I was plopping eggshells and banana peels into the coffee filter -- which already was packed with the morning's grounds -- when I felt a tap on my shoulder. "Compost. Good girl." It was Tommy, who must've sped from his heavenly abode the moment he heard me banging the hardboiled egg on the counter top.
"Hi, sweetheart," I said. "I hate to disappoint you, but no compost here, just an old habit of collecting grounds, peels, and shells for your garden. All this will be tossed in the trash."
"Hope springs eternal," he said. My deceased husband was smiling, likely enjoying this excuse to visit and remind me how clever he was.
"Honey, give up on your wish of turning me into a gardener," I said. "Look around; do you see any bit of greener; a leaf, a flower? That's just not in my DNA."
"Yeah, I remember when we first met. You gave me a tour of your townhouse. I kept my mouth shut when I saw your dieffenbachia, schefflera, palm, and lily. Sad, dusty, neglected. You're lucky you had other redeeming features that kept me from crossing you off my list."
"And when you went straight into the kitchen to find a rag and a pitcher," I said, "I moved you to the top of my list." I remembered how my heart lifted as I witnessed his caregiving. "You dusted every leaf on every plant. You poured life-saving water into each pot. You poked your finger into their soils to make sure they were drinking up."
"Great recall," he said. "I only remember feeling sorry for you; that you had never learned to appreciate greenery."
He had moved to the couch by then, so I hopped aboard, too. "I grew up on Division Street," I said. "Concrete sidewalks, no trees, no flowers; that was my landscape during my formative years."
"And that's what I can't figure out," he said, as he put an arm around my shoulder to pull me closer. "Why wouldn't you want to be surrounded by flora now?"
I tried to draw in his scent, to make him more real for me. But my Tommy was a clean freak; showering daily and steering clear of men's cologne. He used an electric shaver, so there wasn't a hint of fragrant cream.
"It isn't a priority," I said. "And when you came into the picture, you brought plants, flowers, and even home-grown food into my life."
"So you remember our vegetable garden?" he said. "Just about this time I'd be searching through the Burbee catalogs. Let's see, we had tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, what else?"
I didn't answer for a moment because my memory of those catalogs was tinged with sorrow. Towards the end of his life, when Tommy's brain degeneration had already robbed him of speech and was starting to encroach on his intellect, those pages would accumulate unopened in the wicker basket that held books and magazines. "Too much trouble?" I'd say, when I'd see him toss another onto the pile. He'd nod in agreement.
"Of course I remember our garden," I said. "You always had quite a crop. Your golf buddies and our neighbors would be waiting for their share of your bounty."
He released his arm from my shoulder and leaned back on the cushions, hands behind his head. "What about those peppers!" he said, puffed up as if he were describing a champion offspring. "Spicy as hell, but everyone wanted them."
"I've probably asked you this," he said, "but either I don't remember, or I've chosen to forget your answer. What ever happened to those plants in our house? You didn't just let them fade away again?"
"No, no, I would never do that," I said. "Sara came over with a wagon and took them to her house. She always loved them, and our garden, and you, of course, and she promised to give them a good home."
"Oh yeah," he said, his voice down a pitch, perhaps imaging the wagon, his plants, and their departing. Then he perked up. "You know, you never really appreciated the whole compost thing. Sure, you contributed eggshells, banana peels, and coffee grounds, but I don't think you understood the beauty of the process."
"So tell me now," I said, happy to find a subject that engaged him and might keep him around a bit longer.
He began a scholarly spiel, which sounded to me like a lullaby. "Well, with compost, we create rich humus for our garden," he said. "This adds nutrients to our plants and helps to retain moisture in the soil." Soon, I was back to sleep.