It was towards the end of summer when Edward awoke later than usual. The morning was already hot, and the air sat motionless like a heavy, hazy, blanket upon the landscape. The drone of a few crickets was the only sound, save for the occasional chirp of a bird off in the distance. Even the beasts of the woods had the sense to withdraw from the heat, waiting patiently for it to break later in the day.
Edward Z. lived on a plot of land on the outskirts of the city. It was of modest size – a few acres, mostly wooded – and he cut out a patch of land for a garden on the edge of his property. The garden performed fairly well and yielded beans, squash, tomatoes, beets, potatoes, and even herbs for several months of the year.
On this steamy morning he had just begun tending to his garden, though he was already looking forward to a chance to relax in the shade. Suddenly a soft voice called to him from the tree line.
Turning his head, with beads of sweat heavy on his brow, he noticed a young woman of average height, blond hair cut into a bob, walking a small dog along a path that cut through the woods. She was smiling and seemed to be admiring his garden.
“Oh…hello,” he said, trying to mask his surprise at this unexpected visitor. “Hot enough for you?” was the only thing he that came to mind, and he immediately felt silly for saying something trite and unimaginative.
The woman smiled politely and her dog cautiously yipped at Edward.
“Hush, you,” she gently scolded it. “Is that your place over there?” she asked, making a visor with her hand and looking in the direction of Edward’s house through the trees.
“It is,” he said, and paused as if waiting for her to fill the space with another comment, but she said nothing, merely looked at the crop he was tending to. “And…you? Are you new to here?”
“I’m watching over my cousin’s cabin while he is away. Would you mind showing me what you have growing?”
He was hesitant but gave a tour of the garden which took all of 45 seconds, as it was not large. They talked a bit more that day, and the next day she came again and they talked for longer. The conversations became easier for Edward, and soon he learned more about his new neighbor. She had a husband who would be joining her soon, but his work required him to be several cities away. He also learned they shared an interest in several topics, such as reading.
“And the Russian writers?” she queried.
“There is just one name: Chekhov.”
“I much prefer the prose of Tolstoy or Pushkin…and besides, Chekhov writes on such a small scale. Short stories seem at odds with the grandeur and expanse of Russia.”
“Ah, but what of the diminutive scale of the Faberge egg, the delicate passages of a Tchaikovsky etude? Do you dismiss those as being ‘at odds’ with Mother Russia as well?”
“True, true,” she said thoughtfully.
Though she was attractive, kind, and easy to talk to, Edward had a bad feeling about the whole arrangement. He was afraid of what this would all lead to, and was sure he didn’t want to go down a path towards heartbreak. Her husband would soon arrive and that would be the end of that. But still he made time when she visited on her daily walks.
On another hot morning, many of the tomatoes were ready to be picked. In fact, so many that they could hardly carry them in one trip. Anna lifted the front of her shirt, placing several into the makeshift cradle in order to carry them, and exposed her porcelain, flat stomach. It seemed to Edward as though it was the first time daylight ever shone upon that part of her; it was as if the cool, silver moon itself was stolen from the night sky and dropped into the bright, sweltering daytime for him alone to see. That morning turned into afternoon, which turned into night, and by the next morning Anna and her dog were still at his house.
She asked him about a photograph on the mantle of a young child, and if it was his. He grew silent, searching for the words.
“No…well yes, but no,” said Edward with trepidation, as he knew he had started down a difficult path but would have to continue.
He told her of his former wife, though by law they were still married. She was from a well-off family, and their fathers were business partners together. They were not forced into marriage, but it was heavily encouraged. After 3 years together they had a son, and settled into a not unpleasant though rather routine existence. But his wife wanted another child yet they were not able to conceive. So they went to see a doctor in the city.
“I’m sorry to say, but you are not able to have children,” they were informed. The doctor went on to give an explanation of why, which Edward didn’t fully understand as there were many things going through his head.
“So this is a recent development? When did this happen??” He asked, seeking clarity. His wife was uncharacteristically silent during the meeting, which Edward initially took as her disappointment.
“Sir, you have never been able to have children.”
Edward slowly felt a sickness building in his stomach, and in his peripheral vision, saw his wife break down, sobbing. That was then end of their relationship. Though he loved the boy, he was furious and hurt and could not bear to be around neither the woman who betrayed him, nor this child who was not his own. Anna’s green eyes welled up with empathetic tears, feeling the pain Edward had been living with.
Anna’s visits continued, and often lasted until the next morning. A familiar panic started to build in Edward. He feared the moment it would all end and decided he could not take another loss. So without telling her, he left the house and the garden and the plot of land in the woods. He never returned, and trusted the sale of it over to an agent in the city, though it would be several years until it was sold.
Anna’s husband did eventually arrive. When her baby was born, it was an early spring morning, cool and cloudy. She no longer took walks and spent most of her time caring for the child in the cottage, which her cousin had officially turned over to them to live in. Her husband took over the garden which he did not plant, but tended to as his own.