person in brown shorts watering the plants

Tend Your Garden

28 days of Flash — 18 of 28! Weaving two stories together around metaphor

“Brothers and sisters, I stand before you today as a penitent man. I have done you the great disservice of not being a constant shepherd of our flock. A shepherd who brings the flock together and keeps it together. Who knows all of you.”

Bob paused to mop his forehead. Jess leaned forward in the first row pew, her movement and her fuchsia scarf’s color enough to catch his eye. She propped her chin on her palm and lowered her elbow to her knee and stared. It was nearly July, and he was wearing a jacket. He wanted to sweat this morning, she thought. He wanted a reason to carry the silk handkerchief, to mop up his sweat and his tears. Will there be blood, too?


Adelia awoke as the room gained light. The soft glow of the sunrise made the walls cast pink, like the roses in her garden. The heat of the day would soon make it too miserable to do anything but sit by the fan and read unless she got up now.

Teeth brushed, work dress on, gardening clogs over her bare feet she opened the door to the backyard. She grabbed her gardening hat off the bench and slipped outside. The humidity enveloped her and for a moment it felt like trying to breathe underwater. She closed the door behind her gently, as if there were others she would wake. Her children were long gone — one boy a country pastor somewhere, her other boy six feet under, and her girl a counselor in some big city. Adelia had been dead to all of them long before Troy had died. She ought not think about that now. She had beets and carrots to bring in.


“As your pastor, I take my responsibility toward the health of our church community seriously. When one of you is hurt over an oversight from my office, it pains me. I come before you today as such an oversight has happened with a member of our family. I am ashamed to say that she didn’t feel seen.”

Stop. Pause. Mop. Chin dip. Wistful return to eye contact.

“She didn’t feel our love.”

Pause. Throat clearing.

“She felt like no one knew her name.”

Jess trained her eyes on Bob, blinking as little as possible. He never looked in her direction, just up, eyes welling with tears. Unbelievable.


Adelia retrieved her garden knife, gloves, and basket from her potting bench. She could harvest seven carrots for her salads this week and leave the rest, but all the beets had to come out of the ground. Their bulbs popped through like purple tennis balls. In this heat, they could fast lose their sweetness.

She placed her mat and knelt down at the row of carrots, surveying which were ready. Unsheathing the knife always made her feel like a warrior. But it also reminded her of when her children were young and when she tried to be a mother.

“Lily, you don’t just yank on the carrots. You need to loosen the dirt around them, then pull them out of the ground,” she had scolded her daughter.

“Mama, I need your knife.”

“You’re too young to use a knife like this, Lily.”

I was too young to use a knife like that, too, Adelia thought as she freed the carrots from the soil.


Stop. Pause. Mop.

“Church family, we need to do more than turn and shake hands with our neighbors each Sunday. We need to share our lives, our struggles, our joys. We need to know everybody so that we might grow strong roots in the soil of love that God provides.”

Jess was still sitting with her chin in hand, elbow on knee, staring.

“Today, following our service, we will convene in the garden annex. I encourage you to stay and enjoy some music and fellowship with your brothers and sisters where we can truly know one another.”

Stop. Pause. Mop. Chin dip. Wistful return to eye contact.

“As a church family.”

His chin dip was so deep on that last one, his bald spot visible.

Everyone around Jess was struggling to hold back tears. She felt like standing up and yelling, “Are you seriously buying this bullshit?”

She didn’t. She sat.


Adelia harvested her small crop, so proud of the way her garden was shaping up. Nothing was crowded out, and she was training the squash and cucumbers to climb. She returned the knife, gloves, and basket to the cubby of her potting bench. The memory of her mother’s voice echoed in her head. “If you just put them back where you found them, you never have to look for them, you dummy!”

She needed to fill the sink, scrub the carrots, and put up the beets. She could only make refrigerator beets of this harvest. It was too hot to do anything else.


When the last prayer ended, Jess sat and let the people drain from the room. Her chin was still in her hand, elbow to knee. She watched Bob shake hands with others who lingered up front and thank them for their support.

Jess stood. She was next.

“Hi, Bob.”

“Hello,” he said, smiling. “And you are?” He extended his hand.

She stared, ignoring his hand. “Jess Andrew. I wrote the letter? About your mailing list having me as Mr. instead of Miss.”

Bob stopped her. “Sister, thank you, thank you, thank you.” He reached for her hand and grabbed it without her consent. “Of course, we know who you are, Jess. Next week. Call me. Let’s talk again.”

And he left Jess standing there while he returned to his garden.


Adelia soaked the carrots and beets and scrubbed them properly. After she cleaned the carrots and put them up, she started on the beets. The juice stained her hands as she peeled them. They were a perfect size, still small enough to be sweet but fleshy enough to make a big salad. They nearly look like hearts, she thought, wondering if somewhere Lily and her brother would look at beets and carrots and knives and remember their mother with any sort of fondness from when they were young in a way that she never could.


About Christine Wilcox Anderson

Writer, former corporate communications exec, and perpetual student of life on this rock.
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