When Clara Died
THE MATRIARCH is gone. The summer’s been strange. A few heads of holey lettuce are all that’s left. And a wire fence around the garden, so grand and sturdy, now so inappropriately defensive.
Once there was the fennel, sprays of bright green that my brother and I would pick and stuff inside red handkerchiefs tied to the ends of sticks. We liked to play Hobo, to march around the yard with our loot and draw maps with crayons where Xs marked magic spots. We’d trace out a trail on an old newspaper and follow it behind the garden to the clearing hidden deep within a stand of bamboo. We had to crawl on our bellies through the bushes before they opened up to where tufts of wild grass softened the ground and watery sunlight fell through the cover of a late July magnolia. “We’re running away,” we’d whisper.
There were planks nailed to the trunk so we could climb up and sit on the long, low branches. The air was heavier here. It made our hearts slow. We might hear sounds from the kitchen across the yard, grownup laughter and china. There would be lobsters cooking or soup made from seaweed collected at low tide. But we were hidden behind the bamboo, under the canopy of the ancient tree. And it was perfect to feel both together and alone.
More than fennel grew in the garden. Raspberries, carrots, and rhubarb, too. I can see her bent over, sagging like a day-old balloon in an old Tibetan print dress, digging up Canada thistles at the root with a carving knife, sweeping away stray grasses from around the rows of purslane. But it is only dirt piles now, clumps of pigweed. And this fence that once meant something, once kept the skunks out.
“They’ll replant,” says my father, when we visit her empty house one weekend in the fall. Birds still beat their wings in the rosehips, among the weeds. “It was a strange summer.” His hands are in his jean pockets. He looks at his shoes.
Nina Boutsikaris is an MFA candidate at the University of Arizona where she is a writing instructor and a staff member on Sonora Review. Her work appears in Brevity, Apt, Booth and elsewhere.