When my elderly neighbour, Walt, went to visit his daughter for a few weeks, I volunteered to look after his garden. After a lengthy conversation and several panicked glances over to my yard, he stopped arguing, nodded wearily and pointed out where he kept the bug spray, hoe and sprinklers.
The first week sailed by. I kept Walt’s garden alive and weed free. I even got the vegetable patch in order. I was having so much luck that I began to plan the rejuvenation of my own garden – something similar to the grounds of a French palace with a few hedges, trees shaped like soft-serve ice-cream, marble statues…
But then I noticed the bugs. Bright weird orange ones like a moving blanket over the tomatoes. They were like little jewels, only creepy with six legs and long antennae – if jewels were creepy and had six legs, long antennae and ate tomatoes. Regardless, I couldn’t have them eat Walt’s vege patch. So I grabbed the spray with the picture of the big bug with a red cross through it and covered the tomatoes. There was no way all that hard work was going to be taken from me at the last minute.
But within a week, all those tomato plants were dead.
“What have you been doing?” asked my husband, with rather more accusation than was completely necessary.
I showed him the spray.
“Well, no wonder. That’s weed killer.”
The picture wasn’t a big bug with a red cross through it. It was a teeny weed with a red cross through it.
In panic, I went to the nursery and purchased eight more tomato plants. I yanked the old ones from the ground, added a bit of fertiliser and replanted them all. Within a week or two, I had the place looking perfect again.
Walt came home and I was eager to show him my handiwork. The vege patch was flourishing.
Which was why his words were unexpected.
“Had a bit of a problem then?”
“Um,” I said, my mind racing. “Heh, heh. Not really. Heh, heh.”
“Hmm. Then why have my tomatoes lost three centimetres in four weeks?”
His eyes sparkled. He smiled a bit. He bent in to examine the plants. “Saints preserve us,” he said, his hand clutching his chest.
“Are you okay, Walt?” I said, my own heart rate tripling.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. He looked at me, shaking his head in disbelief. “Is it some gene splicing genetic mutilation, or a miracle of nature?”
“Uh…I’m not following…”
“My tomatoes,” he said. “They’re growing capsicums.”
It was suddenly difficult to swallow. My imaginary French garden withered and disintegrated. “I’m sorry Walt, I – ”
He placed a hand on my shoulder and whispered, “Just between you and me, tomatoes give me heartburn.”
I smiled. “Thanks, Walt.”
“But if there’s a next time, I think I may ask Meryl to watch the garden.” He winked.
“Good idea,” I said, my French garden springing to life. “I’ve got heaps to do in my yard anyway.”