Jane Cope straightened up from where she had been weeding under her forsythia hedge. She pressed the back of one of her gloved hands to her forehead and squinted against the sun. She sighed deeply. Jane wasn’t in bad shape for her age, but she had to admit the knees were not what they had once been. She watched with envy as a youngish man bounded down the steps of the St Therese rectory building across the main road from her corner lot. He doesn’t even think about his knees. Just trots along on them with no thought for cartilage or menisci or spondylitis. Just expects them to keep on bending and cushioning as they do today.
She herself had been the same, of course — sitting cross legged at all those sit-ins in the ’70s; running up and down the stairs between dressing rooms and stages; not to mention all those hours hunkered down among her plants. Had these things accelerated or fended off the stiffness? You could find doctors arguing for both. Worth it, though. All of it worth it.
Jane turned and beheld the majestic wall of green leaves sweeping down the side of her property. It was an honor, really to have been entrusted with the care of such a specimen. And, she had to admit, modesty aside, that the forsythia had flourished here. If only it weren’t for…Jane frowned and turned to follow Father Tom’s progress across Carnegie Park. Wiping her Hori Hori knife and sliding it into its sheath on her gardening apron, Jane set off across the park on the diagonal, to intercept the Catholic pastor.
Another sign of a life well lived, she was a little out of breath by the time she had caught up with the young man. The midday sun had burned away any traces of morning cool now with the result that Jane was rather more flustered than she would have liked when addressing the male of the species, no matter what his age. But needs must…
“Good morning, Ms Cope,” Fr Tom called as her path intersected his. “Going my way? I’d be glad of the company.”
“Oh I doubt that, Father,” Jane said, waving one hand at the universe in general. “You must get little enough time when you’re not on-stage, so to speak, and I’m sure you treasure those moments. I won’t keep you. Its’s just that I wanted to catch you and ask to please intercede for me,” she paused, pleased that she had been able to pluck the particularly Catholic word from her less-and-less-reliable memory, “with your parishioners, once again, on behalf of my forsythia.”
She watched his face carefully. There was no flicker of impatience, no hint of irritation.
“Do you know,” she said, changing tack with the unusual effect of appearing to interrupt herself. “You would make a very fine actor, I think. Have you done any formal acting? In college maybe? Although I suppose in your case you’d have had to be very Shakespearean about it — men playing all the women’s parts…Well, at any rate, the Forgetown Players summer musical offering is to be Oklahoma this year — a little ambitious, I feel, but Jacob and Cynthia Doolan are convinced we can manage — all those dance numbers! Can you imagine? Still, we would get on a lot better, it occurs to me, with a young man like yourself playing our Curly. And I hear rumors that you have a very fine Irish tenor voice.”
Her own voice trailed upward in the way of a question as she turned her best ‘reach the cheap-seats’ smile on the priest. She had been so caught up in the new idea that she had stopped walking right alongside the memorial rose garden — ratty-looking things they were too. Honestly, imagine putting in roses as a memorial to anything in this climate and then expecting them to get by under only the tender ministrations of the Parks’ Department’s butchers for hire. She really ought to have a word with Damian Belasco about it.
“You’re too kind,” Fr. Tom was saying. He had stopped when Jane had, and was looking at her now with that slightly awed look she often saw on people’s faces when she engaged them in conversation. It was hardly surprisingly, of course. She had presence. Always had. Ms Fonda herself had been kind enough to say so that summer she’d played at the Walnut in Philadelphia and she, Jane Cope, had had a small part as Dancer #2.
“But,” the priest was saying, “I don’t think my schedule permits. The show must go on but so, unfortunately must the emergency call-outs to Golden Acres and the hospice. I’m not sure the Archbishop would understand if I told him I’d missed giving the Sacrament of the Sick because my public needed me.”
He was smiling broadly and Jane thought she might have detected the hint of a wink. With that, the priest began to walk again. Jane found herself momentarily adrift in the middle of the park, head full of barn raisings and memorial roses and Ms Fonda’s summer in Philadelphia — that glorious garden party — and found herself unsure, quite, why she was standing in the middle of Carnegie Park. Fr Tom had slowed and turned back to her.
“About your bushes,” he called. “I really am very sorry if the parishioners are causing damage. I’ll mention it again this Sunday and stress that if they must park in your lane, they should take better care with their car doors. It’s all God’s creation, after all!.
“I do appreciate it, your…um, Father,” Jane snapped back to the business at hand. “I know some of them think me a silly woman to fret, but it’s just that the very first cutting was given to me…”
“By Mr Fonda, wasn’t it? 1960-something?” Fr Tom was smiling again.
“’61, yes. Every so often I take a cutting and start a new bush. I brought the first cuttings from a garden party at Ms Fonda’s rented place — her father was there you know. Such an intimidating man. Quite kind, of course, but such presence! And then of course, I brought cuttings from my garden in Llanfair when I moved here to Foregetown. It’s taken me fully ten years to develop it into the hedge you see before you now, so often “trampled under foot, by the shifting throng that forms the population of most of our country places”. With apologies to Washington Irving.”
“My mother was a gardener herself,” Fr Tom said, saluting her in farewell as they reached the far aside of the park. “So I know all too well the heartache caused by a carelessly placed sneaker. I’ll speak to them again, I promise. And I’ll pray for a good healthy rain, for your shrubs.”
Jane watched the priest stride off down Frederick St towards St. Stephen’s no doubt. Which reminded her.
“Father,” She called. He stopped and turned, one foot on the sidewalk, the other a step into the D Street crosswalk, just next to where that awfully nice lesbian couple lived. Janice and somebody. Oh, how terrible that she couldn’t call her name to mind. Jane saw Fr Tom watching her and hurried over. “Is there any news about the merger? Not that I’m a parishioner of course — old Episcopalians as my parents were, and I being a true child of the 60s, well — but I do have friends…and I can’t help wondering, if you do merge, what the extra traffic will do to the…parking situation.”
“Not to mention your forsythias.”
Jane inclined her head, acknowledging the hit.
“An announcement will be forthcoming, Mrs Cope. Forthcoming rather soon. In fact, I’m on my way to talk to Fr Andruczyk now, if you’ll excuse me.”
And with that, he was gone.
“My mother was” he had said, Jane thought as she strolled back across the park, taking the occasional, absent-minded dig with her Hori Hori knife at lawless patches of crabgrass in the park as she went. Past tense. So the mother is no longer with us? And he, such a young man. Do I scent tragedy?
Jane arrived back at her forsythia fortress with an apron full of weeds and a mind full of questions.