By Mack Mela
Calloused hands pressed the soft soil around the delicate sapling, securing it into place. Quinn O’Connell stood, wiping the dirt off onto his grass-stained jeans as he heard the cut of the exhaust from his neighbors old chevy. Excitement filled him as he adjusted his straw hat, pushing open the wooden lattice gate.
The beautiful visage of Amelia greated him, her messy hair concealed under a tattered baseball cap. He noticed a new grease stain across the arm of her blue jacket as she lowered the tailgate, her back facing him. A million questions bubbled in his throat but he was just capable of choking out a nervous, “H-Hello.”
Amelia turned to face him with a look of surprise, a polite smile curled across her lips before she went back to removing her tool box from the bed.
“D-did… How was the Junkyard?” he asked, casually leaning against the lattice that moved with the new weight, causing him to stumble slightly but he caught himself with a nervous smile hoping she didn’t notice. She hadn’t.
“It was full of junk,” she said now using the first tool box as a stepping stool to help her reach the mangled mound of iron and rust toward the back of the bed. “Nothing like working in a garden all day.” She turned back to him and smiled with a playful wink.
Beneath Quinn’s feet the grass greened and a dopey grin spread across his flushed cheeks, “Y-yeah” he hummed. The thought of Amelia in grass-stained jeans replacing the tattered Cover-all that always was tied around her waist, leaving her upper half exposed to the elements in a tank top that left nothing to the imagination. He was half glad she decided to wear that jacket, or he would be distracted for other reasons.
“Maybe you could teach me a thing or two?”
“What?” he asked his eyes wide, a blush exploding across his pale cheeks.
“About Gardening” she prompted with a soft chuckle.
Quinn sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. What else would she be talking about? “I lov- I’d love to,” he said nodding, looking back up at her “I’ll give you some starter plants? You know like ones that are easy to take care of, ‘cause I’d hate if your first plant died on you, y’know?”
“Sounds good,” she said hopping down from the bed with the unnatural hunk of material in her arms, “Oh, and Quinn?”
“I’m expecting one of those straw hats.”
It was hard to get anything to grow among the twisted metal structures stationed throughout the brown grass and dry mulch. She wasn’t just a mechanic, she was also a collector of alloy. Anything twisted beyond recognition littered her yard, creating her own hardware garden.
And through much persistence, the bush had remained. No, not just remained– it thrived in the rusted jungle. Adapting to its new habitat the flora spread like the plague, twisting around bent metal creating malformed shrubs that were as appealing to the eye as the orange color they presented. All of Amelia’s best efforts to stunt the growth ended in failure.
Wind chimes echoed from over the ivy entwined fence signalling that her green thumbed neighbor was making his rounds in his own luscious garden. A small oak tree just barely begun to crest the top of their shared fence. Amelia hadn’t noticed the tree before. He must’ve planted it while she was scavenging.
She huffed, adjusting her wide brimmed straw hat. Luckily the oak was too small to shed leaves onto her already orange yard.
“Good morning, Quinn.” She called out, crossing the yard to the fence, crushing emerging buds beneath her feet. She climbed on top of one of the only hunk of rusted metal left in her yard so her eyes peered into his garden.
Quinn stood in his crimson morning robes looking up towards Amelia, a blush tinting his cheeks, and when their eyes met he began to overwater his mums. He quickly blinked away his embarrassment, lifting the yellow can to his chest.
“M-Mornin’!” he called out lifting his hand in a wave, causing the can to tumble from his grip and he quickly caught with a chuckle, deciding it was best to place it down beside his feet.
“How are you?” she asked with a bright smile that shone through the thick english ivy curling around their shared fence.
“Tired,” he hummed with a soft smile, “But good.”
The orange chrysanthemum bush started to latch onto its next victim, curling up the metal beneath her feet.
“That’s wonderful… I had a question-” she said, feeling something brush her ankle.
“How do I get rid of these flowers?” she asked with a soft chuckle, but Quinn wasn’t laughing.
“What’s wrong with them?” he asked.
“They are just… too much to handle? I didn’t think they would grow that much y’know? And I don’t really have the space for them… well they’ve kinda taken over my yard”
“Oh… That’s… okay, well, I can remove them for you?”
“That’s really not necessary, I can do it myself, but I just… Don’t know how? Any tips?”
“Spray them with salt water.”
“Won’t that kill them?”
“Are you positive you don’t want them back?”
“Yes.” Quinn said, looking down. All the joy he previously had in the conversion drained from him.
“Alright, thank you!” she called out with a smile before hopping off the rusted metal. The flowers already had begun to wilt.
The next morning Amelia walked outside, spray bottle in hand only to find the garden ridden with decay. The once vibrant orange and green bushes intertwined between her craft, were brown and rotting. She glanced over to Quinn’s small cottage and raised an eyebrow in confusion.
Where the sapling was once growing stood a stout maple tree taller than both their houses combined. Maybe, she thought, Maybe he got it overnight. But she would’ve noticed a 30 foot tree being planted next door right? And while she knew practically nothing about plants she was fairly certain you couldn’t de-root a grown tree and plant it in a new habitat without it being unstable. She did not want a tree collapsing into her home.
She let out a huff of air as she threw on some slippers and stomped her way next door. She needed to have a word with Quinn.
Quinn opened the door in the same attire he was wearing yesterday only he had deep bags under his eyes and lingering resentment in them.
“When did you have that tree planted?” Amelia asked her foot tapping on the welcome mat.
“A few weeks ago? Why?”
“Quinn, you do realize I’m not an idiot– there was not a fully grown tree in your backyard yesterday!”
“Yeah, and there was a beautifully grown bush in your yard yesterday- things change.”
“I don’t know what the h*ll I did to deserve your attitude, but I don’t appreciate it, Quinn.”
“You don’t appreciate a lot of things, Amelia.”
Before she could respond, Quinn had shut the door in her face, leaving her and her bunny slippers alone on the porch.
Amelia stared at the loaming branches over her yard. She refused to purchase a rake- practically denying the existence of fall. But that didn’t stop the first leaf from fluttering down from the decaying branch into the middle of her yard.
After the first, it was practically an avalanche of red, brown and yellow. Through the week the leaves formed a mini mount range in her yard. It irked her, but it wasn’t until she noticed the lack of brown bags amongst his trash– did she get pissed off.
Every leaf that broke away from that god forsaken tree had magically caught wind and fluttered it’s way down into her life. It was the final middle finger from her pissed off neighbor.
However, Amelia decided she would like the last laugh. Ever since their conversation on his porch, she had purchased an axe.
Rummaging through the plentiful tools littering her garage she found her shiny new toy, tag still wrapped around the handle. She took it in her grasp, the weight feeling right as she slung it over her shoulder. A whistle escaped through her lips as she crossed their front yards, kicking open Quinn’s gate.
She had work to do.