The Gardener Returns, A Dialogue, Part Ten Coda

Gardener – Ahh, having finally found his father, the Gardener can now return.
Writer – Return where?
Gardener – What do you mean where? It’s the title of your crazy series. Naturally I’ve anticipated an answer.
Writer – Hasn’t he returned many times?
Gardener – Oh come on!
Writer – After all the Gardener lives seasonally. He dies annually, is reborn perennially, like Persephone.
Gardener – Not the classics!
Writer – Okay, let’s try again, one night, years later, he sees his father again.
Gardener – In the sales lot?
Writer – In a dream. He is a boy again and he sees his father rushing by. His father greets him but continues on. “I’m late,” he tells the boy. At noon the next dad his mother calls him and tells him his father is dead. The man who washed and waxed the cars in the lot found him lying on his cot in the back room of the office.
Gardener – How did he know to call her?
Writer – He didn’t. The police called her asking if she wanted to claim the body. She says no.
Gardener – What about the other woman?
Writer – The Gardener asked his mother that. He remembers the day his mother took him past the house where his father lived with another family. Apparently, she doesn’t want him either. But several days later his mother calls the police and tells them she’s changed her mind. They give her the name of the city hospital where he was taken. She then calls a funeral home and pays to have him cremated. They ask her when she wants to pick up his ashes. She tells them in a day or two but she never comes for him.
Several years later, the Gardener is called in to plant a tree for one of his first clients, a woman who had been in a wheel chair. She has died and the family wants to bury her ashes in the corner of the garden where the gardener had built a shady nook. They want him to “plant” her beneath the root ball of a small tree they would like to dedicate to her. He and his crew are standing aside as woman’s elderly partner opens the urn and tries to empty the contents into hole, but the woman breaks down and the Gardener takes the urn from her, drops into the hole and carefully releases the ash. A small grey cloud of dust drifts away, the elderly partner sighing. That’s when he starts thinking about his father again. While the men are planting the tree, he returns to his pickup and calls his mother at the nursing home where she works. He asks if she has “dad’s ashes.” She says, “No. I never picked him up.” Later she calls him back and gives him the phone number of the funeral home. When he calls the funeral office the attendant asks him to wait. “Yes,” she tells him, “we have Mr. Salesman in the back on an upper shelf among other unclaimed remains.”
Gardener – Deserved him right!
Writer – He feels differently. He can’t believe that after all these years he is now in full possession of his father, whose remains fill a plastic bag inside a cardboard box on which his name in written on an official sticker over which UNCLAIMED is written in magic marker. Accompanied by his wife and teenage daughters the Gardener carries the car salesman to the former Garden on Drake’s Tongue, where the Gardener had worked under the Wizard. No one knows the Gardener. Some of the great trees are still there, they know him; but many are gone. Many of the trees he planted are now grow tall and majestic, they too know him. The Gardener and his family climb the stairs and reach the crest of the High Garden. A large sign points the way. The Gardener isn’t prepared for what he finds up there. A fastidious cultivation has destroyed the controlled wildness he had once maintained. Asters still a month from blooming abound. Someone had introduced Echinacea and it is everywhere in varying colors. Where there was once a multi-dimensional approach to space everything seems the same height.
They turn around and descend to the Woodlands. There are a great many people in the nursery, which has now been asphalted for the convenience of the customer. Small electric trucks moved back and forth from the nursery to the parking lot carrying shrubs and trees and perennials. In the Woodland, the vines are gone. Many of the trees he started are of good height. Someone, he notes, is trying down here and he appreciates it. But he decides they must go on. No one is around, so he tries his old key to the gate in the fence and it works. They go through the Park, which hasn’t changed much and arrive at the River. The mid-summer air is still and sticky. He opens the box and removes the translucent bag carrying his father’s ashes. Etched on a small brass medallion tied by wire around the neck of the bag, an inscription bears his father’s name, date of birth and death. He realizes the attendants at the funeral home could have given him anyone’s bag of ashes. For some reason his wife and the girls are crying, though they never knew the man. It makes him want to cry as well, but he doesn’t. He crosses the tracks his shadow half his size and clamors to the river’s edge over rocks. The tide’s coming in. He’s disappointed. He wished he had checked online the coming and going of the ocean. Instead he imagined the river heading to sea on the same momentum that took him, years earlier, out of the Garden he’s worked in so many years. But it’s too late now to start all over; he’s not doing this again. From the other side of the tracks his family watches. His youngest daughter, thirteen, shouts, “bye, grandpa!” as he scatters the remains of a stranger into the River Slang, flowing rapidly back to where it started, having come and gone at the mercy of the moon, long before the people arrived.
Gardener – Well then, the sun beckons, time to go out.

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