Green House

by Joel E. R. Smith

Agave said my problem sounded like fire blight or salt burn. Did you know, I thought about asking, that horticulture is Latin for the devil's playground? It isn't, though, not even close.

Okay, Mister, she would've said. This being her first day. She not existing until I found her by the intersection and after that the signing of papers. She signing "Agave" with an X. Me preferring it that way. Fake names all around.

John Black Thumb, I said, call me John for short.

She couldn't have liked that, the smack of race bait. I didn't mean anything like that, but still. My family's estate is a chew-stain on the original Purchase map, so we're core players in the situation. Yes, the browns have been here a long, long time. No, it didn't stop the Ombudsman from canceling their ethnic studies. No, "John Black Thumb" would not go over smooth as psyllium husks, not in this climate. Psyllium husks: that's the stuff what helps me shit.

Being worried about the scales of Justice, I always wanted to hire a lady gardener. That meant Agave worked for me now. She seemed on point with the fire blight, salt burn talk, so I doubled her pay, Day One.

The next week, Agave came prepared, with canvas gloves and a conical hat. She wore a pantsuit that repelled water like pigskin. I don't know where she got it. It looked flush as my inheritance.

The pantsuit didn't constrict her, not when she aerated the soil, not when she ripped off dead leaves and stuck them in her pockets for later. Who knows how many mouths she had to feed?

Time passed. The monsoons came and flooded my xeriscape. Once, Agave left early on the heels of a dust storm. It knocked out cell reception for a month. As soon as I could, I texted her to be my live-in gardener, that I was like an elephant and kept a tally in my head.

She texted back that she loved John Hurt, John Merrick, and every other man named John except for me, John Black Thumb, if that was even my name. I called in a favor with the Ombudsman to put a trace on her phone. He was a childhood friend of my father. The Ombudsman's assistant replied via fax: the phone was a burner and I should stay away from women like Agave.

Agave showed up later that night, and blanketed everything with sod. The quince trees, the pomegranates, the koi pond, all sod. Then she billed me on Square reader and headed, I assumed, back to the intersection with her pockets full of leaves.

It's been six months and she still hasn't come. All her work has merged into itself, once solid things now plasma.

I want to lay a footpath down on top of the sod, just so I know where to walk again. I need Agave's opinion first, should we go flagstone or saltillo tile?

Joel E.R. Smith lives near a wash in the Old Pueblo. He edits fiction for Spork Press and has appeared or will soon in Hobart, Witness, and Wigleaf. You can reach him at

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