She wasn’t even curious. Asking what he thought of the garden was simply a phrase to float into the night air as they left the party, something to sustain the tremulous current connecting them. She was euphoric. The evening had been a dream; she had introduced him to her longtime friends and their blending went seamlessly. She and he proclaimed their engagement with toasts of champagne. The toasts were also dedicated, unspokenly, to the circle of friends who had navigated some troublesome years. It wouldn’t have been a tragedy if she hadn’t found someone, but that she had was cause for celebration.
“A bit slovenly, don’t you think? he answered.
This struck her like a soft but dedicated blow. “I love that garden,” she said. She had spent the most pleasurable days of her life there.
“Oh it’s lovely,” he said, though “lovely” was not a word he normally used. He was backing down, she knew, and that made it worse. “It is,” he repeated, “it’s lovely, it’s just I think it could use a bit of care.”
A bit slovenly. A bit of care. She had a bit of rage. “Can’t you give an opinion without watering it down?” she asked. Cautiousness like his, she was suddenly aware, was a tall hedge hiding something.
Silently they walked to the car. It was a rental, and getting into it she had the sensation she was getting into someone else’s life. He turned the key and every light on the dashboard flashed, red flag, red flag.
She was tired. Maybe she had had a little too much champagne, and was coming off a sugar rush. She put aside her irritation, unwanted and probably unwarranted, but it left an aftertaste, and when they got into bed at the motel she turned her back to him. The morning would sort things out, put things back together, she thought.
A few weeks after she broke off the engagement she moved back to the city where her friends lived. Nobody inquired about the former fiancé; they were waiting for her to tell the story. The trouble was, she had no story to tell. A flame went out, its fuel exhausted, and that was that.
Because she had not found a steady job, she had too much time on her hands. She spent hours working in her friends’ garden as a form of therapy. It didn’t take many minutes for her to realize that he had been right, the garden was slovenly. Many times she had the urge to call him, see if they could patch things up, come to an understanding.
That was some time ago.