The Virtue of Minding Your Own Business was a runner-up in an Ernest Hemingway Short Story competition. A tale of madness, murder, and regret . . . it is also the first of two stories in my debut eBook, Sandcastle and Other Stories. This story was inspired by the thought: What if the only thing someone wanted to be was a tree? The other tree story, touching on a different kind of madness, is Cats In Trees. If this excerpt hits your curious engines, please finish reading by visiting Amazon.
Zippy thanked these two kids (were they part otter) with a happy dog dance once they helped him carry on his love hate relationship with the tennis ball. A day to remember.
The Virtue of Minding Your Own Business
That’s how I find Rachel, anyway, in the backyard of her father’s vacation house on Maine Island, two miles offshore. One arm’s up and alive, and the other’s down and dead.
I’m the head gardener for Mr. Barrons, Jr. Usually I don’t feel awkward around Rachel Barrons, his daughter. She likes to watch me plant tomatoes near the back fence and she makes sure I give all the myrtle and alyssum enough water, and drench the begonias. I started them in scattered patches circling the oaks. By the end of summer season, Labor Day weekend, they should be puffy and vibrant green, white, deep pink and purple blossoms. When I work the annuals, the perennials, or the new trees into the soil, Rachel always has a half smile on her face, sort of hiding something almost, as if she might break if she showed too much. But she never gives me any trouble, doesn’t get in my way or waste my time yapping at me like Vicki Calmagalli, Rachel’s maid, does whenever I pass close by the main house to do the trimming along the front hedges. I have an assistant now, Russ Darnton, who I ordinarily send to do the close housework, but I like to keep my hand in, let the owner know I’ve still got my faculties.
Rachel is still in the backyard almost an hour later. She seems, to an outsider, to be practicing some form of artistic dance. Her slim frame bends at the waist, while her legs remain ramrod straight together with her feet splayed. Her movements change from time to time, her upper body contorting into a twist at the waist, and her arms swinging upwards, reaching for the light of the afternoon sun. Sometimes she stays rooted in the same position for hours. Vicki comes out with food for her: apples and nuts and other fruits from trees. The only thing Rachel drinks is water, and it seems like she won’t ever stop drinking from the plastic container Vicki hands her, but she does, lets it drop from her grasp, and then stares off towards the bay. Vicki picks up the water bottle and heads back to the main house, where she can start making a list of food to get on the mainland.
The story starts and ends with Rachel, and there’s a lot of junk left over, slivering its way into the mess. She’s my muse; I like to think of her that way; I’m a gardener who wants to come to terms; I’m a collector of information, and I write everything down. I’ve kept a journal since I was a boy at the Little Red Schoolhouse on Conway Road, across the water and in the country five miles. I won’t say I’m grammatically correct either; the words get written even if you think you know how to use them without a diploma. Three years ago the schoolhouse was made an historic site, with old photographs of the teachers and the children wearing knickers and sturdy shoes, winter boots and heavy wool coats stitched by hand. I’m in one of the pictures, small and curious, looking at the flashbulb, the brightness bringing me into the newness of the event, a moth to flame; on one side of me sits my twin brother, Edgar, the mirror image of us split down the middle like a rotten apple core. Sitting on the other side of me was one of the Dobbs’ girls, both girls dead of cancer in their middle ages. We were placed on a row of benches, with the tall people in the upper grades standing like lighthouses behind us. I had the urge to learn more than any kid in the whole district, but one thing can hold a child back, and only one thing. It still does, and that’s money. It can rule the world, and up in the wild of Maine in the early twenties, it ruled my world. I was even planning on running away once, to find a way of my own. Now, money, I’ve come to realize, haunts people. Take Rachel, for example. She’s a young woman, with all this modern technology available, who should be able to do anything she pleases, should be able to make her own way in the world, but the money twisted her like tree roots under sidewalk, made her world crack with pressure. I saw it all.
The Virtue of Minding Your Own Business concludes in Sandcastle and Other Stories. Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts. As always, your comments mean the world to me and help keep curious engines firing.
best always to you in your own life and writing life,
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