This story is the third one to my Squish-Squash, Pumpkins and Gourds Prompt Call.
Whitney was no longer sure how long she’d been working on Crossroads Park, cleaning it up, replanting it, giving voice to its ghosts and names to its skeletons. She still went to her day job most weekdays, even if she found her boss was giving her more and more assignments that focused on the park – she hadn’t mentioned it, because it was convenient and did leave her a couple hours of free time a week she otherwise would’ve been spending researching said park – she spent most evenings in the park, cleaning up old messes of landscaping and planting new things, and, in some areas, taking care of the annual maintenance that her new plantings required – and she spent most weekends wandering around the city, learning more about it and, by connection, about the park.
She was pretty sure it had been at least five years, but she seemed to blank on things like birthdays and doctor’s appointments and she wasn’t getting any more grey hair.
But somehow, in… however long it had been, she had not been in this corner, except to pass through, until now.
Today was a cold day, and what with the pandemic, there weren’t many people in what she’d come to think of as her park.
This little area, which was overlooked by two big office buildings who themselves were nearly as old as the city itself, had a few picnic tables and benches – areas which were normally crowded with people on the lunch hour and slightly less busy the rest of the time. Because of that, it had suffered more than her favorite parts of the small (endlessly big) (but tightly bounded) park from inattention.
Right now, there was one couple sitting at a table, wearing masks and at opposite corners. That was a small enough group for Whitney to be comfortable working. Sure, sometimes normal people treated her like a waiter or a custodian, but not all that often – not after the local paper had done a piece on her, and the rumors had been going around – and, short of coming in the middle of a rainstorm, this was probably the best she was going to get.
So she slid on her heavy-duty gloves, wrapped her hair up in her brightest scarf, made sure her mask was where she could reach it if anyone came close, and picked up her trimmers. She started at the edges of the area, the former decorative gardens. The lawn was still mowed pretty regularly by a city crew, even if they’d been choosing to ignore the landscaping for over half a century now. So what she had to worry about was… the stuff that counted as landscaping.
She chopped away weeds and old overgrown flowers, hacked at some thorny thing that might have once had a relative who was a rose, and unearthed an edge-marker, fallen over and gone green and grey with moss. She righted the marker and set it as close to its original position as she could get without measuring, digging first in the ground under it to be sure there were no treasures or skeletons or mysteries.
She was a little disappointed to find none of the above, but placed the marble stanchion firmly, packed in the dirt, and went back to trimming –
– only to be faced with a butternut squash.
And then, as she pushed away the brush to find the vine, another, and another, and another.
There was a whole set of vines twisting away in what had been, she thought, a rose garden at one point, the butternuts big and fully ripe, all of them coming out of a nest that was set firmly into a completely-overgrown fountain.
As Whitney worked carefully, pulling away only those things that weren’t part of the squash vine, she found herself chuckling. The fountain, of course, set in a rose garden – was to Venus.
Well, a long-storing sweet crop was as good a way, if not better, than roses to pay homage to the goddess of fertility of all kinds. Whitney marked the location carefully. The vines were already almost gone, the fruit was ripe.
She’d save the seeds from the largest and plant here again in the spring; the rest would go to feed the city.
She dropped a coin in the fountain, overgrown as it was, in thanks for the food, and was not surprised when a drop of blood eked out from the gloves and into the basin as well.
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