General Fiction, Romance

Notes Pinned on a Returnable Container by Tom Sheehan


No shit, there I was watering my flowers. Orchestration or habit bent on outcomes, I do it daily, making sure I can get back from all my Elsewheres in time to do so before the day is gone with the moon. I am faithful to that compulsion, and when this chick comes along, made nice in a certain way, yet points out dismal little failures in the front garden or the narrow plot beside the driveway to an occasional walking companion, it pisses me off no end. I’ve heard her through an open window say things like, “Wouldn’t you think someone would know better than to plant the short ones in the back.” Or, “Don’t you agree that his color scheme is a bit off base? Needs a little more imagination?” Or, like one totally elliptical occasion when she said, “Who does he thinks likes so much orange?”

No green thumb do I really have but I like the way my flowers pop yellow and orange and rainbow parts somewhere during the summer, sort of a last retreat from the cataclysmic world that blossoms about us, strange as it might seem, like Iraq never letting go on the television and my Korea not that far back. Many of my flowers promise to hang on in their special way until October rolls around, now and then someone pointing out a clutch of colors breaking the day apart; you only have so many chances you know, pleasing the customers, getting a dime’s worth for your nickel. The mums are spectacular I think, like ice cream cones or spun candy, as are a half dozen annuals, pink and gorgeous, I spent a few bucks on and which manage to light the place up like searchlights were on. Two rose bushes, mighty red Americans on trellises and against two front windows, are for real, until July heat knocks the hell out of them. Short but sweet. So what else is new with a short breath rose bush?

With all my business at the flowers, I don’t even know who this chick is, the complainer.
Nicely is, I’ve always said, is nicely done. I’ve been on my knees weeding a time or two when she passed, with that punctuation walk of hers as she moved by. I bet I heard huh or a short harrumph a few times as she expressed almost silent judgment on something not quite at its best color or shape for her taste. Tough shit, lady. Lump it or leave it. Take another route for your perambulations. I won’t miss you.

She’s persistent, I tell you, in her twice-a-day. I’ve seen her a couple of dozen times, make the corner at the head of the street and start down my way. It’s been a solid three months or more that she’s been making that turn and coming my way on a double-daily basis mostly. Her way takes her right past my stubby little lawn and my old colonial house a stone’s throw from the First Iron Works of America. The whole area feels like a piece of history coming to a slow crawl, or a halt. History downhill, if you’ll have it. Yet Harry Trotter takes a long gander at her every trip just about, standing like a shadow beside his garage until she goes past and then steps out to follow her with his eyes. You’d swear he could be rubbing himself. Until, of course, he sees me looking at him looking at her. Well, he’s a hunk of history too, yet pretty agile for an older buck when he jumps back out of sight. I bet his wife makes him jump like that too. He’s the type. So’s she.

So this near-silent, discordant, unsatisfied walker, with a bod and a half to say the least for her, doesn’t change her flight pattern and keeps going by my place in her generally most pleasant T-shirts until it finally hits me that she really isn’t displeased with my flowers, but has a yen for getting to meet the green thumb revolutionist who happens to be in the single life, widower going on ten years and with no serious bites as yet to change that stance.

First glance at her marked her as being in her mid or early forties, damn good shape, leggy in a healthy and provocative way, blonde hair in tight but neat curls that sure does things for the imagination every six or seven seconds on the clock, the way guys are. A closer look, from the open door one day as she pranced by, made her more like the late forties or early fifties that a half decent life must have granted her. I think it was an upper arm thing, the giveaway, trying to break the cellulite free or let it get out of hand. But, from all points, a damn good looking woman with decent mileage left in the chassis. Probably could damn well outrun me, me being in my sixties, not much on exercising but kneeling and stretching and tending the garden; only now and then, and only by reference, seeing an occasional woman for a short stretch or a short run.

Could be she’s done some investigating, like clicking a search button on my name in the computer. But, for all of that, I’m as patient with women as I am with flowers, and so for this perambulating knocker of things floral I plant a small, innocent row of late seeds (right alongside the front walk and perpendicular to the house and the sidewalk, which I have never done before) and begin to water them with my usual care. When she knocks them, if and when she does, and I’m betting she does, I’ll pull her aside and tell her they were hers in the beginning. Touché, lady, and up yours.

The water works, faithful as Old Faithful itself, and one morning, as I get down close for real inspection (nose-to-the-ground kind of thing where you can smell the rank, sea-borne, salty drawing power of Mother Earth herself in all her frigging glory), there’s this mild trickle of green starting to follow the line of seeds I had planted. They’re like a butch haircut at first, or a new flat-top, whatever you want to call it, or again like a stitch line in a Celtics’ jersey. They’re new, they’re young, they’re eager and I’ll have to weed with extreme care, I tell myself and promise myself.

A few days later, perhaps a week of not really counting, the sun every day busting out of its pants on the nearby hill, the dew swept up in the first rays coming on the powerful slant, she bites. Down the street I see her coming, the floral perambulator, the flower and garden knocker with legs swearing they carry promise itself, and Harry slipping out his side door to loiter carefully at the garage purposely at an accidental errand. He’d probably been watching for her through a window on the other side of his house that’s flush on the corner of the street she comes from in her turn. This is her second trip today and I’m betting Harry’s wife is bullshit. Earlier I was in the back yard and only caught a glimpse of her sashaying by with her walking pal. Again, she was pointing back over her shoulder, at punctuation’s gesture. I suppose we can all guess at some thrust of her comments, what called for her wagging finger, what denouncement: new shoots, I’d bet, the green line of new stitches at the edges of my walk, the newness of a strange little plot in front of the old colonial. Change for the unchanged.

This time she stops. If invitations are never printed, one must guess.

“Why something new for an old house like this?” she says, nodding her head, taking everything in, hands on her hips the way a teacher might stand. I notice that her breasts are taut against the whitest T-shirt and I swear there are no other restraints on the dark orbs I see pushing out prominently. Another tone about her seems to say, “Why’s an old geezer like you doing something new?” Or, “Are you still able to make such decisions that come around occasionally?” The way she stands demands notice. She goddamn knows what she’s carrying. There’s a thrust to her crotch that grabs my eye most immediately, not that I am fully satisfied with flowers no matter how pretty or sweet smelling they’ve become. Like the man says, “There’s no substitute for lemonade in the right glass.” I forgot who said that, but he knew whereof.

Mystery abounds in a sudden growth.

Green eyes catch my eyes. She nods. Shadows of crow’s feet talk happiness and excitement in a quiet, graphical music. A minor and subtle sensual displacement takes place. I’m not sure what it is, where it begins, how it gets where it does, but she nods again and movement happens. It gets there. Something shifts in place. A neuron change.

The laboratory of a woman at endless work. She knows. She knows everything.

This opportunity, after months of walking by, has come down to the nub. She broadcasts, airs herself out, reveals, lets go, knowing the one chance hoped for has come around. This casual passerby has cut the edge of patience, has opened a new door. I can feel it swinging wide. I can see beyond. I can measure experiences that are displayed just the way my flowers are. Class and patience have done it, on both sides of two people at odds with destiny, and time and the awareness of the passage of time. It all leaps around us; the roses are gone. The last one, hanging on, bewildered like the last leaf on the maple in the backyard caught in a late November Northeaster, is an insignia of all that passes through life. That last rose does not want to let go. It has hung on through perils of August heat, deadly rains, and my ineptness at times. It clutches the lean stem that is connected to the ground root and is still sucking moisture right up out of Mother Earth’s lap. It wants more time. It demands more time. And the peonies, so glorious, so ebullient for three long months of beautiful tapestry against the front of the house, are closing their white and pink blossoms into little brown fists full of brown passage. Their story is the same. This summer, this life, is going too quickly.

She sits on my front steps, her hand stretched out to touch the granite horse holder that stands three feet high with an iron tether ring through its column, a mark from pre-revolutionary times when this house was built in 1742. It gives off a sense of age, of use.

The house is old but it’s still standing, though the roses and the peonies are gone to their brown withering. On the top granite step, abutting the solid panel door with an antique brass knocker, a pair of rolled-iron boot scrapers are separated by the width of the slab step. The scrapers have performed 270 years of menial service, though Hal the mailman wonders at their utility.

Sitting on the steps her knees flash a sense of mystery and inner paleness, the best kept secret kept yet. Her lips are moist. Her eyes are as green as a leaf in the earliest spring day. I feel the bud coming out of its long grip.

I say, “All beginnings have mystery in them. You have mystery about you. I am well aware that this is a beginning, and while some manifestations come quickly to me, and to you, others will take slightly less than forever, much to endless satisfaction.”

Still pale as a petal elsewhere, mystery and all of fantasy hearkened and announced by mere appointment, all the ghostly parts of her yet to surface, yet to appear, the mystery of women at introduction and favor bound in the offing, she says, “My name is Justine.”

She blossoms.


Tom Sheehan


Header photograph: By Anna reg (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 at (, via Wikimedia Commons


3 thoughts on “Notes Pinned on a Returnable Container by Tom Sheehan”

  1. Tom, you continually send us interesting, well observed stories that are always a pleasure to read. This is no different!
    All the very best my friend.


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