The blue scarab

Kay lay steeping her sore muscles, soaking in the hot water that surrounded her. She leaned her back against the sloping tub side, a green terry face cloth the only thing between her wet skin and the hard almond colored enamel.

“It feels so good,” she said aloud, although no one was around to hear her but herself. The pleasure of the heat caressing her skin pleased her no end. She contemplated a nice relaxing bath snooze and let herself sink into that half-consciousness. As long as the water stayed hot, she would stay in, she promised herself. It was her reward.

It was her reward not only for a day of digging out a long neglected flower bed but also for her successful navigation through three weeks of preparation for the Art Fair, two weeks of house guests and a week away at the Music Festival. Six weeks! Six long weeks she had been driven to do things that had to be done. Now she had time to luxuriate. She had time to contemplate. She had time to listen to the silence. Everyone was gone.

Kay dismissed the thought of the visitors. She preferred to luxuriate in thoughts of her day digging up the weed encrusted soil, running her fingers through the silty silkiness, tearing the clumps of grass or buttercup apart to release the precious earth from between the roots, and sifting the soil to remove stones and rogue roots that, if left to their own devices would simply procreate a whole new vigorous weed-plant. The buttercup was the worst. Just a tiny quarter inch of fresh root could regenerate a new plant. It was a vital, eager and aggressive reproducer.

As Kay reminisced her day in the garden, she entwined her thoughts of it with the papers she had stumbled across only the night before. Kay had been trying to reduce the mass of family records still encumbering the room she used as an office. She had selected a storage box with her father’s professional papers, thinking that she might be quite successful in throwing them out, reducing volume. But it hadn’t been so.

True, there were files that were beyond her understanding, rich with scientific detail, complete with explanatory drawings. The drawings were made in an extremely precise manner, in her father’s hand, illustrating his hypotheses for his thesis in Engineering. Although she couldn’t understand them, she couldn’t simply toss something that had been hand drawn by him. Somehow, it kept him close, though he had died almost twenty-five years before.

Amongst the files was one that held horticultural notes written in a fine, even script in an ink that had faded. Or perhaps the ink had been diluted to make it go further. The document had been written in tougher times when cash purchases were a luxury, an impossibility. Ink could have been one of these.

Kay ran her fingers lightly over the unlined paper. Each of the written lines was straight; the height was consistent. It was a real find, she thought. It was only the second hand written thing that she had from her father’s father. On her mother’s side, there was nothing written by her grandparents at all.

Kay marveled at the writing that had no hesitations, no erasures, no scorings through words. She marveled at the elegant word choices and the careful structure of the essay. It was his second language, Kay thought, “and yet there were no grammatical errors, no spelling errors“. She sighed as she felt the fragility of the acidic paper that was browning and drying out. With just a little bit of handling, it wouldn’t last long.

Grandfather on her Father’s side had come to Canada when he was only seventeen. He had worked on the railroad just like her Grandfather on her Mother’s side. He and his brother worked, frugally saving every possible penny, until they could afford to homestead. Kay’s father was born on that homestead in the Interlake district of Manitoba, many miles north of Winnipeg.

Kay’s grandfather’s family had always had a teacher in every generation and held a high respect for education. And so, after a long day of working to create a farm, to tend to the fields, to tend to the farm animals, to tend to the family of six children, her grandfather studied. By correspondence, he studied English until he had it to perfection and Agriculture and Husbandry to ensure better yield from his crops and the health of his farm animals. By correspondence, for his pleasure, he took an Art course and a sign-maker’s course.

No television for that one, Kay reflected wryly.

The text was entitled “Fundamentals in host” and it explained the importance of preparing the soil for planting; recognizing the various soil types; improving the soil with manure or chemical fertilizers; cleaning debris and old roots out the soil; and tilling and harrowing the fields to make them even and free of depressions. In the same file, there was another shorter essay, “Shrubs and Flowers for the Home Grounds”, describing the planting of perennials to landscape a home garden.

Kay spent a few hour transcribing the found texts onto the computer, checking the spelling of the plant names through the Internet, especially the ones she hadn’t heard of before. Delphinium, Columbine, Gladioli, Tulips, Mock Orange, Lilies and Day Lily had been familiar. Trollius or Globe Flower, though, was new to her until she researched and found it was in the family of the Buttercup; and Evonymous, too, was unknown to her.

As Kay luxuriated in her warm bath, she relived her efforts in the garden. The massed Iris had formed a solid clump of root. The shovel would not go through it and when she thought of bringing out the machete to cut through it, she rejected the thought. She hadn’t the muscle to make it work. She tugged at one peripheral root and yanked it. It separated from the mass and brought a long trailing root with it. With the persistence of a dog worrying a bone, she separated and pulled the roots one by one until the mass was reduced from an umbrella sized plate to the size of a dinner plate. Finally, with one good thrust of the shovel, she had been able to liberate the recalcitrant mass of roots and wrest it from the soil.

” I wonder what kind of soil this is?” our amateur gardener pondered. It was dry and finely textured. Its brown silkiness slid easily through her fingers like warm beach sand. Beneath the root mass, there were no weed roots nor rocks. The soil had retained no moisture at all. But if one did not know what loam, peat, sand and clay soils were, then what good did it do her? How was she going to improve it?

As she raked the remaining soil with her hands, her fingers lodged against a tiny, bright blue object. Her archaeological find was a very rare species of scarab, Scarabaeidae plasticus from the late 20th century, a child’s toy. It was not the first artifact that Kay had found. She still had the yellow and black dump truck from the sand box where she had been preparing grass seed for improving her lawn. In the Hosta bed, she had found a cup with a broad red band of forest green on the bottom and a slightly smaller red band on the top and she had found several tiny confetti angels seeded in between the raspberry canes. Juvenile Humus sapiens had lived here before.

Kay shifted in her bath, stirred the cooling waters, drained an inch or two and added hot. She settled back into her reclining position and closed her eyes. The sultry waters lulled her. Was it imagination or reality? In her somnolent state, the tiny blue scarab was traversing her clavicle, feet so lightly tripping rapidly as if to sneak across without being felt. She shifted and opened her eyes. It was a spider! A tiny white spider no larger than a pin head was barely grazing her skin. It must have hitched a ride in her hair and now had completely lost its bearings.

Kay submerged herself and the spider floated away on the surface of the bath water. It was time to get moving, she thought, and she pulled the plug. The water receded. In seconds, an eddy had formed at the drain hole. She rose and dried herself, pitched her work clothes in the laundry basket and went in search of a whole set of clean ones.

“A final thought” she said out loud to no one in particular; after all, the house was empty of anyone but herself, the pin sized spider and the blue scarab.

It was a quote, the ending line from her grandfather’s essay on home grounds:

“Whereas the love of money often separates people, the love of flowers brings them together”

With that, she donned a summer dress, her new tan sandals and went looking for her new white straw hat, looking like the only time she had spent time in the garden was for an afternoon of tea and biscuits.

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