One Good Turn


Dean vaults the low wall just in time to stop the wheelbarrow from tilting and spilling its load of weeds onto a neatly mown lawn.

The look he gets from the old lady holding onto the barrow is wary. "Thank you, young man."

"You're welcome, ma'am."

Sir to a man. Ma'am to a lady. Dean's been raised right.

The smell of bruised, dying green from the wheelbarrow is overlain by something heavy and sweet, a dream of a scent, catching at his throat.

"Lilac," she tells him, nodding over at a tree.

It's purple, and the leaves are green. Dean can't do much better than that. He nods agreeably, taking another appreciative sniff, and turns to walk away before she remembers she's a little old lady and snaps his head off for the footprint he left in the soft, turned earth of the border.

"Do you like gardening, young man?"

"Dean," he tells her. "And I've never had the chance to find out." Dying geraniums in un-watered planters outside motels. That's about it.

"Hmm." She eyes him. "Ten dollars if you help me for an hour or two until sundown."

He won't take her money, but he doesn't argue about it yet. He's got nowhere to be and he's curious, somehow so he nods. He strips off his jacket, and accepts the trowel she gives him, squatting down to clear a patch of border from a greedy clutch of clover.

The earth smells. He hadn't known it did that, hadn't known it clung wetly, rubbed dryly, bunched up under his fingernails, outlined his palm, throwing the engraved lines into sharp relief.

He pinches a bit into a ball, playing with it.

"Clay." She appears suddenly, handing him a plastic glass of lemonade, cool and sharp. "Heavy stuff. Needs sand digging in."

A worm wriggles up and he grabs the trowel to squish it, but stops at her squawk. "Boy! Don't do that! Worms are good. Didn't your mama teach you anything?"

A is for apple, rosy and red, brush your teeth before you get into bed…

"Yes, ma'am. Just not about gardens and such."

A white grub, curled up on itself is exposed in the next trowelled-up chunk and she nods. "That you can kill."

He dispatches it neatly and carries on weeding as the summer sun sinks slowly down.

When it vanishes, leaving the garden lost in the shadows of dusk, haunted by the smell of the lilac, she walks over to him, her hand clutched around something he doesn't want.

The trowel's sharp. He'd found a stone that worked well enough to get a point on it of sorts.

His aim's good, too. The iron, cold iron, takes her in the throat, blood splashing dry as it turns to dust.

He steps back instinctively, holding his breath, but he's safe.

He cleans the trowel, empties the barrow on the compost heap, and washes his hands at the outside tap.

Dean's been raised right.

Still feels like a worm.


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