Sweet Thyme Baby – 2

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

2

(Click here to read Section 1 first)

 

The garden, which Dee would soon learn she had inherited from Con and Carlotta Ryan along with certain restrictions and despairs, ran north and south along a stretch of San Diego coastline called Point Loma, between College Road and Ryan’s Overlook, a stretch characterized by steep and eroded sandstone cliffs pounded by voracious surf.

The house was a rambling, shingled, two-story farmhouse built sometime in the last century and recently painted when Con Ryan said the place looked like an old potato. Red, he wanted it, bright red. Dee was there, she heard Carlotta groan and saw her shake her head. But Carlotta had been old and too weak to say more than, “Show a little moderation, will you, my love? For once in your life?” Con laughed. Before the week was out the house was red, deep zinnia red.

 

Behind the house stretched a patchwork acre of vegetable garden. In the summer the tangled beds of squash and tomato and melon were separated by willow stick teepees supporting a dozen varieties of peas and beans. Nearby there were thirty different kinds of herbs laid out like French embroidery. Feathery dill, sprawling thyme, spiky chive, chervil, borage, lavender and cumin smelling of the bazaars. In rows and cartwheel shapes the summer vegetables were laid out between paving stones: pepper bushes, carrots, radishes, onions, cucumbers and eggplants yearning to be footballs. Broccoli and asparagus and potatoes and more beans and peas; huge gaping chard with blood red veins flourished all winter long. And tomatoes too. Beyond a lathe house stacked around with terra cotta pots a quarter acre of corn began.

 

The corn ended at a low stone wall and beyond it lay the orchard where rows of nectarines lined up symmetrically with cherries and peaches, oranges, tangerines, lemons and apricots. Down the center of the orchard and flanking a flagstone path, a rank of plums formed a cordon arch first of blossoms and later in the season fruit the size of tennis balls.

 

Outside and all around these ordered spaces, behind the house and the garden shop, the driveway and the parking lot, the raised planters and outlined borders, lay the vast wilderness of the garden. The “true garden” as Carlotta called it.

 

At the back of the orchard, a bent willow gate in the stone wall opened onto a well-trodden path that crossed a meadow where every spring wildflowers reseeded themselves. The path disappeared into the woods, meandered along a year-round creek that originated – as did all the streams in the garden – from a dozen springs in the part of the garden called the Cloud Forest.

 

Ponds and twelve-month streams, corn stalks growing like weeds: these and more were oddities in a coastal garden less than thirty miles north of Mexico, but odder still was the acre of forest near the garden’s heart. There grew hemlock and fir and a stand of noble redwoods with bark deeply scored and ridged and damp footed-ferns shaped like shuttlecocks and feathers and fans. There lichen and moss crept up the tree trunks and softened the rocks and roots. Most days of the year a scarf of coastal fog hung in the canopy of the Cloud Forest. The sound there was of water dripping.

 

It was a miracle, a patch of rainforest where there should be desert. The community of Cabrillo Point remarked on this and took a kind of pride in the anomaly. But though it was not uncommon for a family to request permission of the Ryans to take a picnic to the Sea Meadows or the cliffs or the little cove, no one ever asked to picnic in the Cloud Forest. It was disorientingly peculiar there. Though only an acre, it could seem vast; when the horizon opened up between two trees it appeared to stretch for miles and the hills at the farthest limit wore a misty green that reminded unwitting visitors of places they could not specifically recall ever seeing before. Even Con Ryan had preferred to stay away from the Cloud Forest though Carlotta often went there and near the end of her life wept because she was too weak to make the trip. In the Cloud Forest there was no sound but the water dripping and the high up harping of the wind. Standing in the heart of the little forest it was possible to believe that one had stepped through a ripple in the air into a place that was neither Cabrillo Point nor San Diego nor even California. That’s what people said who wandered there by accident. They did not mean that’s what actually happened, only that it felt that way. They laughed at themselves but they rarely paid a second visit to the Cloud Forest, great wonder though it was.

 

*

 

Walter Vaughn had not always been an attorney with a two hundred dollar haircut and a two thousand dollar suit. When he came to Con and Carlotta’s garden he was ten years out of Yale Law and mad at the world for not being as eager for his attentions as his doting mother had led him to believe it would be. He found the practice of law much harder than he had expected, and after a year or two in his uncle’s firm he gave it up and moved west to Ocean Beach where blow was plentiful and rentals cheap. His trust fund was a distant memory when he came to the garden, weeping and blabbering, his nose a bleeding faucet.

 

Dee watched him arrange his papers on Con’s big old library desk. His round face and cheeks, the clear whites of his slightly hyperthyroid eyes and the self-satisfied way he had of smacking his fleshy lips together all characterized a man who had known only success in life, only ease and the rewards of righteous industry.

 

“You’ve gotta be beat, Dee. I’ll make this as brief as I can. I wouldn’t press for a reading this afternoon except Emily Jane and I are going to Europe tomorrow night and I know Con and Carlotta would want me to handle this myself, not one of my associates.”

 

Dee sat in a sun-faded blue wing chair in front of the desk. Pinkus and George sat side by side on the soft-cushioned old couch under the double window that separated two banks of floor-to-ceiling bookcases.  Maggie stood at a sideboard set out from another wall of books. She poured coffee and offered around a plate of sandwiches.

 

Dee said, “Never mind the food, Maggie.”

 

“Did you eat?”

 

“Walter,” Dee said, “can you take some food by the shelter in Ocean Beach?”

 

The lawyer would be glad to. He had been in that shelter, recuperating from what would turn out to be his last hangover, on the day Con Ryan walked in and asked if there might be a man who would like to work with him clearing land. Good hard garden work, Con promised. Fair pay and a hearty meal. For reasons Walter had never been able to explain (except in words like Grace and Miracle, words that made him blush), he volunteered.

 

“Changed my life forever,” Walter told George and Pinkus. “If it weren’t for the Ryans and this place –.” His ping-pong ball eyes shone like porcelain; he shook his head and picked up a manila folder that lay on the desktop in an orange band of sunlight. He opened it, drew out a single sheet and scanned it.

 

“I kept telling them to come into the office. I want you to know I volunteered to come out here, offered to bring my secretary and do the thing right. And Con kept saying yes, yes, that was a good idea and he said he’d call. Never did.” Walter wagged the piece of paper at Dee. “This is what’s called a holographic will. It’s written out in longhand – no mistaking Con’s handwriting – and signed by them both. So long as no one comes out of nowhere and contests it, it’s legal. Just barely.”

 

“Who would contest?” George said. “It was just Con and Carlotta. He told me how he inherited this land from his brother. They didn’t have kids.”

 

“Carlotta wanted a baby like crazy,” Pinkus said, “but she was sick way back. Female trouble.”

 

Dee looked at her watch. “It’s been a long day.”

 

“I’ll just summarize what it says. If you want to read the exact words, you can do it later.” He looked at Pinkus and George. “The Ryans left you two the cottage and a quarter acre around it. Nice little bit of property. Con says here, ‘We hope you will both live out your lives in the garden but should you wish to leave for whatever reason, the house and land are yours to rent or leave vacant. We ask only that they not be sold.’”

 

George covered his eyes with his beefy, inked forearm.

 

Pinkus kissed his elbow. “I told you, George, I told you they’d remember us.”

 

“You, Maggie, have this big house and the land back through the orchard with the same provision as regards selling it.”

 

“Sell? Who’d want to sell? Do I look like a madwoman to you? I plan to be carried right out that front door in a box and up the path to the graveyard.” Maggie poured herself a glass of brandy and downed it.

 

George walked over and stood behind the wing chair with his hands on Dee’s shoulders. She could not remember another occasion when he had touched her. “What about our Dee?”

 

Walter said. “The garden and the nursery, all the land, have been left to Delight Larue.”

 

She waited to hear the conditions, the exceptions.

 

All but Dee began to talk and laugh. The brandy carafe was passed around, glasses were filled, toasts drunk to Con and Carlotta. In what seemed to Dee only moments, everyone was a little tight – except Walter Vaughn who was secretary of the Tuesday afternoon Sober Lawyers AA meeting that convened at Carrow’s next to the main post office. And Dee who had her own reasons for not drinking.

 

Walter drank the last of his apple juice and raised his voice over the noise. “There is a restriction.”

 

Dee relaxed.

 

“Con told me the Whiterose Garden Company had made him an offer on the shop and the garden. He was afraid you might be tempted to sell to them, Dee, so he added the restriction.” Walter frowned. “At least I think that’s why. It’s hard to tell with Con and Carlotta.”

 

He ran his finger down the text of the will. “Here it is.” We ask that the garden remain intact, as it has always been, one enchanted stretch of wild woodland and field from the Sea Meadows and the Cloud Forest south to Ryan’s Overlook Lane, east to Wood Road and north to College.”

 

“What did he mean? Enchanted?” Pinkus asked.

 

“That’s what I mean about it being lucky the will won’t be contested. Talk like that…Well, it means nothing. We know that, but a judge might think Con was….” Walter coughed and rubbed the back of his neck hard. “There’s other stuff –.”

 

“What?” Maggie asked. “As if I don’t know.”

 

The others looked at her.

 

She said, “I spent a good many hours in the kitchen with Carlotta Ryan. She had that Irishy way of going on.”

 

Walter said, “What Maggie means is there’s talk of…,” He coughed again. “the Fair People.”

 

“Faeries,” Maggie said.

 

Pinkus clapped his hands. “Tinkerbell!”

 

Over the laughter Dee asked, “So what you’re saying is that I can’t sell the garden.”

 

“Con and Carlotta have ask that you not. But in legal point of fact, there’s nothing stopping you. There’s stuff in here makes me wonder if Con wasn’t…you know?…”

 

A sober quiet filled the room as they all tried to believe that Con Ryan had misplaced his marbles. But Con was the sanest person any of them had ever known. He and Carlotta had been tired before they died. They had spoken enthusiastically about what they called “the next great adventure;” but bravado in the face of the Inevitable, was that a definition of senility? Dee did not believe it was. The alternative – that Con’s rambling about enchantment actually meant something – none of them was going to believe that either.

 

“What if I don’t want it? Can I give it away?”

 

Walter shrugged. “It’s yours.”

 

“I could give it to Maggie or to Pinky? Or George?”

 

“But why would you want to?” Walter asked. “Listen to me, Dee. I’m leaving tomorrow night and I’ll be back in a month. If you want to give up your inheritance then, we’ll talk about it.”

 

He waited for her to speak. They all did, but what was she going to say? Dee had read in novels about characters who felt eyes watching them but she had never believed it until now. She stood and walked out of the library ignoring the pin pricks scaling her back, across the long living room where every flat surface was strewn with buffet plates, damp napkins and half-drunk glasses of sherry and fruit punch. She was counting the red fleur de lis in the oriental carpet on the stairs, but she felt four pairs of eyes like acupuncturists at work on her back.

 

From the library door: “Dee, are you all right? You should eat something.”

 

As she climbed the stairs to her room, the phone was ringing again.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

 

Click here to read Part 3 of Sweet Thyme Baby

 

Filed under Books, Sweet Thyme Baby


Leave a Reply