Bartholomew could smell the soil the moment he stepped off his front step. The garden was close to his house, but he never would have thought that he would smell it from his house. It had rained just enough that morning to clear the air and allow, for a brief time, the essential smells of the earth to rise, reminding Bartholomew of this basic human experience – he lives on a planet. It was one of those mornings that are so still one begins to perceive how active everything is. Smells rose in the air and the sounds of decay lay at his feet. Songs came from the trees on the edge of the garden: cardinal songs, robin songs and wrens. These songs were being answered by other song trees in the neighborhood. Bartholomew could even taste the flowering birch trees nearby, although he did not know the origin of that sweet something on his tongue.
He set to work in the garden. Weeds were popping their heads up, waiting to be decapitated, plucked from their home, scattered, trampled, exhausted and dismembered. They seem to thrive on this treatment thought Bartholomew and chuckled to himself as he thought about what a violent hobby gardening is. His goal this weekend was to hoe and pluck his victims throughout the whole garden, except Mr. McBardon's hedged plot. Mr. McBardon had made it clear, several times, that he would maintain his own plot. After weeding, Bartholomew hoped to cover the ground with mulch. Uncle Jeffrey had dropped off a load the night before.
After a few hours, Bartholomew decided to take a break and have some water. He sat down on a stump, one of several in the break area of the garden, and pulled a cold steel bottle of water out of a small bag of sustenance he brought with him. The sky was a bright blue, like only a spring sky can be, and there were just a few small whispy clouds here and there. Bartholomew was happy as he sat there taking in the world around his garden. He started to go down the list of things that were good in his life but stopped himself by saying, “Whatever,... life is just good.”
“Wha?” Bartholomew heard someone say as a figure rose out of Mr.McBardon's hedge.
“Mr. McBardon?! How long have you been there?” asked a startled Bartholomew.
“Huh? Wha? Oh, all morning. Just weeding.”
Bartholomew thought for a moment about how he never saw Mr. McBardon working in the garden ever since the first day. Mr. McBardon's “hedge” had grown tall enough that if he was weeding on his knees nobody would see him. This is what Bartholomew assumed had happened. Or else, Mr. McBardon had slept in his plot and was just waking up.
“How's your plot doing?” asked Bartholomew.
“Fine, just fine,” Mr. McBardon blurted out, as if to say, “No need for you to come over. Stay there, everything is fine.”
“I'm going to set up the sprinkler in a little while. Would you like me to water your plot, too?” asked Bartholomew.
“Uhm, uh, yeah, I guess that would be fine. It's due.”
Mr. McBardon gazed up at the blue sky and then quietly sank behind his hedge, back to his private world of weeding.
* * * *
Topping and Charlotte joined Bartholomew in the garden one day to tie up the tomato plants. Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine had dropped off tomato cages the night before. By that time, some of the plants were big enough that Bartholomew had his doubts about fitting these cages around the plants without breaking some branches. The three worked together carefully dropping a cage down over the plant, pulling its branches through the wires and, where needed, tying the plant to the cage with torn sheets that Bartholomew's cat, Oliver, had ruined.
They had successfully accomplished the procedure on three plants when Topping barked, “Damn!” as he snapped off a branch.
“I hardly bent it! Man, these babies just 'go,' don't they?”
“It's okay. I'm sure were all going to break a few toda... Aggh!,” said Bartholomew as he snapped a branch, too.
Charlotte laughed. “I guess, I'm next.”
The next few plants were saved from any harm. Charlotte was enjoying watching Topping carefully protect the tomato branches as the cage came down and then surgically place the branches through the cage holes. This was a side to Topping that Charlotte loved. He could be so gentle, kind and thoughtful with his heart and his hands that she couldn't help but be in love with him. Sometimes, when Topping was like this, Charlotte would imagine his kind hands touching her. She found herself getting excited about being done with the gardening and arriving home to be alone with Topping... or maybe in the car on the way home... or maybe if Bartholomew would leave, they could be alone in the garden – outdoors.
As they were placing the next cage over a rather large plant, Bartholomew felt something bump up against his leg. It was Hump-Pug, doing what Hump-Pug does – humping leg.
“Not now Hump-Pug,” said Bartholomew. “Get off!”
Hump-Pug, of course, did not listen. She humped and panted, “I have a lover, I know I do...”
“What is that whining?” asked Topping.
“Who knows,” said Bartholomew. “She must live around here somewhere, she's been here a lot while I've been gardening.”
“Ugh, she looks a mess,” said Charlotte. “All those burrs and seeds in her coat. Poor dog.”
Exasperated, Bartholomew groaned, “We might as well stop. She's not going to let us finish. She will keep jumping on our legs until we leave.”
“Wait a minute,” said Topping who ran to get another tomato cage. He carefully took the largest cage and placed it over Hump-Pug and shoved its spikes into the ground. “There, now she won't bug us,” Topping laughed mockingly.
“How could you do that?” asked a distraught Charlotte.
Topping laughed more while the little pug tried to first push over the cage and then to try and hump it.
“God, the animal’s just out of control. What a dumb dog. Let's finish caging the tomatoes,” said Topping.
This was the side of Topping that Charlotte did not like. There are times when he can be insensitive to animals and people. Charlotte liked that Topping had a sense of humor, but sometimes he laughed at the cruelest things. Sometimes getting a job done was more important than the people, and small animals, around him. She didn't understand this streak in him. Without realizing it, she was no longer excited to get home.
Hump-Pug did not seem to mind the confinement, and she eventually took the opportunity to take a quick nap. In the meantime, Topping, Bartholomew and Charlotte caged all the tomato plants that needed it and tied up the larger ones. They pulled the cage off of Hump-Pug and placed it in the middle of a patch of pole beans while the little pug awoke and jumped from leg to leg.
* * * *
One hot and humid mid-summer day, Claire came by to help Bartholomew with some weeding and watering. The garden had been producing greens for a couple of weeks and the other plants were growing tall. The work was rather easy as the vegetables were now starting to crowd out the weeds. Bartholomew enjoyed Claire's presence. She was direct and he didn't have to assume anything about her. He found this made it simple for him to share himself, too.
“So, you are moving out of Ned's place?” asked Bartholomew.
“Yeah. At the end of the month,” said Claire.
Bartholomew stopped weeding for a moment. “I'm sorry to hear that,” he said.
“It's okay. It isn't going to work out. I'm not sure why we got together in the first place...” Claire stopped herself and looked at Bartholomew. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”
“I just want you to know that Ned hasn't been blabbing stuff to me,” assured Bartholomew. “In fact, I haven't seen him for quite awhile. He seems too have decided to not come around.”
“I'm sorry about that. It's his choice, but obviously he feels uncomfortable with some of our shared friends.”
“I wouldn't put too much of this on your splitting up. Ned used to come over a lot but our relationship was always a bit awkward. I really don't know what to do when he gets so quiet. He can go the longest time without saying anything.”
“Oh god, some of his pauses are so painful,” Claire said relieved that someone else had noticed this same quality about Ned. She began to laugh. “There was this one time I asked him where he wanted to go out to eat and he stared at me for two minutes without saying anything. Two minutes! There was a clock on the wall behind him and I actually timed it. Two minutes!”
“Whoa,” said Bartholomew.
“How are things with The Nanny?” asked Claire.
Bartholomew bent down and started weeding again. “Things are... fine.”
“That didn't sound very convincing,” responded Claire.
“Well, I don't know...I feel funny. I've never talked about my relationship with a woman with a woman before. It seems odd.”
“Go ahead,” encouraged Claire. “I promise I won't bite...or laugh.”
“Well, things are a little strange,” began Bartholomew. “When we get together we have a great time. We talk about everything and anything. We laugh and we talk about hard stuff and we do fun things...”
“But...” added Claire.
“But,” continued Bartholomew, “whenever we are...intimate...she always stops things at... second or third base. We've... you know...touched all over... and made out and even spent the night together. But we never go... all the way. It's getting frustrating.”
“Wow, do you feel like she really likes you?”
Bartholomew winced at this question and tossed his weeds onto a pile. “I think so. She says so.”
“A lot of people say a lot of things, Bartholomew. Do you feel like she really cares about you?”
“I think so. I don't know. Sometimes I feel like she is trying to teach me something instead of being there with me. Like she thinks someone else is supposed to be my lover. She's just filling in until then.”
“Ouch,” said Claire.
“What do you mean?” asked Bartholomew.
“Is that what you're feeling or what you think she's feeling?”
Bartholomew thought for a moment. “It's what I think she is thinking,... I think.”
“Well, then, Ouch,” said Claire.
“Yeah, ouch,” agreed Bartholomew.
Claire bent down and picked a few weeds. “So, what you gonna do?”
Bartholomew stared off at the poplar trees, their leaves were dead still on this hot stifling day. He wiped sweat from his brow and noticed a beetle scabbering across the soil. “I don't know, what should I do?” he said looking to Claire.
“Dump her,” said Claire without hesitation.
“Really? Just dump her?”
“Yes, dump her. Or, well, end it. If she's not really interested in you for herself, then why would you want to be with her? Look, I don't know why Ned let me stay at his place so long. Actually, I do know...it was the sex. But we weren't good for each other. If you're not good for each other, then don't be together. Just end it and start finding someone else.”
Bartholomew thought for a while. Claire went back to weeding. Eventually, Bartholomew's body moved to the green pepper plants and removed the unwanted quack grass and dandelions, but his mind stayed in the same place for the rest of the morning. They finally took a water break and as they sat on the stumps in the garden, Bartholomew asked, “So, I don't have to try to make things work with The Nanny?”
“Nope. Not if it's not going to work.”
“I don't have to...”
“Bartholomew!” said Claire. “Do you two have a verbal or written commitment to each other?”
“No,” said Bartholomew as if following an order.
“Is she pregnant?”
“She's acting like she's not supposed to be your lover, right?”
“Right,” answered Bartholomew.
“You are frustrated in the relationship?”
“Yes, I am,” said Bartholomew.
“Then stop seeing her and move on,” Claire commanded, her eyes boring into Bartholomew's.
His eyes, giving in to hers, bowed to the ground. “You're right. I should end it. Wow! That feels good to say out loud,” declared Bartholomew with a grin on his face.
“Bartholomew, you are the one who gets to determine where your life is going. You get to decide if you are enjoying it. If you are not, you can change it. That's one thing I did learned from my spoken word classes,” said Claire.
* * * *
Aunt Jospehine and Uncle Jeffrey stopped by the garden one morning with a trailer full of mulch. Bartholomew was in the garden weeding and harvesting vegetables.
“You gotta see this tomato – it's HUGE!” said Barthholomew holding up a red lumpy hand.
“Wow,” said Uncle Jeffrey.
“That is quite large,” responded Aunt Josephine.
“So, is this Wednesday night going to be our first harvest dinner?” asked Uncle Jeffrey.
“Absolutely,” crowed Bartholomew. “You guys coming?”
“We wouldn't miss it,” they responded in unison.
Bartholomew went back to harvesting vegetables, carefully placing them in a fabric bag. Uncle Jeffrey picked a snap pea off a plant and started to eat. Aunt Josephine followed his lead and laughed as she bit into the crisp green shell. They let Bartholomew harvest the vegetables – enjoy the fruits of his labor and his idea. Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey emptied the mulch into a pile just off the curb. Aunt Josephine had brought some of her special punch and invited Bartholomew to take a break. She poured out the punch into plastic cups, handed one to each of the men in her life and said, “Here's to Bartholomew and his garden.” They raised their cups and clinked them together. “Here, here,” said Uncle Jeffrey.
Bartholomew downed his punch and held out his cup for more. Aunt Josephine gladly obliged him with another cup full.
“Seriously, Bartholomew,” said Aunt Josephine, “you have done a great thing by making this garden. Both Uncle Jeffrey and I have gotten to know your friends better and Mr. McBardon. And... we just notice how happy you are. It makes us very happy to see you this way, Bartholomew. It has been a long time and I know that your parent's would be very proud of you.” Aunt Josephine moved forward and hugged Bartholomew.
“Yes,” added Uncle Jeffrey, “and you have provided us all with such a delicious outcome. You really do have a green thumb.”
“C'mon,” said Aunt Josephine, “let's go make some gespachio out of that huge tomato,” as she put her arm around Bartholomew's shoulders and guided him toward his house. Uncle Jeffrey quickly ran over to Mr.McBardon's house to turn on the hose and water the garden while they cooked. The sound of water squirted through the hose until it shot out of the sprinkler in a big arc moving slowly across the garden. Uncle Jeffrey almost caught up with them when they heard a scream.
“Agggh!” yelled Mr. McBardon who suddenly sprung up from behind his hedge. The sprinkler pelted him with water as he jumped through the hedge and hobbled as quickly as he could to his house. All the while making duck-like noises and running his hands through his wet hair: “mah, mah, mah, mah...” He disappeared into his door. Uncle Jeffrey and Bartholomew laughed. Aunt Josephine looked at them sternly, but then she couldn't help herself and they all laughed as they went to Bartholomew's little house to make some soup.
Bartholomew in the Garden is the 30th story in The Book of Bartholomew. The story is written and illustrated by Mark Granlund.
Bartholomew spends some time in the garden on different days with different people doing different activities and talking about different things.
You can see the full-color flipbook version of this story, with back stories and additional illustrations, here.