by James Bates
Alicia Jorgenson set the cup down and said, "Here you go, Blake. Here's some nice chamomile tea for you."
Blake held up a hand in acknowledgment, smiled his thanks, and said in a low voice, "Come and join me. This will be done in just a minute." Then he closed his eyes and went back to his relaxation tape, ear buds firmly in place, listening to the melodic strains of "Trickling Forest Stream."
Alicia went to the kitchen, made herself a cup, came back to the den and sat down. She wasn't sure what to think about her husband, recovering now from the mild heart attack he'd suffered six weeks earlier in the summer; a heart attack brought on by his obsession with his garden and with ridding it of the female rabbit and her babies that had taken over eating, it seemed, everything in sight. He'd wanted to win first place in the garden contest after settling for second place last year. Well, this year he'd placed third.
Alicia remembered the outcome of the judging very well. At the time, Blake had been into his second week of recovery. When the announcement was made, Alicia had expected him to explode and rant and rave and go on a rampage. It would have been par for the course given his highly strung and competitive nature. But he hadn't even gritted his teeth or swore an oath of revenge. Instead, completely out of character, he'd shrugged his shoulders and grinned, "We'll, at least it's something," meaning the third place award, a simple plaque, not the shining gold trophy he'd envisioned. It was so out of character for him that she'd had to look twice to see if the tall, slightly overweight person she'd been married to for over forty years really was, in fact, the same man. He was. Maybe, Alicia thought to herself, as she went back to sipping her tea in companionable silence while Blake finished listening to the trickling stream, maybe he really was starting to change.
At just that moment, Becky Johnson and Maggie Jones, two old friends who had outlived each of their respective husbands by over twenty years, were walking past the Jorgenson's house.
"Look at how lovely the pink geraniums and vinca vine are doing in those hanging baskets," Becky remarked.
"Humph. That Blake, he's such a jerk," Maggie rejoined, "Thinks he knows everything about gardening."
"Well, his flower beds do look awfully nice."
"He's just so full of himself. He doesn't even bother to help out at the community garden. He's a jerk in my book."
Becky grinned. Deep down she agreed with Maggie's assessment of their arrogant neighbor, but she occasionally enjoyed winding her friend up. It was easy to do, too, since Maggie had opinions on nearly everything and everybody under the sun, Blake Jorgenson being near the top of the list. Not that either of them were happy he'd suffered his heart attack, not at all. Neither of them had mean spirited bone in their body. But they both secretly agreed that Blake really was, in their opinion, a little too big for his britches. Plus, the fact that the heart attack, which had been brought on when he'd freaked out over what he referred to as "That Damn Rabbit," well, you had to admit, in the right context, it was kind of funny.
That being said, Becky pointed and grinned. There was the aforementioned rabbit, calmly nibbling contentedly on one of Blake's orange nasturtiums. She was about to shoo it away when Maggie put her hand on her friend's arm to stop her. Becky just grinned, "Okay. He does sort of deserve it, doesn't he?"
The two smiled at each other and continued walking on, arm in arm, happily enjoying the tranquility of a quiet August morning, ambling down the street and away from both Blake's garden and the healthy looking rabbit, who, having finished with the nasturtiums was now moving on to some delectable looking bachlor buttons.
Inside the Jorgenson home, Blake's tape had ended. He happened to glance outside and spied the two elderly ladies. "Look at those two old bitties," he said to Alicia. "God, they're so high and mighty." He took a gulp of his supposed relaxing tea, choked on it a little and coughed.
Alicia leaned over and patted him on the back. "Blake, calm down. You know what your doctor said."
"I know, 'You've got to try and learn how to relax and mellow out,'" he said, in a sing-song voice, mimicking the words of Dr. Rose, a doctor chosen by Blake as much for his last name as for his medical acumen, "I'm trying."
Alicia took a sip of her tea, "I know you are dear, but you really do need to try harder. Especially when it comes to your gardening. It's supposed to be fun, you know. Relaxing. A hobby."
Blake gazed at his wife with affection. Of course she was right. He wasn't a dummy. He knew he that for the sake of his health he needed to learn how to relax, but it was hard. If it wasn't for That Damn Rabbit, he'd have won first place in the garden show this year: A big, shining, golden trophy instead of that stupid wooden plaque. Everyone said he deserved it. But, no, Mrs. Bunny Rabbit had chosen this summer to not only return to the neighborhood, but to have about a million babies, all of which she brought over to feed on his prized flowers. Damn it, life just wasn't fair. He felt himself getting worked up all over again. Alicia was right. He really did need to learn to calm down; to mellow out, as the doctor had said.
He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, "I know, dear," he said, sighing. "I hear what you're saying." He took another sip of his chamomile and grimaced, coughing slightly.
Alicia stood up. "Well, that's good. Now, I've got some errands to run. I'll be stopping at the grocery store. Need anything?"
How about a shotgun for That Damn Rabbit, Blake thought to himself, but, instead, said, "No. I'm good." He paused and added, smiling, half-way joking, half-way not, "How about maybe something stronger than this tea?" He grinned and mimicked a drinking motion.
"Blake," Alicia admonished him, "You know what the doctor said."
"I know. No booze. No red meat. No nothing fun. I get it. Tea and saltines." He sighed again, starting to feel just ever so slightly sorry for himself.
"It's not that bad. All of us just want you to get better, you know." She bent to give him a kiss on the forehead, "I'll see you in a little while." She patted him on the arm, "Good bye, dear."
Blake waved goodbye and returned to his iPod and his relaxation music. He scrolled down the playlist until he found, "Soft Springtime Rain," and set it playing. He sat back and closed his eyes, dreaming of better days; better days when that rabbit was finally gone. They couldn't come soon enough as far as he was concerned. It was frustrating. All the time he put into his garden, gone to waste. Third place. What a disappointment. Alicia didn't care about the award, she just liked to garden. Maybe he should be more like her. Food for thought. On the other hand, maybe he really should get a gun and blow the rabbit to Kingdom Come. He thought about it for minute, picturing a gut dripping, intestine spilling, disgusting bloody scene. No. He could never harm any animal, even the rabbit, much as he despised the infernal beast. Maybe he really should learn how to relax. Yes, that would be the best thing to do. He sighed once again, leaned back in his chair and drifted off to sleep, the sound of soft summer rain pitter-pattering in his ears.
Blake didn't see, and it was probably a good thing, too, but out in the garden the female rabbit that Maggie and Becky had seen was still there, only now her four babies had joined her. They moved as a group, happily feeding on newly sprouted bachelor buttons and whatever other delectable treat they could find. The choices were endless. After a few minutes, before they became too full, the big female gathered her young ones to her and led them away. She had learned over time to never completely eat all the food in a given location. She always left some for another day, and that's what she did now.
She began making her way to a field across the street and the next block over, down by the railroad tracks. The red clover there was sweet and tasty, a nice change from the flowers in the man's garden. In fact, maybe she'd just leave the flower garden alone for the rest of the season. There was whole summer's supply of clover fresh for the taking in the field. She could always come back. Anytime. If not this summer, for sure next year. The more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea.
As she hopped along she kept her eyes peeled, senses alert: there were cats in the neighborhood, and a family of fox in the area; there were cars to watch out for, and even young boys with bows and arrows on the loose. She was an ever vigilant mother, and she did all she could to feed and protect her little family.
As she cautiously crossed the final street and made her way into the clover, she finalized her decision. She wouldn't return to the man's garden. Instead, she'd graze in the clover field for the rest of the season. But next year? Next year she'd be back, and maybe with a new batch of babies. Why not? It made perfect sense. She liked almost all the flowers in the man's garden. The food was both good for her when she was nursing and nutritious for the young ones as they got older, a welcome change from red clover. Besides, in a way she felt she owed it to the man to leave his garden alone, especially since he had so thoughtfully planted all those delectable flowers this year. It was almost like he had done it especially for her.
So she wouldn't return to the man's garden. This year. For she was patient rabbit. She could wait. But next year? Yes, mostly definitely, next year she'd be back. There was no doubt in her mind about that. None at all.