Walt’s Garden stood in an old shop on East Main Street. It fell in line with a collection of other such buildings along the north side of the road; brick, one- or two-story shops with broad window fronts and colorful signs decorating the sidewalk, enticing passers-by to step inside. A broad promenade allowed patrons to walk with ease, or relax on the benches that faced the road. Young maples and dogwoods spread their branches along the curb, shielding the strollers and the shoppers from sun and traffic alike.
Walt’s Garden actually took up residence in the building that was once a Sears and Roebuck, before that warehouse opened up off route 129, just outside of town. The white paint on the façade was peeling, revealing the ruddy brick face underneath. A chalkboard sign sitting just outside the door read make my garden your own. Through the window there was a view to the back of the shop, where the ceiling opened up into a greenhouse. Rows of flowers of all colors, stacks of bagged mulch, and glittering fountains decorated the sunlit space. Plain shelving of metal rods and wood pallets were arranged in winding rows over the smooth, cement floor.
But Walter was not in that day. Like most of the town he had gone to Pratt’s Ridge High’s field just across the road. The local boys were having an open scrimmage, and the town was abuzz with talk of going to States that fall. The stands were filled with cheering onlookers waving blue and white pennants as the players marched through their drills.
There were even rumored to be coaches and scouts from some of the universities in the region, and journalists from the metropolitan newspapers, all come to an open practice to view the next generation of college stars. Men in short-sleeved, white shirts with colorful logos embroidered on their breast pockets or their lapels or their ties, scribbled furiously in notepads with their short pencils.
Walter sat in the stands amid a crowd of other fans, but alone. His static frame was easy to pick out of the swirling, blue-and-white masses. He was a statue amid the jubilation. All around him the people were chattering, yelling, clapping, whistling, and chanting. But there he sat, a black bowler resting atop his head, wearing a full three-piece suit; black, with a bow tie. Walter insisted on wearing that suit to every game, every scrimmage, even in the sweltering July heat. He was frozen in time and space, completely surrounded, and yet isolated.
Despite the excitement, Walter would not let his eyes leave the field. His back was rigid, and his hand occasionally reached up to wipe beads of sweat off his brow with a handkerchief. His posture was firm and deliberate, but he fidgeted with his hands, never allowing his fingertips to rest on his squared knees. Did the others around him notice that he could not fully wash the dirt out from his fingernails? He could not be sure. Either way, he kept his eyes on the field, even as others’ eyes questioned him; that odd gardener in the suit.