by Stephen Haines
This wasn’t what he remembered.
Why did they remove the flowerbeds? he wondered. And why the apple tree?
Though the house had looked mostly the same from the street, a clue something had changed struck Matthew as soon as he encountered the driveway. The car that was normally parked there, the very same car that had always been parked there since the new owner had moved in, was gone, and in its place were toys and bicycles and a discarded, dirty backpack. That should’ve been enough for him to turn around, walk two blocks back to the bus stop. It should’ve been enough. But he crept around the side of that house, anyway, heading for the backyard with a gift, a brand-new trowel, tucked under his arm.
Right away, he noticed that most of his prized plants were missing. The rose bushes. Japanese maples. That lone, reliable apple tree. All of it removed. And in the place of those wonderful, gorgeous elements, the same green, disconcerting grass. Grass had been forced everywhere, plastered over everything that he had known like Astroturf, with soccer balls, baseballs, and frisbees littered everywhere about it.
Matthew dug his heels into the unfamiliar lawn.
“Excuse me?” a woman was standing on the patio, eyes fixated on him, phone in hand. Three children jostled behind her, eager to spy what had stolen their mother’s attention. Their appendages sprouted everywhere, their round, bright, puffed faces peeking out like dandelion heads. “Can I help you?”
He hadn’t been back in weeks. Months? Too long. And now Anne was gone, along with the arrangement they had made. She would buy the house that he could no longer afford, but to help him cope with the austerity of living in a cheap, gardenless apartment, Anne would allow him to visit whenever he liked. And she, a gardener herself, would maintain the grounds in just the way that Matthew had always intended to himself.
“What happened to Anne?”
“Oh,” the woman relaxed her grip on the phone. “Did you know Anne?”
“Only a little, she… I used to live here. She bought the house from me.”
“Yes,” the woman told the kids behind her to quiet down. She stepped out onto the patio, and she closed the door behind her. The kids pushed their faces against the glass until the glass was so foggy that their faces disappeared. “I’m so sorry. She passed away. Can I call someone for you? I think I have a number for a granddaughter, or…”
“No. Thank you,” Matthew scurried back around the side of the house, toward the street, leaving the woman to stare with confusion after him.
As he reached the driveway, he could think of nothing better to do with the trowel, and so he dropped it there, by the other toys, hoping that one of the kids would find some new use for it. Something that he would have never thought of.
* * *
Stephen Haines is an MFA student at Western Washington University and the Managing Editor of Bellingham Review in Bellingham, WA where he lives with his partner, Kelli. His work has been shortlisted at Epoch Press and has appeared in Creative Colloquy and in the Scholar’s Week showcase at WWU.