Summer sausage, sandwiched between thick cut scraps of sharp cheddar cheese sat naked on the rusting hood of a powder blue dodge pick-up. The cheese gripped tightly to the ridged hood and kept the sausage, still complete in its faux skin, from sliding down and onto the gravel driveway beneath. The air was thin and crisp, even for a cold April morning and the hood was steely cool. The round edges of the sausage protruded on either side from the yellow-orange cheese and its fatty white flecks were exposed to the cool air. The congealed flesh and gristle, processed, but not devoid of its animal taughtness, glistened in the cool sun. The maroon wrapper, slightly peeled on one side flapped as the wind whipped past it, gave the meat a tough exterior, but the center of the sausage, with its gel-like softness and yet underlying density gave the animal protein and lard a cold, harsh aura.
Ned’s dark, rough hands could not feel the powdery grip of the cheese, but the size of the morsel felt natural as he brought the beef and cheese to his lips. A few swift bites, the substance nearly sectioned itself, and Ned sent the beef to the fierce, fiery furnace below. His stomach was the only entity within himself which could cause him pain. His throat and chest burned ceaselessly with the gastric juices from within. A strange sense of satisfaction ran through Ned when he appeased his stomach momentarily with the processed but seemingly raw animal products. He stoked the internal flames, knowing well, that his steady diet of Banquet ® Chicken Pot Pies, summer sausage, sharp cheddar, and bacon was the cause of his internal broiler.
He leaned against the grill of the car and closed his eyes. Consistent weariness lent Ned to fits of closed-eye thought sessions. Halfway through his work day didn’t seem close enough to being able to retire to the Pink Flamingo trailer park. Slowly, the strange sandwiches disappeared from the hood, and were replaced by a little Debbie and can of coke. Slow sips from the Coca-cola classic reinvigorated his dormant heartburn, and he tried to quell it with bites from a zebra cake. When the cake was gone, he took one last swig from the aluminum can and tossed it into his fire red lunch cooler. The zebra cake wrapper blew away with a gust of wind and Ned’s crunching footsteps followed after it and stomped on it to hold it to the ground. He gingerly bent over at the waist grabbed the wrapper, and joined it with the Coca-cola in his cooler.
Back to work, he picked up his hoe and returned to the freshly exposed soil. The soil was rich and full, the way freshly roasted coffee beans smell. On either side of the patch of naked ground, were large trees, looming as if from another era, fully matted below with grass, still brown from the winter’s bite. Ned traded his hoe for a spade and shored up the kidney-shaped outline which he was cutting from the grass. More fresh soil lay below, seemingly nourished by the healthy grass above it. This too, Ned stroked with the hoe, recreating an untainted earth, preserved from weeds by years of pesticides aimed at keeping the blanket of
The thin, scrawny, crab apple tree was always hard to remove from the truck. He rolled it down gently from the mulch pile, his hands scrapping on the knotty trunk. He slid two 2x4 pieces of lumber from the truck and placed them in position so he could roll the root ball downwards. The burlap sac surrounding the mass of dirt and tangled roots felt soft and gentle in Ned’s hands and he relished the experience. The small tree, constrained from below by the twine and burlap confines would soon be liberated to the deep coffee-rich soil below. Like a freed bird its roots would extend, farther and farther from home, perching amongst the roots of other plants, flowers, and trees.
After an hour of softly scooping out the cold, hard earth beneath the top soil, Ned laid the crab apple tree on its side and reached into his back packet. Warmed on one side from his back and cool on the other from the air, Ned extended the blade from its steel case and began working through the burlap. Once sliced, the burlap easily rips, frayed edges splitting unevenly to each side, like a curtain being torn from top to bottom exposing the beauty of the roots below. Clumpy dirt surrounds puny scraps of root, with nothing about it to which one would be attracted.
Arranged adequately in the hole Ned began scooping dirt around the edges of the root. His booted foot, pressed down on the deep soil to harden the dirt around the tender root. More dirt, more feet, more shovel, less air. Deeper and deeper he imagined the roots growing, spreading throughout this man-made garden. Retreating to the nearby house, he extended the coils of a dormant hose to the source. Stretching the cobwebs along with the house, he traversed the thick bluegrass towards his crab apple tree. Softly, gently, he slid the mouth of the house in to the densely packed earth.
As he walked back to the house, he checked his watch. Three hours since lunch, not quite time yet. When working on a job alone, he could put in longer hours, not distracted by the nuisances of conversations. He turned on the water, and watched it surge along the hose. Back at the tree, he heard it filling up the earthen jar he had carved below. The ground around the tree slowly pulsed, occasionally a bubbling up would occur. Ned watched momentarily before returning to the truck. He pulled a wheel barrow from the back and began to fill it with mulch from the bed. When he pulled the top off the fresh mulch, steam from the organic decomposition warmed the local air. He blanketed the area around the tree with the shredded remnants of its brothers. The warm, moist nuggets leave a dark brown goodness on his hands. With his hands he crafts a moat of sorts around the crab apple tree, enshrining royalty and supplying the web of spreading roots with a wash of fresh, cold water.
Quickly, smoothly, handily with the ungraceful precision that only years of muscle memory provide, Ned scooped out dirt around the fringes of the bed, providing small holes only as big as his foot. Twelve of them buffered the edges of the kidney shaped cut-out. Over his shoulder he carried a large bag of peat moss, wrapped tightly in thin white and green plastic. He set it down with a thud between to holes and wisps of dusty peat smoked through the air. With his shovel, he split the bag, from top to bottom, exposing the light brown powder to the crisp air. He placed half a scoop in each hole, carefully mixing it by hand with the soil below. Twelve leafy green hostas he molded to the earth, firm as stones in their foundation.
With a quick yank, he pulled the water from the crab tree moat, and let it splash on the now dried open ground. As a healer prays over the crippled, he raised his arm over each hosta, sprinkled a splash of water on the leaves before bathing the soil around the plants with the water. With weary arms, he finished the job by pitchforking the rest of the mulch into wheelbarrows and gently spreading it, sometimes with hands, sometimes with hoe, across the garden before him. Finally, it was his time, he loaded tools in the wheelbarrow, then the truck, and placed the 2x4 lumber in last, crossing them underneath the tools so he could close the back gate in a nice neat, tidy, portable sacred canon.