Friday, November 14, 2014

Nothing 6

Ben was cutting dead blossoms off a hydrangea when someone said his name.

“Hey Ben!”

Ben looked up. Standing on the sidewalk a few feet away was—it took Ben a few seconds to remember his name, but then he remembered.

“Louis,” he said.

Louis used to be in Ben’s group, three cubicles down. It had been two years since Ben quit, and he hadn’t seen Louis since. He looked the same, balding, tech conference t-shirt tucked into jeans, hands in pockets, white sneakers.

“So, this is what you’re doing now?” Louis said.

“Sometimes.” Ben didn’t work on the gardens every day. Probably most days, though.  He’d meet Sammy around noon, find out what needed to be done. Some days they worked together; others, like today, they split up. Some days Ben didn’t come to the gardens at all. Some days he walked the opposite direction, wandered through the cemetery like he had done the first day after he left his job. Some days he walked until he reached the water, headed along the beach. Some days he stayed at home cooking. Some days all he did was sit.

Louis smirked. He was shading his eyes with his hand to block the sun.  “I heard you weren’t doing anything.”

“Mostly not,” Ben said. “Mostly I’m doing nothing.”

“Sounds nice,” Louis said. Ben was used to this by now.  That’s what pretty much everyone said.

“Where are you going?” Ben asked.

“Around the block,” Louis said. “Doctor told me to exercise.”

“There are a lot of great places to walk around here,” Ben said. He was about to make a suggestion, but Louis shook his head.

“I hate walking,” Louis said. “So aimless. I just want to do my ten laps and get it over with.”

Ben looked down at the sheers in his hands, looked up at Louis, who was, Ben realized, already a little sweaty from walking in the sun.

“Pulling weeds is good exercise,” Ben said. “Want to try?”

Louis smiled in a slight I feel sorry for you way. 

“Thanks, but I’m gonna keep walking,” he said. “Nine more to go.”

“Alright,” Ben said. “Enjoy them.”

“Probably not,” Louis said. “I’d say goodbye, but I’ll be seeing you a few more times.”

Ben had moved on to the lavender patch by the time Louis came around again. He was stuffing dead flowers into a paper grocery bag. Sammy kept a compost pile in the garden up on Parkview.

“Hey,” Louis said. He was sweaty and panting. “I was thinking I would try some of that weeding.” He smiled, this time a smile of I’m pretty pathetic, aren’t I?  

Ben took the spade out of his belt, wiped the handle on his jeans, handed it to Louis.

“Start over there.”

Ben pointed to the dirt under the hydrangeas. The weeds under there were thorny and tough. The clippers would be better to use on their thick, woody roots, but Ben only had one set with him. Louis would have to hack through them with the point of the spade.  There were easier ones in the dry dirt over by the cactuses, the kind that you could pull out with just a light tug of your fingers, but since Louis was looking for a workout, Ben didn’t mention them.

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