When I saw his somewhat worn and deteriorating glove in front of the Chamber of Commerce office, I thought it looked as if it had been buried for an extended period. I only briefly pondered it before I began to imagine the grandmother from Story 17 – a careful community gardener who lost the glove after being distracted – by a particularly favorite kind of distraction.
At 3:23 PM on 30 May 2015, a woman knelt on a white and blue, flower-patterned dense foam pad next to a 22 inch high, four and a half foot long, two and a half foot wide rough wooden planter box on the west side of South Main Street. Her straight back and wispy gray hair reflected in the angled windows of the Chamber of Commerce 18 feet behind her. There was an orange, plastic five gallon bucket to her left, half-full with the stalks, leaves and petal-less blooms of tulips and daffodils. To her right were two two-by-three plant flats. Ten of the spaces in the flats were empty. The other two each contained a four-inch high plant rising from soil. To the right of the flats was a loose triangle of three, four-inch square, green plastic greenhouse pots. The pot closest to the woman held a pile of dirt-encrusted bulbs. In the next was a small trowel with a wooden handle whose blue finish was rubbed shiny and almost transparent in places. The last pot was empty.
The woman patted the topsoil around the base of an eight-inch high begonia with a right hand sheathed in a well-worn, too-large work glove. Her navy blue cardigan sweater was open and the sleeves were bunched up to her elbows, revealing ivory white, bone-thin forearms.
A small, piercing cry to her right caused her to straighten and turn her head until she saw a younger woman with an infant swaddled to her torso a few steps away.
The gardener smiled at the mother as she moved closer. The older woman then tilted her head and looked at the red face peeping out from the ivory wrap, and said, “Oh, why so unhappy?” Then her neck straightened, the corners of her lips drew even higher and the skin at the outside corners of her eyes folded along well-worn creases. She said, “Oh ho! This must be Emma!” She then placed both palms on the lip of the planter and drew her right knee up and placed her right foot just off the pad and directly under her hip. She exhaled a gentle “ooph” as she pushed with arms and legs and slowly straightened to her full 5’1″ height.
The young woman, Emma’s mother, stopped on the sidewalk three feet from the older woman. As she watched the process of standing, she slowly said, “Oh. Yes. You’re…” Her eyes narrowed slightly and she tilted her head as she looked at the older woman.
“Bea. I gave your husband piano lessons. Some years ago. This is such a small town.” She burbled a soprano chuckle and her hands reached down towards the blue fabric on her thighs. The hands stopped three-quarters of an inch from contact at which point she turned the palms up and looked down at them. She then shook her head briefly, raising her eyebrows and flattening her lips. Almost immediately, the smile returned and she looked back at the younger woman and said, “And my grapevine is particularly well-informed about children.” Emma’s mother smiled then looked down at Emma’s head as the infant’s wail intensified.
“That’s right. Err. Mrs. F?”
“That is what the boys always called me.” The older woman, Mrs F, looked at Emma’s mother’s face and said, “Four months?”
“Five. January.” Emma’s mother shifted her weight and the angle of her hips. Her left hand moved to the small of her back and pressed. Mrs. F’s eyebrows drew together and her lips pressed slightly flat. She cocked her head three degrees to the right. Another wail drew the eyes of both women down to the wriggling bundle strapped to the younger woman. Without looking at her hands, Mrs F pulled first her left and then her right glove off her hands. She set the gloves on the rough wooden lip of the planter and reached out toward Emma’s head with her tiny white hand.
As the hand moved, Mrs. F looked up into the mother’s eyes and raised her eyebrows slightly. Emma’s mom smiled and tilted her chin straight down less than an inch. Mrs F gently placed her hand on top of Emma’s head. When the palm made contact with the brown-blonde hair, darkened with sweat at the temples and curling at the top of the tiny head, Mrs F exhaled quietly. Emma took in a breath and then snuffled through her nose. As the new silence settled on the street, Emma’s mom let out a breath. All three drew in their next breath in near unison.
Emma’s mom raised her head and closed her eyes in an extended blink. Her right hand joined her left at the small of her back. Mrs F’s hand stayed on Emma’s head and she murmured, “Sweet girl.” Then her eyes strayed up to the mother’s upturned face. She said, “Sweet girl” again. After one more silent shared breath, Mrs. F nodded.
“Would you indulge a deprived grandmother and let me hold her?” Mrs. F said. Emma’s mom’s eyes popped open and looked wide at the older woman – who was again focused on Emma. She expelled a quiet, extended, “Oh,” But Mrs. F continued, “Other than my own oldest, I’ve been blessed with boys – two sons and seven grandsons – I don’t know when I last cradled a baby girl.” Emma remained quiet. Mrs. F looked at the infant. Emma’s mom took a breath and smiled. She put her right arm along Emma’s body. Her hand cradled the infant’s head. She reached up to her left shoulder with her left hand and untucked a corner of the ivory fabric.
Twenty-three seconds later, Mrs. F sang, “Of course, she’s wearing blue!” as she cradled Emma in her left arm and caressed the girl’s cheek with the pad of her right index finger. She began to sway at the hips. Emma’s head began to move three inches left and up and three inches right and down in rhythm with the hip movement. Mrs. F’s eyes remained fixed on the girl’s face.
Emma’s mom pivoted and sat down on the edge of the planter. She closed her eyes and shifted slightly. Her left hip brushed against the tip of the middle finger of the right glove on the lip of the planter. That glove dropped into the planter, landing on its side, pinkie finger down. It leaned against the wall of the planter, almost vertical and almost exactly the same color as the wood. The left glove teetered and then fell into the greenhouse pot atop the trowel.
Neither woman noticed the disappearance of the gloves.
“You do this for…” Emma’s mother said.
“Joy? Because it needs to be done? Because green growth is life?” Mrs. F said with a smile. Her eyes strayed from the little girl’s face to that of the mother. “There are a few of us who take care of these planters each spring.” She gestured south along Main Street and then looked at the closed eyes of her adult companion, smiled widely and shrugged.
“That’s nice,” the younger woman said. Her eyes remained closed. She had tilted her face up into the sun.
Mrs. F looked up from Emma’s face and watched the mother take in the sun on her face. Seven seconds later she said, “Would you like to plant the last two mums?”
Emma’s mother opened her eyes and turned to Mrs. F. Mrs. F looked down at the two remaining plants. The younger woman’s eyes followed and she smiled. “You don’t mind holding Emma for a few more minutes?”
“Mind?” Mrs. F said. “That offer was a naked ploy.” Both women laughed. Emma burbled. They both looked down at the girl’s face. Her eyes were open and her lips curled up at the corners.
. . .
Fifty-one minutes later an old man rolled a wheelbarrow next to the planter into the space where the bucket, pots and kneeling pad had been. The steel bumper in front of the wheel thumped against the planter and caused the glove inside to fall, palm down, onto the soil. The wheelbarrow was half full of reddish-brown bark mulch. The man scanned the fifteen plants neatly laid out in the planter and said, “Bea” quietly and smiled. He then bent at the waist and with two hands scooped a mound of mulch out of the wheelbarrow and transferred it to the planter. He mounded it on the soil between plants and spread it carefully. He repeated this set of movements fourteen times. On the seventh of these repetitions, he covered Mrs. F’s glove. After a total of eight minutes at the planter, he straightened for a final time, scanned the inside of the planter, took up the handles of the wheelbarrow and rolled north.
Mrs. F’s right glove was now covered by 1.25 inches of bark mulch.
. . .
On 18 May 2016, Emma’s mom pushed a stroller west on First Street from North Hayes. Emma was vocalizing a high “boop” noise repeatedly. Emma’s mom had a smartphone to her right ear. She said, “We just turned off Hayes and we’re – Oh I see you!” She waved to the west and slightly north as she pulled the phone from her ear. She then touched the screen once with her left index finger and placed the phone in her right front pocket. 86 yards down the street, the storm door of a blue house was open and a tiny figure stood on the threshold waving.
A minute later Emma’s mom maneuvered the stroller up the walkway and parked it parallel to the steps up to the blue painted deck. “My sweet girls!” Mrs. F said from the doorway. Emma’s arms could be seen projecting and waving from deep in the over-sized stroller. Her vocalization had changed to a repeated, “Mizz, mizz, mizz.”
“I have your Tupperware right here!” Mrs. F said pointing down to a paper shopping bag at her feet. Emma’s mom was bent at the hips, reaching into the stroller. “Not having to stand in that kitchen every night has certainly been a blessing since I’ve been home.” Emma was now in her mom’s arms, perched on and straddling a slightly projecting left hip. The two mounted the steps onto the deck. When they reached the door, Emma’s mom put her right hip against the storm door and Mrs. F’s right hand came off the door. The older woman extended her right index finger and caressed Emma’s left cheek. The child chuckled musically. Mrs. F bent down – at mid back – just slightly and Emma’s mom immediately flexed both biceps and raised Emma by 18 inches. Mrs. F’s lips gently touched Emma’s cheek and the little girl held out her arms toward the older woman. “Oh I wish I could hold you my sweet girl,” Mrs. F said and placed her right hand atop Emma’s head. As Emma’s mom settled the toddler back on her hip, she pivoted to the left. The older woman’s hand remained on Emma’s head. The head and the hand began moving up and down by approximately three inches in time with a gentle sway of Emma’s mom’s hips.
“How is your hip?” Emma’s mom said. Mrs. F’s left hand tightened on the rubber handle of the aluminum cane upon which it rested.
“Good as new!” she said. “Well, almost. The physical therapist wants me to take it easy for another few weeks.” Mrs. F had sharply emphasized the two t’s in “take it easy.” She now paused. Emma had reached up with both hands and taken Mrs. F’s hand from her head. She now held the older woman’s finger in her right hand and was touching the tip of it with her left index finger. “Which means I’ve roped my grandson into doing my planter downtown this year.” Mrs. F took the tiny left hand and kissed the tip of the left index finger. She said, “Oh! Speaking of which. Could you possibly move the begonias from my kitchen onto the porch?” Mrs F released the girl’s hand. Emma’s eyes widened as she moved the still extended left index finger and touched Mrs. F’s right cheek. Mrs F said, “He said he might have to come some late evening and I go to sleep so early.”
Fourteen minutes later Emma’s arms could be seen again projecting and waving from deep within the stroller. “Call if you need anything Mrs. F,” Emma’s mom said, turning the stroller down the walk.” Mrs. F waved and let the storm door hiss closed, leaned on the cane, shuffled back and closed the blue front door. Three begonias in four-inch square green plastic, greenhouse pots were lined up on the east edge of the blue deck.
. . .
At 4:12 PM on 1 June 2017, Emma’s mom stood on the chipped blue paint on the deck of Mrs. F’s house on First Street. A nested stack of three four-inch square, green plastic greenhouse pots sat at the east edge of the deck, the top one mostly full of dirt-encrusted bulbs. Emma stood on the threshold to the right of Mrs. F who was bent 45 degrees at the waist. Her right hand was extended and her right index finger caressed the toddler’s cheek. Mrs F said, “My favorite cheek in town!”
Mrs. F began to straighten and Emma began to extend her left arm. Emma’s mom reached her right hand to the older woman’s left elbow and her left hand took Mrs. F’s left hand. Mrs. F continued to straighten. Emma’s arm was now fully extended above her shoulder and her index finger pointed at Mrs. F’s face. The little girl said, “Cheek?”
Mrs. F looked down at the extended finger and said, “Oh dear.” Her brows drew together for less than half a second then she turned her head to her right shoulder and at a volume 75 percent louder than her previous statement said, “Johnny could you bring one of those stools here?”
Emma’s mom said, “Oh that isn’t necessary.”
Mrs. F chuckled out, “It most certainly is!” as a dark sienna, 29-inch high, red oak stool appeared next to Mrs F out of the dark hallway. “You should be able to reach from there, my sweet girl!” Emma’s mom put her hands under Emma’s arms and lifted the girl up. Emma lifted her feet up as she swung over the seat of the stool. As she settled on her knees on the seat, Mrs. F put her right hand on the girls head and Emma reached out with her left index finger and caressed Mrs. F’s right cheek.
. . .
At 9:33 AM on 15 May 2018, Emma’s mom was kneeling next to the planter on Main Street. Her left hand held the handle of a trowel. To her left on the rim of the planter, there were two four-inch square, green plastic greenhouse pots – one empty, one almost full of dirt encrusted bulbs. On her right was a similar pot. It held a begonia plant. Emma’s face appeared between the begonia and the older woman’s arm. “Done?” the little girl said.
“One more plant,” Emma’s mom said and she began to push the trowel down into the dirt immediately in front of her. Her head cocked to the left and her eyes narrowed. She looked down, laid the trowel down and reached with her left hand into the dirt. That hand rose above the level of the lip, holding a seven and a half by three and a half inch object encrusted in dirt. She held the object at one end and began to tap it against the lip of the planter. Dirt cascaded off and revealed an expanse of brown leather. After a two more taps Emma said, “Gwove, mommy!” and reached for the glove.
Emma’s mom looked over her right shoulder and then over her left shoulder. Then she handed the glove to Emma and turned 90 degrees and pointed toward the front of the Chamber of Commerce. “Can you go put it on the post over there?” she said.
Emma took the glove in the palms of both hands, supporting it at shoulder height. She walked across the sidewalk to the plinth at the south end of the Chamber of Commerce entry and set it carefully on the concrete. “There!” she said. Then she turned back to her mom and walked toward her saying, “gwove gwove gwove.” She swiped her dirty hands down the blue fabric covering her thighs as she approached.
When the little girl was back by her side, Emma’s mom turned back to the planter. “Can you hand me that plant, Emma?” she said, pointing to the begonia pot to Emma’s right. Emma backed up a step, put both hands on the pot, lifted it from the wood and pivoted slowly. Her mom took the bottom of the pot in her right hand. Emma released her hold and her mom swung the pot over the planter in front of her. She placed her left hand on top of the soil in the pot with the stalk of the plant in the curve between thumb and index finger. She then inverted the pot and shook it in her hands once. Loose dirt fell around her left hand and then she pulled up on the pot, leaving the dirt-covered root ball of the plant resting in her left hand. Emma took the pot from her mom and set it next to her on the rim of the planter. Emma’s mom cupped her right hand over the root ball and inverted the plant again. She then lowered it into the hole in the dirt in front of her. She swept the loose dirt from around the hole into the gaps. Then her bare right hand patted the topsoil around the base of the plant. Her eyes scanned the planter, seeing a familiar arrangement of three begonia plants and twelve other seedlings.
She brought her right hand up onto the lip of the planter, shifted her weight to the right and brought her left knee up and left foot under her hip. She then pushed with hands and legs and straightened.
. . .
At 10:35 AM on 15 May 2018, a lanky man emerged from the coffee shop at the corner of Sixth and Main Streets. He turned north on Main Street and strode quickly past the pawn shop, the bookstore, the breakfast restaurant and the print shop. As he reached the Chamber of Commerce storefront, he suddenly stopped, eyes focused on the plinth under the south corner of the triangular overhang at the front of the building. After less than a second, he unslung his pack, and set it on the sidewalk. He opened the pack, pulled out a camera and began taking pictures of the glove posed on the plinth.
As the lanky man put his camera back in his bag, on First Street Emma and Emma’s mom stood on the chipped blue paint of Mrs. F’s front deck. Emma stood to the left of her mom, with her hand in her mom’s hand. The stroller sat at the bottom of the deck steps. Emma’s mom held a stack of three four-inch square, green plastic greenhouse pots cradled in her right arm.
The blue door opened. Two aluminum struts of a walker appeared in the dark doorway. Mrs. F’s soprano “My sweet girls!” sounded and her bony white hands appeared on the handles of the walker just before her scuffed, navy blue leather flats shuffled into the light. Her face caught the light just under a half-second later. She was smiling broadly. She said, “Oh my goodness, she grows and grows!”
Emma tilted her face sharply up and to the right and said, “Up? Kiss?”
Emma’s mom looked down at the girl’s face and then up to the older woman. Mrs. F smiled and nodded once. Emma’s mom pointed into the house and said, “The stool’s right there. Be careful.”
Emma put her left hand on the door jamb and lifted her right foot toward the threshold. The toe of her pink high-top sneaker tapped the blue wood under the aluminum threshold and the girl said “Oop!” and put out both her hands. She landed with hands on the blue wool runner on the hall floor and knees on the aluminum. With hands planted firmly on the blue carpet, she immediately drew her right foot up and under her hip. She pushed with arms and legs and quickly straightened to her full 3’3″ height. She immediately disappeared into the darkness of the hall. Both older women turned and looked the way she had gone.
A moment later a squeaking, scraping noise could be heard approaching the door. After just under three seconds, the dark sienna legs a stool appeared and stopped next to the aluminum walker. Emma’s voice could be heard saying “miz cheek. miz cheek. miz cheek” then her face appeared over the seat of the stool. The little girl carefully brought first her left knee and then her right up onto the seat of the stool and then placed her hands on the handle of the walker. She then leaned toward Mrs F’s face. Mrs F turned and kissed the little girl’s left cheek. The older woman then reached up with her right hand and caressed the cheek with her index finger.
As the bony white hand withdrew Mrs F turned her head to face forward. Emma then reached up and with her left index finger extended and caressed Mrs F’s left cheek. When Emma withdrew her finger, there was a 3/8 inch wide, one inch long swath of dirt decorating the ivory and rose of Mrs F’s right cheek.
Mrs. F smiled and reached her right hand out and placed it atop the brown blonde hair of the little girl kneeling on the stool next to her. “Thank you, my sweet girl,” she said.