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75 • the garden Water had to be carted over half a dozen small hills and a dozen sizeable paddocks to sustain the garden. The garden, within its crown-of-thorns fencework dug deep to keep the rabbits out, was surrounded by pasture already yellow not long after winter, and the desire lines of sheep trails, those hills, and not a single tree. An outsider seeing it distantly from the ribbon road would say, God, there’s a vegetable garden out here in the middle of nowhere! An island. An oasis. A mirage? It certainly wasn’t nowhere, and Howard would be the first to tell a stranger so. It was his center, and making it lush, making it yield in extreme heat and dryness, was his pleasure, his purpose. This wasn’t just a sense of beating the elements, but a satisfaction in showing such a feat was possible. And the vegetables, especially the corn, melons, and tomatoes, all keen for water, were the sweeter for it. It was the summer garden he prized, leaving the ground fallow over winter. The air above his garden buzzed with freshness and moisture, while everything beyond its shores was nearly too dry to breathe. Out there, the air was brittle. Goomalling 76 j o h n k i n s e l l a Mostly he carted water in a tank on the back of his old tray-top utility, a slightly brackish water from a windmilldrawn bore down near the soak, which dried out in spring. But sometimes, when he was feeling particularly overwhelmed by the glory of his garden, he would fill an old firefighting water pack, hoist it on his back, and cart it three miles over the hills. That would be for the early morning or evening, when the sun was out of the way or casting long shadows, but was all the same dangerous even from where it lurked. His family thought him barmy, but didn’t say much because he still owned the farm, and they all hoped to inherit. His younger son cropped a large section, and ran sheep as well. He didn’t say anything because he didn’t consider it his business. He lived in a separate house on the property with Susan, his wife, who would say,When we have children this arrangement will have to change. It’s just so weird. She and her husband enjoyed the fruits of the garden. Neither of them bothered Howard’s work there or ever went near it. But they had seen him there over the years—a glimpse from a distance, or having to find him once when a relative had passed away. Susan had said, He almost makes love to those vegetables. All those shapes and colors. The younger son replied, Fair crack of the whip, let it go! Which she did. Howard never considered himself lonely, though he did miss his wife. She’d been a wonderful gardener. She’d once said to him, I’d like to cover the deserts of the world in vegetables and feed all the starving. Howard remembered this, and after she died, watering the vegetables in the kitchen garden, he had an epiphany. He would grow vegetables on the farm, where they were least likely to succeed. Winter was the quiet time. As the crops grew around him, he tended the kitchen garden his wife had established decades earlier, but he stayed away from the paddock garden. And he stayed inside.You should get out more, Dad, said the younger son. But whenever Howard suggested helping the lad with 77 t h e g a r d e n fencing or lambing or shearing, he got the brush-off.You’ve worked hard all your life, Dad, now it’s my turn. And we can afford to hire men when we need them. Howard spent the rest of his time inside, watching television, looking through photo albums though he hadn’t taken a photo since his wife’s death, and planning the summer garden. Time went neither fast nor slow in winter; it was just a blank, a hyphen linking the seasons of his remaining life together. But he didn’t really dwell on it. The elder son was jealous of the younger, and was just biding his time. District lore said the elder should inherit, and when he did, there would be a fire sale. The elder and his second wife, Lorna, visited twice a year...


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MARC Record
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