Alva's garden is a wild jumble, full of life.
Alva made Kitty feel at home almost immediately.
“Here,” Alva led her up the stairs to a two room apartment on the top floor – a generous living room and a small bedroom and bath that looked over the garden below. “You can park yourself here. Course you got so little, the closet going to be too big for now. But you get settled and you see what you can get in here. They’s lots of room.” First she opened the closet door for Kitty and then showed her the bathroom. They both peered out the windows. Alva kept up a bubbling chatter, but she was one of those people who talk and watch at the same time. She read people by osmosis, by how they held themselves and how they moved, by the lilt of a voice, the tilt of a chin, the depth of color in the eyes, by the spaces between words and by the words they did not say. She had learned that people don’t say what they really mean or mean what they say and that you had to come up with sound assessments of character by other means.
“That garden’s almost done for this year,” Alva said.
The back yard, was in full use sporting a wild jumble of flowers, vegetables, raspberry vines, sweet peas strung on wires running along the side fences, tomatoes constrained from ranging by wire cages and the odd statuary placed here and there among the plants. One old pear tree had been pruned over many years into a haphazard asymmetrical topiary some 30 feet tall. At this time of year, the garden was dying back hard. Some leaves were turning brilliant colors, most flowers were long past blooming, scattered leaves hung by their tendrils to woody vines awaiting the chill of winter. Pears from the tree were long gone. Sweet peas had been harvested along with raspberries. The season’s last tomatoes had been killed by frost.
“You come down to the office now and you can take a look at what I got for you to do. You hungry?” she asked. And when she asked a question she always watched for the unspoken cues to the real answer.
Kitty shook her head. But Alva knew this was not the case. She sensed that Kitty was afraid, so she kept chatting away, leading toward the door to the outside world, to where Kitty would have to go eventually, if she were to begin the process of joining this world.
“Well, we going to go down the block later and get some dinner there at the restaurant.”
It was all a dream to Kitty and she followed like a sleepwalker.
“Now here’s the papers I was tellin’ you about.” Alva opened a door tucked under the stairwell. Inside was a deep closet stacked solid with a mass of papers, envelopes, cartons, magazines, books and odd sized tubes, all jammed together.
“What’s this?” Kitty asked.
“I tole you. This here’s my office.” Alva stepped back from the door, peering inside. “I guess this needs it some light back here.” She walked around the stairwell and put her hand on a light switch, flicking it on. The light illuminated where she was standing but had no effect where it was needed.
“But,” Kitty stammered, “this is not an office. I mean you need a desk and a calculator and a phone and pencils and a file cabinet.” She stopped. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light she tried to see what was inside. “What is all this stuff?”
Instead of answering, Alva opened another door next to the switch.
“This here’s the rest,” she said and stood back, turning on a light to reveal a full bathroom that had become a repository of more stacks of papers, envelopes, cartons. Every inch of the room was packed. Bathtub, sink, toilet tank and seat cover, floor, on top of the radiator, even the medicine cabinet door was propped open by old envelopes stacked on the shelves.
“See?” Alva smiled. “I tole you there was a lotta work for someone with your trainin’.” She closed the door and took a deep breath.
“Well, now we finished that chore, let’s go on to the restaurant and get us some supper.”
“Alva,” Kitty began.
Alva turned towards her. “Now now, I know whatchoo gonna say. I know I should have kept all them records better. But they’s only so much one person can do and I just knew the Lord would send me some help because honestly, girl, I just cain’t do but so much and that’s just one of them things I cain’t do.”