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Jennifer Giacalone

Green, Growing Things

Spring by Victor Borisov-Musatov

Louis leaned against the doorjamb of the screen door that led out to the deck. The drizzle was coming in light, almost like a mist, and he watched Esma kneeling in front of the first of the three large planters on the deck, from which spilled beautifully unruly tomato vines that she was carefully winding up a trellis beside the planter, one which she had built herself. Louis watched the bend of her back, the shift of her shoulder blades, the measured movements of her muscled arms as she worked.  She struck as impressive a figure now as she did twenty years ago when she was leading her platoon through the mud outside Srebrenica.  He still remembered to this day calling out to his captain, pointing to her as she stormed the trench through sheets of Bosnian rain, “Sir! Who the hell is that?!”

Louis had been a very young G.I. then, and had never seen a woman so fearsome in his short life.  He knew before they’d spoken a word to each other that he wanted to marry her.

But now, Esma was talking softly to a growing plant, using gentle tones that Louis only ever heard her use in these moments, when she was inspecting its leaves and plucking off dead ones, testing the pH of its soil, quietly rejoicing over the first of its yellow blossoms. She was careful and attentive, and it would be a good yield, provided that there was no tomato blight this season.

She had stuffed her hair up into a ponytail, and the humidity was making the little hairs at the nape of her neck extra curly.  Louis wondered, if they’d had children, whether those children would have had their mother’s curly hair.

He remembered the way those curls stuck to her face in the heavy rain as she dragged him from the front lines after he’d been hit by rubble from nearby mortar fire.  He’d defied his orders (“observe and report only”) to lend aid to her and her men, and ended up wounded almost immediately.  “Let’s get you out of this weather, stupid American,” she’d muttered as she dragged him from the muddy battlefield.

Her accent had been heavier, then, and her grasp of English metaphors tenuous.  It improved over the two weeks that she visited Louis at the MASH unit while he awaited disciplinary action from his commanders.
“You are a very pretty plant, and you will make many delicious tomatoes,” she was murmuring in her clipped accent as she fastened the vines to the trellis with plastic fasteners.

Esma loved watching plants grow. Loved creating life. Loved raising something up from seed to maturity. Louis felt a pang of sadness that Esma’s injuries in the siege had kept her from having children, because she would have been an excellent mother.  She would have raised and trained and nourished and loved her children with the same care and focus that she lavished on her growing tomatoes.  Those children would be nearly grown by now.
She stood, and turned to Louis, who felt as though he had been caught eavesdropping on something private.  But Esma was luminous, contented. The little deck garden made her deeply happy.  Even with all the little smudges of dirt on her face and under her fingernails, she was still as gorgeous as Louis had ever seen her.

“How are they doing?”

Esma walked across the wet wooden deck and embraced him. She was dirty, and a little damp, but Louis didn’t complain. Her strong features wore the soft look of a woman who had just remembered she was in love, and he liked the earthy smell and the feel of her cool, wet skin.

“They are doing well.”  She tilted her head forward and kissed Louis then, and her mouth was warm.  “I hope you like tomatoes. I think we are going to have many.”  Forgetting about the state of her hands, she placed one on Louis’s cheek and kissed him again.

“You’re getting me dirty,” Louis said softly, and kissed her back.

“You were dirty before I ever found you,” Esma whispered.

Louis chuckled. Esma was getting better at using idioms. “Mm,” he agreed.

The rain picked up, and Louis felt its light tapping on his face.  He hooked his fingers in the waistband of Esma’s jeans and pulled her close to kiss her again.

“Come on, General,” he muttered, “let’s get you out of this weather.”


About the writer:
After winning national awards and scholarships for writing in her college years, Jen Giacalone has spent the two intervening decades as a performing songwriter, artist and graphic designer.  She returns with the breadth of her experiences to the world of fiction and poetry.

Image: Spring by Victor Borisov-Musatov (1870-1905). Tempera on canvas. No size specified. Between 1898 and 1901. Public domain.

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprint Buttonhook Press, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation supporting writers and artists worldwide.

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