Rhubarb with Elsa

Life is often filled with events, situations, circumstances that you never expect; that catch you unawares, off-kilter. Chemistry being what it is, it seems like we might be a bit more prepared for serendipity, but as for myself, not so much. It is not really anything I am equipped to improve on: I am often socially clueless, and have been my whole life, best as I can recall. I rarely know that signals are being sent, much less what the hell they are intended to convey.

If being a writer requires, as one writer friend says regularly, that one be a consummate liar to engage in the craft, then being a reporter additionally mandates that one not only be a writer, but something of a social whore, especially if it is beat reporting that you are doing, which is what I am doing these days. As my editor famously put it: "No one is required to talk to you just because you are a reporter. You have to gain their respect, their trust, and then they will talk to you, and give you the information you need to report stories."

Well, I am a pretty sociable fellow, a trait inherited from my late daddy, who could strike up an interesting conversation with a parking meter. He loved to talk, make conversation, tell jokes and stories, and just generally was a hoot-and-a-half to be around.

And so that whole chattiness comes pretty naturally to me, and I use it to good advantage in my work. I tell folks that I get to know really well that with a little time, I can get them to tell me almost anything, and with a little time and a little liquor, I can get them to tell me the rest.

So the other day, I was out looking around for rhubarb plants that might have been spawned by my grampa's plants many years ago, in the old road that runs along the back of his property. I was out there because my neighbor from across the street, Elsa, who lives next door to grampa's, told me the other day that she had seen some rhubarb plants out there. And I figured since it is still a town road, and public property, near the edge of the forest, that it would be no harm to go dig them up and transplant them to my garden.

So I am out there, walking slow, looking down, searching for the rhubarb plants, and I pass the whole 300-foot length of grampa's property, and am dead even with Elsa's backyard, when I see her, out there on poop patrol after her two dogs, plastic bag in hand, discovering treasures. Before I can speak, she looks up, lets out a soft yelp, and says "Oh you startled me!"

And I begin to apologize profusely, and she stops me.

"No, it's nothing you did; I am just a little jumpy lately. So you are out looking for the rhubarb plants I told you about?"

"Yeah, I am. Seriously, Elsa, I am sorry for scaring you. I was just about to say something when you let out that little yelp."

"No worries. Look, let me unhook this fencing, and let you in. I can show you were the plants are better from in here in my yard."

In addition to pointing out that the previous line from Elsa was a signal which I, of course, missed, I should point out at this stage of the story that Elsa is a stunning six-foot blonde, in her late thirties, with a smile that can light the darkest place, and a big laugh to boot. While tall, she has petite hands and feet, which on this July day were clad in flip-flops, showing her beautifully painted toenails, her assortment of toe rings, and an ankle bracelet. Not tan, but not lily white, she was wearing cute little khaki shorts, and a blue golf shirt that picked up the blue of her eyes perfectly. A very put-together woman.

As she fumbled with the fence wire, I found myself noticing that very ample rack that she has, and felt myself reflexively responding to the stimulation. I averted my gaze so as not to produce too much of a tent, but I thought to myself, wow, she would be such a great catch. But the best neighbors are not lovers, and I cast my thoughts elsewhere. Finally, the fence wire gave way to her efforts, and I was entering her backyard. Her dogs gave me the obligatory once-over, and then left to annoy the birds brave enough to invade the dogs' turf.

"Hey, so come look, they are right over here," Elsa bubbled, leading me about twenty feet down her property line, and pointing through the fence. Sure enough, there they were, one a really big, old plant, and the other a very young one.

"Wow, they both look great. Okay, I am definitely going to dig them up and take them," I said.

"Well, you don't appear to have a shovel with you," Elsa cooed, "so I can lend you one of mine. Come over here to the shed." She was smiling, and I was clueless.

I followed her the twenty or so feet over to her garden shed. As she entered the small doorway, I noticed that she leaves a good impression behind. It was a smallish shed, only room for a lawn mower and a few garden tools. She fumbled around at the back wall, and turned with a small spade in her hand.

"You know, Sam," she whispered, "I have been meaning to tell you something for quite a while now, since shortly after you got here last August."

"Oh, what's that, Elsa?" I managed.

"I find you enormously attractive," Elsa murmured, "and I think we ought to get to know each other better," as the shovel fell to the floor of the shed.

The rhubarb plants would wait another day.

July 17, 2009.

Copyright © 2009, Ricky A. Pursley. All rights reserved.

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