to go. But I sorta like pulling them out of the ground.” The spiky thistle had left a few malicious prickles in her glove and Lillie sat on the stone seat nearby to carefully pluck them out.
“Alive, these ones here will choke out all the vegetables, the flowers, they won’t share the food in the soil, they just take. We take them out, and these plants can go in the compost and make life for plants that can feed us. Not that I think that’s a philosophy for people, but in a garden, we are the keepers, it’s alright to steal the dandelion’s fate.”
“What do you mean?” She screwed up her face in a smile, getting the last needle out the glove that was hidden in the fold between the thumb and index finger and putting the pink lined gloves back over her hands.
“I mean, go on, Lillie, pull those weeds.” Moira gestured with a grin. They worked for another half an hour or Lillie felt Moira’s own gloved hand on her shoulder.
“Come on, it’s getting late, you staying over now? I made us a pound cake for dessert, it’s got lemon in it which is from the store, but it also has lemon verbena which is right over there.” Lillie saw the little plant sitting in its own pot, painted with blue swirls. Moira said it was important to know what you ate because what you ate was what you were. If that was true, Willy was a frozen dinner.
Lillie chuckled to herself and followed Moira in through the screen door and towards the wooden table, past the empty plate-setting left for Tara, Moira’s sister, who Moira said was a spirit now, but somehow was still entitled to hot tea. She sat down in her usual chair with a few pillows beneath her for adequate height and readied her spoon.
She was about to mention the fact that Willy had told her that she wasn’t to stay over so much when Moira’s muscled forearm poured a thick, red liquid into her bowl. It didn’t steam, but the smell of garlic was heady.
“In this house, we read at the dinner table.” Moira sat down with her bowl and quickly slipped a thin pair of reading glasses on, and reached, seemingly at random for a book on the shelf. Lillie took her book, all about kids who ran away to live in a boxcar out of her backpack and slurped at what Moira called gazpacho.
So unlike anything she was given at home, so unlike her grandmother’s heavy-handed globs of starchy mashed potatoes and brick-like meatloaves, at her first taste she started laughing.
After the meal, Moira held her close, squeezed her arms into her ribs and planted a kiss on the top of her head. She whispered, “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. And for a good long while, we’ll keep it just so.”