I was something of a handyman around the neighborhood. Mowing lawns, raking leaves, painting and repairing picket fences were all in a typical day’s work for me. I suppose I never really saw much in the world to inspire me to greater ambitions.
So on an early spring afternoon, I found myself digging an expansion for Mrs. Derrick’s flower garden. She was energetic for her age, but the brute work of tilling the soil was a bit more than her old back could manage. I was happy to help her out, her garden was a marvel and had been featured in a local magazine for several years. I even felt a small amount of pride in the tiny role I played in it all. I was smiling when I turned the earth and uncovered something odd.
It was a small bag or pouch, once made of fine leather but now crumbling as I brushed the dirt away. It tore open as I freed it from its loamy tomb. I had dimly hoped that it might contain some rare old coins or something of value and I was somewhat disappointed by the corroded odds and ends that spilled out. After who knows how long in the ground, only a single item had survived.
Perhaps noticing that I had ceased my labors, Mrs. Derrick came outside with a pitcher of lemonade and a glass of ice. Showing her my small discovery, I could see she was as unimpressed as I had been.
“Maybe there’s more to find down there.” she dismissed.
“But what do you think this thing is?” I asked showing her the only intact object. It was a small disc of glass, elaborately faceted around the rim. Though the facets were marked with strange scratches and gouges, the larger faces were smooth and polished. A hole near the edge seemed meant for a chain or lanyard.
“An old monocle maybe?” she speculated, squinting at it, “Looks like a piece of broken glass to me. Best throw it away before you cut yourself.”
As I walked toward the trashcan, the phone inside began to ring. As she hurried off to answer it she told me to help myself to the lemonade. But instead of tossing the thing out, I went to the water spigot to wash it and my hands. But seeing it free of mud only made it stranger still, the glass was dark and smokey.
How anyone could have used the lens was beyond me, I doubted that anything could even be seen through it. As I enjoyed a cold drink, I surveyed the yard. The image was darkest around the edge where little could be seen, but toward the center the cloudiness faded, though everything seemed to linger in some gloomy twilight that distorted much of the periphery. This I might have guessed to be some weird optical effect, but the effect on what was in focus was something I didn’t dare try to explain.
The first thing that caught my attention was the small colorful bud of a wildflower. As I looked at it, I was seized by a sensation much like awe or reverence. I felt a deep connection to it, transfixed by its simplistic beauty. A vision of its blossom unfolding to perfection filled my mind. I sighed somewhat sadly at the thought of this future it would never live to see. I was already scheduled to mow the lawn and it would be lost to a roaring, hungry maw.
For a while I took in the world through this fresh perspective. Everything seemed new and fascinating. I could go on and on about the birds which sang from the trees, or about the confounding order in the random shape of branches and leaves. But turning toward the house, I saw something I wish I had never seen.
Through the window, I saw Mrs. Derrick as she chatted on the phone. But the warm and happy woman, as seen through the lens, was cold, hollow, and empty. Her skin was lifeless, like so much pale blue wax. I turned away, instinctively repulsed by the undeniable presence of death.
Within the week, she had passed. According to her son, who arrived to see to her property and belongings, it had been a sudden, massive stroke. I offered to keep up the yard until other arrangements could be made and he graciously accepted.
The grass had grown long and tall in those few short days. I took some measure of satisfaction restoring things to the way she would have wanted them to be. I stopped only once in the work and let the mower fall to silence.
I was stunned and shocked by a sight that should have meant nothing at all.
With an angry denial, I restored the engine to life and moved on, though I could not shake the outre claws that clutched at my heart.
And all I had seen was a wildflower, reaching up to offer its perfect blossom.
story by Joe Stanley