The day Justin killed the peas was turbulent for many reasons—pea-killing being one of the least momentous. Some more momentous reasons included, just for instance: COVID-19 cases in our state of Tennessee nearly doubled in 24 hours, businesses were scrambling to find alternative means of operation and everybody’s 401k situation began to look a bit bleak. So a lot was going on. But from our point of view, the day the peas died was turbulent on an entirely domestic level.
It all began that morning when I went to the garden and began to hoe. I got about halfway down one side of the rectangular patch of soil, working up a good sweat. I was also collecting any biggish rocks I came across into a sort of path through the center of the garden. This was going to be my permanent walkway, and was lined on either side with two special varieties of heirloom climbing peas that I ordered online and planted carefully a few weeks earlier with my four-year-old daughter’s help. (One of these varieties is supposed to produce purple pods and a wealth of edible tendrils which can be eaten on salad. The other is a pea that was discovered in the deep south in the early 20th century, sort of the Flannery O’Connor of peas.)
Anyway, these peas, I noticed while I was working, had come up. They were about a half-inch high, poking in a beautiful straight line on either side of my developing rock-path. We’d be trellising them in a few weeks. I called out to my daughter, who was climbing a tree nearby, “The peas have come up! I’ll show you in a minute!”
Then I went back to work, and was starting to get real tired in my arms when I remembered about my husband’s arms and how they need more exercise anyway. I also remembered it was my baby son’s naptime. So I went in and prepared to put him down, asking my husband if he’d like to get a little exercise in the meantime. I walked out to the garden with him to show where my lettuce had been planted, at one end of the garden, and the small patch at the other end where he was to avoid digging up my potatoes.
Then I went inside and put baby Henry to bed. A few minutes later, my good friend showed up for a scheduled walk. We had a delightful time walking in the beautiful weather, six feet apart. We were both of us in great need of refreshment, having been quarantined all week with our children. Perhaps we talked more about the virus than I wish we had, putting me emotionally at a disadvantage to handle what came next. Anyway, as we walked back up the gravel drive and air-hugged our farewells, I decided to walk around back to the garden and see my husband’s handiwork.
He’d finished it all! What a hand with a hoe my husband is, I thought to myself. This is what you get for marrying a farm boy—someone who really knows his way around the humus.
I saw my daughter playing across the yard and called to her, while I gathered up some tools to close up the shed for the night.
“Norah! I never showed you the peas!”
So she came over, and I started down the rock path. Halfway down, it hit me, hard. That’s a pea plant. It was ripped up from the roots and lying limply on its side on top of a perfectly-hoed mound of brown earth.
I walked further, and suddenly saw that it was all hoed, right up to the rock path—the hoeing was very thoroughly done and right up to the edges of the walkway—right through the two lines of heirloom peas—everything couldn’t have been more thoroughly hoed except for the potato patch and the squares of lettuce, exactly as I had told him.
I was on my knees in a minute, picking through the dirt.
“Oh no! Oh no, no, no…”
Norah was behind me, and she caught the note of despair in my voice. She also couldn’t help but notice that I had burst suddenly into wracking, sobbing tears.
“Don’t tell Daddy—“ I managed through my sobs. “It’s not his fault. It’s not his fault—I didn’t tell him—don’t tell Daddy!”
If there’s anything a 4-year-old girl loves more than a secret, it’s a dramatic secret hiding a great personal sorrow, entrusted to you by a crying woman on her knees in a garden bed. She ate it up with a spoon. Looking at me with her eyes wide and sympathetic, she nodded.
“It’s not his fault,” she repeated.
It wasn’t two seconds later, I heard a cheerful knocking on glass and turned to see my husband, holding our baby son, smilingly standing at the window to let me know naptime was over.
I saw the instant he noticed that I was sobbing. I also saw the instant that he settled himself in for learning horrific COVID-19-related news from our dear friend who had just walked with me. His features went steely. I got myself under control with great effort, and walked around the house and into the door. He met me there.
“Tell me what it is,” he said, with the same look you see on the face of captains in submarine movies when they’re asking the radar guys how long before the U-boats arrive. (One thing about my husband is he always expects the worst. The upshot of this is that whenever something good happens, he’s surprised and pleased; when something bad happens, he nods his head with the U-boat look on his face, but it never catches him unawares.)
I burst into a fresh strain of sobs and then tried to laugh to show him that I felt myself to be silly. But apparently when you laugh while sobbing it comes off like someone who is trying to be brave in the face of terror instead of like someone whose peas have been killed.
Then I tried to cease both things at once and then, when unsuccessful, very foolishly cry-laughed (craughed) the words, “You dug up the peas” and then craughed some more while Justin tried to decide what I was saying. Three minutes later, I’d explained it to him more clearly, with lots of intermediate “It’s not your fault I didn’t tell you,” and he had come to understand that no one in our friends’ immediate family circle had been hospitalized with the Coronavirus or killed in other ways.
It was about that time Norah rapped on the window from the outside. I opened it, and her earnest, pathetic face appeared in the opening. She looked at him in the kitchen laughing and said, distinctly, “I think you should tell him.”