An excerpt from Betty's (Little Basement) Garden

Glancing around the place, it had such a lovely vibrance and je ne sais quoi that was so lingeringly inviting. Looking at Jeff with his neat little ponytail and sans his biker jacket, he didn’t seem to Betty to be someone who could create such an appealing enterprise. The book didn’t match the cover, so to speak. Besides, he didn’t smell at all like celery. That’s the scent she’d always associated with people who worked in health food stores. Celery and body odor – such an unpleasant combination to unite with healthy living.

“How’s that sick friend of yours?” he asked.

 

“Not well at all. She’s…dying, actually.”

 

“I’m sorry.” He really meant it. “How about if I make her up a good, healing juice, and you can take it to her. It’s on me, of course.”

What a curious man, Betty thought. He didn’t really know her, and he certainly had no connection to Peggy, but he seemed to genuinely want to help. “That’s quite kind of you, but she can’t hold anything down. I brought her some of my chocolates, but I’m sure the family and her nurse will end up eating them.”

 

“You make your own chocolates?”

 

“Yes,” Betty said with a bright tone. “With honey. You’d approve of that, I’m sure.”

“Why does it matter if I approve of it or not?”

“Excuse me?”

 

“If that’s the way you want to make them, that’s your business.”

 

“Well, I just…I mean…” Betty floundered and tried to regain her composure. “You own a health food store. So, I just figured…health…honey –”

 

“I think it’s too soon for you to call me ‘honey,’” he deadpanned. “Let’s stick with Jeff for now.”

 

Betty regarded him with stunned silence. She gauged he was at least seven years her junior and clearly not someone she’d be remotely linked to on a social level, let alone romantic basis. “You misunderstood. I didn’t mean –”

 

“I’m joking, Betty.”

 

Betty let out a breath. “Oh, right. Yes. Of course you are.”

 

“Dodged a bullet there, didn’t we?” Jeff grinned just like a fourteen-year-old who knew how to charm and get away with mischief. He eyed her closer. “Damn, you’re wound pretty tight.”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

He pointed to the right side of her face. “Your clenched jaw. Lots of tension going on there.”

 

She wasn’t comfortable having a near-stranger be this bold with her. “Yes, well, my friend, Judi, told me about some sort of salve you have that’s good for –”

 

“Mama’s Muscle Mojo,” he said without a missing a beat. Turning, he moved about five feet down the aisle and snagged a jar from the shelf. “Made locally by this cute little gal who grows all the herbs organically in her garden.” He handed the jar to Betty. “It’s not going to cure that tension, but it’ll sure relieve it.”

 

She tried to discreetly check the price on the bottom of the jar. “Well, thank you.”

 

“I’ve got a few one ounce giveaways in the back if you want to sample it before committing.”

 

“I don’t need any giveaways,” she quickly replied with pride.

 

His blue eyes pierced through her. “Okay.”

 

The tension began to creep around her neck. A stiff bourbon would help, but it was nowhere near five-thirty. She worked her two fingers down the muscle spasm in an attempt to halt its forward progress.

 

“If you don’t mind me asking,” Jeff said, leaning against the shelf, “who’s the pain in your neck?”

 

“Who?”

 

“Yeah. Most problems start with our emotions or in our mind. Someone can break your heart, somebody else can give you a headache, another can be a pain in the ass and then there’s the one who’s the pain in your neck. So, who’s the pain in your neck?”

 

Betty wanted to dismiss him but she couldn’t. He was so relaxed when he mentioned it all. No judgment; just a matter-of-fact comment that had depth and merit. “I’m not sure. I think it’s more likely the four ‘D’s.’”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“Take a look around. It’s everywhere. Disappointment, despair, disharmony…death.”

 

“Really? Maybe you’ve got to start hanging out in better places.”

 

“Oh, please. Look what’s happening in this world! How can you possibly be blind to all that?”

 

“I’m not blind to it. I know it’s out there. But if that’s all you’re focused on, that’s all that’s going to get fed back to you. Look in another direction. Up, down –”

 

“Up? You mean like in God?”

 

“No, I’m not going religious on you. God’s not just up there anyway. He’s everywhere. Even in your ‘four D’s.’ Your disarray, dysfunction –”

 

“Disappointment, despair, disharmony and death,” she reiterated with precision.

 

He laughed. “Yeah, you’ve got that welded into your psyche, don’t you? You really do buy into it.”

 

This was getting too personal for Betty. “I have to –”

 

“You’re a gardener. You know what I’m talking about.”

 

“How did you know I liked to garden?”

 

“I’m psychic,” he said with a straight face and a long pause for effect. Finally, he smiled. “Actually, I saw the dirt under your fingernails. Either you like to garden or you’re filthy. And by the way you dress and carry yourself and speak, I know you’re not the latter.”

 

She glanced at her fingernails, silently chiding herself for not noticing the packed mud beneath her nails. “Yes. Right. I’m a gardener.”

 

“So, you know what I’m saying. When you’re one with the soil and the plants, and that silent ballet between the two of you occurs, there is only delicious, delectable, dizzying…uh, I’ve run out of positive words that start with ‘D,’ but you get the point. I’m not a wordy person like you.”

 

“Wordy? I wouldn’t call myself that –”

 

“You think you have to explain yourself a lot. Somebody must have spent a lot of years driving that into you.”

 

“I believe that being precise is important.”

 

He looked at her. Really looked at her. “Why?”

 

She wasn’t about to back down, even though she had no clue what she was about to say. “It clarifies one’s approach. It allows one to be understood. It avoids chaos.”

 

“It keeps you in your head and not your heart. And when you spend all that energy in your head, that damned tension builds up. And then your neck starts to spasm, and your jaw clenches and then you show up here looking for a salve, thinking that’s going to fix it. All that’s going to do is address the symptoms.”

 

Betty felt lost. “Symptoms…well, that’s all we can hope for, right.” A familiar sadness crept up. “Never address the heart of the problem.”

 

Jeff’s eyes softened. “You okay, Betty?”

 

She swallowed hard. Think, think, think, she counseled herself. Think about what to fix Buddy for lunch. Think about the marigolds that need to be re-potted. Think about all those damn weeds that have to be pulled. Think. “I’ll just go purchase this now. Thank you for your help.” She started down the aisle, gathering her resilience with each step. “We must fight the good fight and carry on!”

 

“No, actually,” Jeff countered. “It’s the fighting that got you to this point. It’s the letting go that matters.”

 

Betty stopped as a familiar image surfaced. Her head spun with apprehension. The raw emotion began to churn in her gut and she knew she had to get out of there as soon as possible. She paid for the salve and hurriedly left the store. But she could feel his knowing eyes on her, even as she drove away.