WEEDING (A Story For The End Of Lent)

While nothing seemed necessary, everything was.

The old man walked slowly down the alley alongside the building.  It was no true alley he thought, but he had taken to calling it one.  It was really a driveway, a passage in England or Ireland, leading to the garage.  “True” alleys are narrow spaces between tall brick buildings.  To his left was the rectory, an old Victorian mansion.  On his right, a narrow space of struggling Bishop’s Weed and Periwinkle, some old trees and vibrant, vigorous, healthy invaders, weeds.  But this was an alley because he had named it “alley”.  It was a word from home, a place filled with alleys, “true” alleys; and so, an alley to him it became as he walked a bit unevenly, a bit gingerly down it.  He had work to do.

Long, long ago alleys figured in his life.  Alleys were hangouts, hiding places, respites from the summer heat; a place to play blackjack for pennies or nickel-dime poker, experiment with cigarettes and beer, joke with your buddies or begin to explore the differences between boys and girls; until Mrs. Third Floor Busy-body, the neighborhood conscience, called the “Super” and he chased everyone out into the sun.  Growing up he’d enjoyed being in the alleys of home, and didn’t even mind that the rest of the world might think of an “allee” as some tree lined avenue leading to a chateau in the French or English country side.  He didn’t mind, really, because he’d not come across that word until years later in college.  He’d spent a lot of time in alleys. He knew them well, those places of cool shade away from the light.

He entered the garage through the open door, the broken one which wouldn’t stay on its track so dust and leaves entered the place and had to be swept up and thrown away once in a while. The garage would look neat for another week or so, until the wind and rain filled it up again and the broom needed wielding on the floor.  There were two brooms in the garage.  Both had seen better days, had served well.  For that matter, so had the garage itself seen better days and served well.  The brooms stood just inside the broken door, leaned against the wall near some old garden tools which, if anything, had seen and served as much as the brooms.  One or two were dangled from sturdy old nails pounded long ago into the wooden beams, thick unfinished oak still showing the cuts made by the tools which gave them their roughly rectangular form.

There was an old hoe, a small headed gardening spade, a garden rake, an old claw hammer and a four tined haying fork still sharp and dangerous.  And there was his favorite, an ancient cultivator with a mantis shaped head angled back at about fifteen degrees from the shaft.  Slender, thin and deadly it looked.  It was.  Only an eighteen inch fragment of the shaft was left, split and sharp edged; a place of splinters as mean as snake bites if not properly handled.  Nevertheless, it was his favorite tool.  It had been his favorite before it broke, and it was his favorite still.  It looked mean and useful.  It was.

Maybe it was because he had to get closer to the work he did with it that he liked it more now. Maybe it was the satisfaction he felt doing all of that ripping and tearing.  He’d bend low, bracing himself, his left forearm on left thigh, and plunge the tool into the earth behind an invading weed, some unwanted plant, and pull away.  Young oaks and maple saplings, clumps of grass, all would yield.  Some went with no effort at all and lay where they were thrown a few feet aside wilting in the heat; dead on the field.  Others, the deeper rooted ones, needed several stabbing thrusts into the dirt, each plunge deeper into their tangled roots, deeper into the web of weeds and worse the old place was covered with and buried in.

The point would sink into the earth; then a pull, a strain of muscle and tendon and wood and steel against earth and stone and root; then the ripping sound, the feel of things breaking underneath, letting go, and, sometimes, an explosion of soil and lines of roots came ripping free from the earth.  The offensive weed’s tendrils had spread all over.  At first he was surprised at how far and how deep those things went.  But, why not?  They’d had all that time and all that neglect to “settle in”. Often old pieces of machinery, wire, tin cans and other debris dumped back there years ago came free, too.  This was no liberation, though.  This was their defeat.

The old man took his tools from the rusty nails on the garage walls and walked outside.  Shade covered most of the old lot.  There wasn’t as much shade as last year, when the place had been twilight dark at mid-day.  That was before he and some friends had removed nearly a hundred saplings and small trees, and about a ton of long buried junk; the bad memories of other days.  What a bonfire they’d made.  But there was more.  Oh, boy was there more.  “Begin anywhere,” he thought, and he bent to the work.

From a great height, with a great force, the weapon fell directly into his heart, deep and deeper still.  Full into flesh it fell penetrating beyond all boundaries into the center of self; an intelligent weapon, a seeker, purposeful, single minded.  It was made so. And it cut away.  And it dug away.  And it tore away, leaving heavy with the waste of wrong, bringing to light the years of neglect.  Removing itself it returned again into his heart, and again, each return deeper, each stay shorter, each leaving lighter with each wrong removed.

The old man looked around him as he straightened, slowly, from his posture of attack over the torn up ground.  His mantis-headed tool was polished now by the scouring earth, a clump of black soil clinging to its point.  Like an extension of his right hand it hunk from his fist at his side.  He looked around at the work and was satisfied.  Dead Amorites, Jebbuzites and Canaanites…  They lay all about on the field; the enemies of the Lord.

It was a start.  Only that he knew.

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