Excerpt from “I Cannot Write About You, I Can Only Write To You by Lee Zacharias”


The blue hydrangea I planted on the morning I learned of your death has bloomed again. It has flourished in its spot beside the entrance to the vegetable garden, larger now than the older pink hydrangeas across the yard, there against the cedar fence in the shade where the small pond used to be. The shade has thickened beneath the steep flank of the new two-story garage next door, and perhaps I should transplant them, though I always thought hydrangeas liked a bit of shade and a fence or wall for shelter. It’s the sort of thing I once might have discussed with you, and so it seems fitting that I was in the garden when Mike stepped outside the back door to bring me your sad news. Though it had been cool much of the week, that morning was warm and sunny, the kind of balmy April Saturday that draws me to the garden with a hunger that can be filled only by the crumbling of dirt beneath my trowel and tug of the tender white webs of roots clinging to their plastic nursery pots. Had I thought of you that morning, as I tamped the hydrangea into place and began to set out the annuals, the gaudy melanpodium, my favorite clown-faced torenia (the wishbone flower—isn’t that a lovely name?), red pentas for the hummingbirds, I would have imagined you in your garden, perhaps giving the compost barrel you built one last rotation before amending the soil where you would soon plant tomatoes, or weeding around your delicate green heads of butter crunch lettuce. You were proud of that barrel; you were proud of your garden, which was perfect—it had to be, or you would grow angry and rip it out. You were that way. But a garden in spring is the purest kind of hope. Late each winter you would start seeds in flats in the small room off your kitchen, okra, green beans, for me impatiens the color of apricots. How well I remember the spring vegetables you used to bring us, along with the big round loaves of potato bread you baked all year, such a favorite in our house we called it Tom Bread. It was summer the last time I saw your garden, though I can’t say what year, only that it was more than a year before you died, maybe two or even three. You demonstrated the compost barrel, and I admired the precise green rows of tomato plants and peppers, fringed along one side with cosmos, bright flags of pink, magenta, and white. So pretty. I don’t know when you made your decision, but I think it must have been final, there would have been no going back, when you chose that spring not to plant a garden.

Listen to Lee Zacharias’s entire reading, in mp3 format.

LEE ZACHARIAS is the author of a novel, Lessons, and a book of short stories, Helping Muriel Make It through the Night. She has published numerous essays, short stories, and photographs and is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council.