There’s a dead man across the street. He’s hunched over his garden bed pulling weeds; not really dead it would seem. His flesh is as pink as mine.
“Honey, what are you doing?” Mother asks from the couch. The Ellen Degeneres show blares in the background.
“Uh, watching Mr. Henderson tend his garden.” I say staring through the crack in the blinds at the back of the dead man’s sunhat.
She snorts loudly. “Honey, he’s been gone since 2011. You’re just seeing things.”
“Well then who do you think that is?” I ask pulling back the blinds.
She cranes her neck to see without getting up. Her eyes turn to saucers. “Uhh,” she’s shakey. “I don’t know but Mr. Henderson is long gone.”
“I’m curious,” I say, shoving my bare feet into my trainers. Outside the sun is warm on my skin and the street is quiet except for the ringing windchimes and the soft ruffling of spade on dirt.
“Uhh, excuse me.” I call out.
The dead man doesn’t hear me. Typical… I think.
I repeat myself a little louder as I reach the fringe of his yard. Mrs. Henderson is in the window with warmth in her eyes and a mug cradled in her hands. So she sees the dead man too, I think.
He turns around, pulling rapidly on the collar of his shirt. Dead men sweat–huh. He’s wearing headphones and–. That’s not Mr. Henderson, I realize as more questions sprout in my head. The man is younger, younger than me even. His face is full and smiling, not riddled with the hardship of Mr. Henderson’s chemotherapy. He pops an earbud out.
“Hi,” he says cheerily. He wipes his brow and looks me up and down. “Can I, uh, help you?”
My face flushes. “Oh, I’m, I’m so sorry.” I begin to chuckle. “I came out here because I thought you were–”
“Mr. Henderson?” He finishes my sentence, crossing the length of the lawn. His smile grows. “Nope. I’m just here to help Mrs. Henderson with the garden.” He pulls off a glove and stretches out a hand. “I’m Ben.”
I take it. “Hi Ben, I’m Marissa. Nice to meet you.”
He nods. “Likewise.”
“So Ben,” I look past him to the garden. “Why are you–”
“Dressed like Mr. Henderson?” He chuckles briefly and then his smile evaporates. Creases crawl across his brow. “Well,” he starts. “I’ve been helping Mrs. Henderson for a few years now– she’s an old family friend. Recently though, Mrs. Henderson has been mistaking me for her husband.” His face flushes and he looks to the grass. “I know it’s a bit odd, but, I just went with it. I put on his gardening clothes while I work and, well, it makes her happy. And, she’s pushing 90, and.”
I smile and cut him off. “It’s okay, you don’t have to justify yourself to me. I don’t think it’s weird.”
The tension leaves his brow.
“In fact,” I continue. “I think it’s kind of sweet.”
The front door opens. Ben and I turn to see Mrs. Henderson pushing open the screen door. She calls out to me. “Oh Marissa, hello.”
Ben and I turn. I wave. “Hello, Mrs. Henderson how are you?”
“Oh just fine. Has Hank offered you any Lemonade? There’s a jug of it in the refrigerator.”
“Oh no, it’s fine Mrs. Henderson. Thank you though. I just came to say hello and to admire your garden.” I say, looking to her then to Ben.
She lights up. “Oh yes, everything is coming in wonderfully isn’t it. Hank’s out here all the time, and you can tell.”
“Well,” I say, “I’ll let him get back to work. And you take care Mrs. Henderson.” I turn to Ben. “See you around Mr. Henderson.” I say backing away into the street. They both wave, and I laugh to myself: dead men gardening.