John Evanishyn is a senior with an Environmental Studies and Writing double major. Elements of personal interests sprout up throughout his work—vegetable and flower gardening, classical guitar, urban foraging, cider pressing. Currently, he is invested in the use of fiction as a tool for addressing environmental issues and contemplating our relationship with land.
Scarborough Neil and Precious Bulbs (Excerpt)
In the left-hand unit of a brick townhouse in Syracuse, lived Scarborough Neil. He was new to this neighborhood, or more so, living complex, having only moved in six days ago. Scarborough was inside the townhouse pulling open cupboards and end-table drawers. He was looking for the crocus bulbs his late-wife loved more than any other flower variety.
Genevieve, his wife, had died just over a month ago. Following her death, Scarborough mourned in his and Genevieve’s white stucco cottage for two weeks. He didn’t eat much besides some of the fruit arrangement his daughter, Genie, had sent him. Scarborough ate the grapes for himself, and the dried peach rings for his wife. But the cantaloupe squares he left to wrinkle.
His wife’s burial was modest. With an ongoing pandemic, the funeral home coordinated burials only for the immediate family to attend. Genie held Scarborough’s arm tightly as Genevieve’s casket was lowered into the ground.
The day after the burial, Genie came to Scarborough’s cottage to discuss moving him into a more manageable-sized home. A week later, his and his wife’s cottage was sold. Scarborough sat in his chair and watched as his daughter picked up a necklace after a floral-dress, recalling a time her mom had worn them. Then, draping the dress by its shoulders or hanging the necklace from her wrist, she asked Scarborough if he too remembered a time. With a slight nod from Scarborough, Genie would fold the dress into a box or lower the necklace into a ziploc bag and mention how someone at the Salvation Army would be very lucky to have these things. Scarborough, on occasion, made no clear gesture to Genie’s questions or remarks. In those moments, Genie would ask if the necklace or dress was something he wanted to keep. If Scarborough replied saying he’d like to hold onto it, his daughter would lower the item to her lap and stare at him. She would then reiterate the need to get rid of most of Genevieve’s belongings. She’d point to the box of pictures and the photo albums she was holding onto and would flash the one milky opal ring she decided to wear in remembrance. Genie finished the boxing-up session, grabbing her purse, hugging her dad, and reminding him that his flowers were all he really needed to remember Genevieve.
Scarborough didn’t want to live in the townhouse. Just over the Seneca River, in a quiet neighborhood, he had that cottage with the sprawling lawn and two great aspen trees. There, he had the gardening life many retirees have the chance to pursue. But in his townhouse, he had but a barrel-rimmed garden box to plant, at most, two dozen bulbs of his choosing. The planting box was a house-warming gift from Genie. The note planted in the soil of the box read, This’ll surely spruce up your new lawn (driveway). Love, Genie.
Scarborough, with thirty-six favorite varieties of bulbous plants, found the task of plotting his new garden box difficult. He had found a place for most of his favorites, but had one free-space in the soil to fill. He knew he had to plant at least one of Genevieve’s favorite crocus bulbs.
Scarborough wiped the sweat upwards off his forehead. The sweat helped to keep the strands of his comb-over in place, atop his head.
“I swear I dug all the bulbs up,” he mumbled to himself as he went to search the kitchen. The kitchen was a bright room, with white, mock-tile linoleum floor and plastic-sheeted countertop. Thus far in unpacking, Scarborough had only managed to fill a single cabinet of the kitchen. He proceeded to rake out all the contents of this one cabinet. He dispersed garlic bulbs, garden books, packs of screws, scissors and rinsed-out yogurt cups onto the counter. He wondered why Genie hadn’t insisted on going through this assembly of miscellaneous objects, all of which lacked emotional attachment. Shifting through the mess, he confirmed the crocus bulbs he needed were not there.
“You must’ve left them buried at the house,” he said to himself, exiting the kitchen. #
At Scarborough’s former cottage, Eilene Villard, with hair up and activewear leggings on, circled the kitchen countertop placing kitchenware into the cabinets and drawers. She did this with the comforting presence of her friend, Julie, over video chat. The kitchen had an expansive window behind the kitchen sink which looked to the house’s side yard. Beside a raised bed of wood chips, where Scarborough’s springtime flowers once bloomed, crouched Ms. Villard’s son, Donnell, who was digging with a stick. He looked up to the kitchen window at the sound of his mother laughing with Julie, and then returned to flicking dirt from the narrow hole he was making. He set his stick aside, and reached into the hole. His middle and ring fingers clasped a sharply rigid, ovular form. He pulled the round object out of the hole, discovering it to be a woody peach pit stuck with clumps of dirt. He ran to the kitchen window and stood before it.
“Momma, look what I found,” the boy called. “It’s from a peach.”
“Hold on a minute, Julie, Donnell’s found something,” his mother said, adding emphasis to the second part of her sentence, as to bring the boy pride in his discovery. “Okay, Donnell, Julie’s here, we want to see what you’ve found.” She turned the screen of her phone to face Donnell on the lawn.
“I found this. It’s from a peach, I know.” Donnell held the pit high in front of him. “Hmmm I think that’s an almond, Donnell. It’s just still in the shell,” his mother replied. Donnell squinted up at his mom, looking only with his right eye, his mouth ajar showing his missing tooth. “But don’t eat it, since it’s been outside. Okay?” she added. Donnell took the pit off display and cradled it in his hand.
“Cool, discovery, Donnell,” yelled Julie from the phone. Donnell’s mom laughed. “I don’t think you had to yell it, Julie.” Ms. Villard turned from the window and reset Julie up against a can of Lysol. Donnell walked back to his excavation site. His shoes stepped back into the places where they had previously stamped down the grass. He knew it wasn’t an almond. Donnell knew the pit belonged to a peach eaten years ago by someone in this home before him. Scarborough, in his old Buik, pulled up in front of his former cottage to see a picket fence encasing his former lawn and garden beds.
“What in the world?” Scarborough said to himself, as his seat belt slithered in release across his chest. He stepped out of his car and walked up to the fence’s gate, counting the days since he’d moved out. “I’ve been out six days, and already a fence?” he said. Scarborough unhinged the gate’s lock and proceeded up the path to the front door. The aspen trees offered him a familiar shade and beauty; their highest branches of leaves were just starting to yellow. At the doorstep, he took a moment to examine the entryway’s current condition through the door’s upper window. Noting the stacks of cardboard boxes and the broom and dust pan, he rang the doorbell. Ms. Villard strided from the kitchen to the front door calling to Julie that she’d be right back. Scarborough’s eyes and hers met just before she looked down to unlock the door.
“Hello, I’m Scarborough Neil, the previous homeowner. And you’re—”
“Sir, could I get you to take several steps back? Or put on your mask?” She looked up at Scarborough with wide eyes. Scarborough gave a look as if he didn’t know any better and turned to make some distance between the two of them.
“I–uh, don’t–uh, have a mask, on me,” he concluded, reaching the bottom of the steps and turning back to face her. “But is this distance good for ya?” he asked.
“Yes, I think that should be fine. Thank you,” said Ms. Villard. “I have a child is all. He’s very scared of this whole pandemic thing.”
“All the news I get tells me I’m the one who ought to be worried,” replied Scarborough jokingly. The woman’s stare didn’t break.
“We should all be worried,” Ms. Villard replied.
“Well, anyways, my deepest apologies for that. I just came by to collect some flower bulbs of mine that I left in the back.” Scarborough nodded towards the side yard.
“Flower bulbs?” Ms. Villard said.
“Yes. And–uh you’re Ms. Villard, Eilene Villard, right?” The woman nodded. “Well, with the whole sale of the house being contactless between you and me, I didn’t have a chance to tell you about all my prize winning flowers, and all the blooms I had here in the yard in spring and fall for neighbors to see—oh, this fence you have here. You don’t need it. This neighborhood isn’t any place you need to worry about your security. I guess the real estate agent didn’t make that clear.”