Sweet Thyme Baby – 1

SWEET THYME BABY

A novel by

Drusilla Campbell

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

 

***

 

For Peggy

 

***

 

There are other worlds around us.

 

Too often, we pass through them unknowing, seeing but blind, hearing but deaf, touching but not feeling, contained by the limits of our senses, the banality of our imaginations….

 

Hugh Raffles

 

***

…they shall be radiant over the goodness of the

Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and

over the young of the flock and the herd; their

life shall become like a watered garden, and they

shall never languish again.

 

Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry.

 

I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them,

and give them gladness for sorrow.

 

Jeremiah, Chapter 31

 

***

 1



On a half-bright day in August, 1982, Con and Carlotta Ryan were buried in the little graveyard in their garden, side by side in a double coffin with their love letters tied with a bit of ribbon snipped off Carlotta’s wedding nighty and tucked between them.  Standing beside Delight Larue at the graveside were the odd-jobbers, George and Pinkus, weeping and holding hands. Maggie, the Ryans’ housekeeper since forever, stood on the other side of Dee. She held a pink handkerchief under her nose and from time to time made soft hiccupy sounds.

 

Behind these front-line mourners stood a crowd representing almost seventy years of waifs and lost causes healed in the Ryans’ garden. The oldest of these directed his attendant to wheel his chair close to the edge of the cliff. While Pastor Lance Whitby went on and on, the old man kept his eyes fixed on the blurred line where sea met sky – as if Con and Carlotta had gone off in that direction and might return at any moment.  A man, who had been a wandering boy with a bloody temper, had grown into a stout prosperous fellow in a three-piece suit, who stood with his oxblood briefcase leaning against his leg. A woman who had come into the garden with boils and rotten teeth was chic now and the smell of her gold jewelry put a tang in the air.  Occasionally a mourner sneezed as Sissypuss, the Ryan’s orange cat of great and unknown age, braided herself in and out among their ankles. When he got to Dee he stopped and sat on her Nike knockoffs. Dee lifted him up and pressed her face into his fur. She was not listening to Lance Whitby’s homily. She had given up on God long ago.

 

Lance was enjoying himself, and he wished Sharon were there to hear how well her husband was preaching. He had achieved the perfect blending of the Shepherd’s Mandate with the muscular Christ.  “We are here today, an Island of Light in a dark and corrupt world. We don’t see the darkness. We have become accustomed to it so we don’t have the good sense to be scared, but it is there, my friends, it is all around us and it is –,“ Lance paused for effect,  “– cunning.” He cleared his throat and the mourners (he guessed there were seventy plus, bigger than a Sunday congregation) shifted their feet and crossed their arms over their chests. Either the subject of the sermon made them uncomfortable or it had gone on too long. Lance ignored the second possibility

 

“Cunning,” he repeated, imagining that repetition gave his sermons a kind of Martin Luther King panache, ”and powerful and patient. Con and Carlotta Ryan knew the darkness was out there, knew that without constant vigilance, it would creep over them and even this wonderful garden of theirs.” He paused three beats so the listeners could imagine the inexorable onward stride of evil.  He had been studying Pastor Joel Jackson who preached on television late at night, timing his pauses. Generally three beats did it. “Con and Carlotta Ryan knew that the battle between good and evil goes on every day, all around us. And they knew that –.”

 

This part of the sermon came from something Lance had read in a magazine, and it was the weakest part because he wasn’t quite sure what it meant but it sounded true and like something Dee should hear.

 

But Dee wasn’t listening. She was thinking of another grave, a small one marked by a granite rectangle cut with a name and date. Who pulled the weeds around it, who set out flowers on birthdays? Not Victor, certainly. Victor wouldn’t know a daisy from a dandelion. And he probably had not thought of the grave in years. Dee thought of it every day, she made sure of that.

 

Lance felt his audience drifting so he raised his voice for a thunderous, muscular closing, “The likes of Con and Carlotta Ryan will not come our way again. Their compassion, their wisdom and their generosity, will not be seen on this shore again.  But we can remember them if we never forget what they always knew.” Lance liked that sentence particularly, but he thought it could be better so he said it again more emphatically. “Always knew and never forgot.” One-two-three. “It is by our decision to engage the Lord of Darkness, that our lives are either redeemed,” One-two-three. “or destroyed.”

 

Whatever that means, thought Dee.

 

*

 

Maggie walked back to the house ahead of Dee and the preacher. The other mourners, led by Walter Vaughn, the Ryan’s attorney, followed out of the graveyard and down the path along the bluff. George and Pinkus stayed behind to cover the grave and set things right. The path was uneven. Dee stumbled and Lance Whitby put his hand on her elbow.

 

“Steady now, Dee. We’ll have you home in a wink.”

 

She checked her impulse to shake him off. He meant well; and Con and Carlotta, who had known him since he was a boy, had wanted him to bury them and had specified so in their last conversation with Dee. She supposed they had seen goodness in Lance as they did in everyone. Even Stalin was an innocent baby once, Dee, my dearie. Before power and greed corrupted him.  She fixed her attention ahead, on the unmatched plaid at the center seam of Maggie’s blazer, the place where a wide band of green suddenly stopped and narrow one began.

 

The path curved inland, around a ravine filled with passion flower, morning glories and nasturtium.  At the corner of the red-shingled two-story house, the flagstone pavement began. Lance Whitby reached for Dee’s elbow again and she moved away. Her shoulder brushed the rose climbing a trellis against the house. A flurry of pale yellow petals fluttered down onto her head and shoulders. She shook her head in irritation; and when she did, the mourners behind her saw the shimmer of gold in her hair and murmured.  It did not occur to Dee that the sound had anything to do with her. Long ago she had forgotten that she was beautiful.

 

The path curved around the front of the house between the long deep verandah and a border of summer perennials. Dee stopped at the verandah stairs, breathing as if she had sprinted the distance from the graveyard to the house. Maggie walked around her and went inside followed by the visitors. A few of them stopped to whisper kind words or squeeze Dee’s elbow in consolation. They were strangers to her. Only their grief was familiar.

 

Inside the house, the phone was ringing.

 

“Would you be comforted if we prayed together?”

 

She looked at Lance Whitby and remembered one of her costars, a Swede, a Sven or Lars or Helmut of prodigious endowments. His eyes had been liver-colored like Lance Whitby’s.

 

“It’s good to grieve, Dee. Don’t be afraid of it. Sometimes the depth of our sorrow seems overwhelming, but it is an illusion, this depth, this dark night of the soul…”

 

Dee wondered how many clichés Lance Whitby could string together in a single sentence.

 

“….It’s best at times like these to recall the scripture in which Jesus said, ‘Come unto me, all ye –’.”

 

“I’ll be fine.” Dee heard the strain in her voice and that meant Whitby heard it too. She hoped it would not inspire him into another orgy of quotes.  She thought the sound of Lance Whitby’s voice would be enough to make Jesus regret the day he said I am the Word.

 

It wouldn’t kill her to thank him. Lance Whitby — and before him his preacher father, a robust, boom-voiced man, a rope to his son’s twine — had served Con and Carlotta well. They had found jobs for the misfits who had come to the garden over the years. And when, among the genuinely needy, there had been an occasional carouser, lecher or brain-burned druggie  – like the man with wild round eyes who ran naked through Cabrillo Point screaming, “Faeries! Faeries!” – Lance or his father had intervened to smooth matters with the neighbors and the San Diego police. Dee’s dislike of Lance was intuitive and thus irrational, but she had never been able to overcome it.

 

Whitby looked at her without blinking.

 

She smiled. She could force her mouth to do that much.

 

“That’s more like it.” Lance beamed. “The Cabrillo Community Church is here for you, Dee. As it was for Con and Carlotta. All you have to do is reach out to us.” He held up his hand as if he thought she cared enough to argue. “I know you’re not a churchgoer and you have your reasons for that, I’m sure. But I hope…in time… Well, for now I just want you to know you can call me day or night. Sharon doesn’t mind. She says it might make her sick after all these years to get eight hours uninterrupted sleep.”

 

A joke. Dee forced another smile. “Come into the house,” she said. “Maggie’s made a feast.”

 

“I prefer to pray after a funeral, Dee. Sort of speed the soul on its journey.”

 

Dee heard the phone ringing again.

 

“I wonder, would you mind if I walked home through the garden? The East gate is just across the street from my house. Sharon and I used to walk to the Sea Meadows that way. For picnics? When we were first married?”

 

“It’s wild back there.” And getting wilder. Though officially fifty seven and a half acres, no one knew the garden’s precise size. Even Con had claimed ignorance.

 

“I played there when I was a kid and I proposed to Sharon at the Spring House. I feel right at home in the garden.”

 

No one felt perfectly at home in the garden, no one who paid attention. The garden could disturb and bewilder. Sometimes on a walk off the path the land opened up and didn’t seem to be Cabrillo Point or San Diego or even California anymore. It wasn’t anywhere Dee could name.

 

“Don’t leave the path.”

 

“Now you sound like a preacher.”

 

The front screen door slammed. Maggie walked to the top of the steps. She had changed from her mismatched jacket and skirt to a house dress and apron, the old fashioned pinafore style with ruffles at the shoulders. She put her hands on her hips and announced, “It’s that man again, Dee. On the phone. I didn’t pick up but he’s talking to the machine like he’s never going to stop. Everybody’s inside eating and listening to him go on.”

 

“Turn off the machine, Maggie.”

 

“He doesn’t sound like he’s gonna give up any time soon.”

 

“Just turn it off.”

 

Whitby said, “Dee, at a time like this people need to express their grief to you. Perhaps you could help ease this man’s sorrow if you –.”

 

“This is none of your business, Lance.”

 

He jerked his head back, then nodded stiffly, turned and walked away. Dee saw offense in every muscle of his rigid back. She knew she should call him back and apologize. He would be magnanimous. Forgiveness would make him feel superior. He disappeared around the side of the house and gradually the tourniquet binding her chest loosened. She took a deep breath and saw stars.

 

Maggie came down the stairs and stood at her side. “What’s the matter with him? Don’t he want any food? I thought I’d make him a plate, take home to Sharon and Hamish. He’s a peculiar one, isn’t he? Not like his dad. I trusted his dad.”

 

Breathing was easier now. If Dee could manage thirty minutes of polite conversation she could retreat –.

 

George spoke from the porch behind them. “Walter Vaughn wants a meeting. He sent me out here to get you.”

 

There was a reunion feeling in the large front room. The mourners held buffet plates in one hand and drinks in the other, and talked nonstop to strangers. Their life stories poured out of them with an irresistible compulsion that would have appalled them under normal circumstances. But here in the Ryan’s house, back in the garden for the first time in a year, in six or ten or twenty-five, they were together in the brother-and-sisterhood of saved lives. They stopped talking long enough to put their hands on Dee’s arms, on her shoulders, or the small of her back and tell her crucial bits and pieces of their stories, how they’d come to the garden and how the garden had changed them. There was so much kindness in the room, such quantities of nostalgia, gratitude and grief, the air became a pudding.

 

The phone rang again, the machine clicked on. Dee walked across the room. Her hand was on the “off” button. She heard Victor’s voice.

 

“You owe me, Dee. You know you owe me.”

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

 

Click here to read Part 2 of Sweet Thyme Baby

 

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One Response to “Sweet Thyme Baby – 1”

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  1. Henry Mwesigwa says:

    I enjoyed enjoyed reading that but what a life Dee had to live,how did she manage after all that? Thank you for sharing that. Good piece of work,well done.

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