Nestled between the pool-shaped hole in the garden and quieted aviary, the greenhouse glistened in the rubble. A murky film climbed the walls, fading to clear. It smelled oppressively damp, like a boat left at the dock too long.
We lived by the ocean before this, on the coast of South Africa. When we moved to England, we found ourselves as far from the water as you can be on an island. Even the grass was parched that year of drought. This half-finished house afforded us cheap rent. I was eleven. My father, forty-eight. My mother, unraveling.
I believe it was Dad who suggested we try to grow something. Fledgling gardeners, we chose cherry tomatoes as our first crop. We brought the bag of rich soil home with tomatoes drawn on the front in dark green ink. Dad lay the bag flat on a bench in the greenhouse. I cut along the dotted lines that formed a square opening. The bag sat between us like a promise.
Dad dug out a watering can, cleared it of cobwebs. I poured the water into the bag, lifting my elbows to my ears. The soil smelled sharp and soft. Everything felt in the right place. The bag with the dark insides and white flap hanging out like a tongue. The can with the delicate streams of water. The humidity pressing into our skin.
In one of the first picture books I read, a girl wearing a yellow dress got a penny and put it in a yellow purse with a clasp. She used that penny to pay a boat tender to take her across a small river. I can still see her opening the purse, finding the penny within, snapping it closed. There was a firmness to it all. She was out in the world alone, with purpose. I didn't know where her parents were but trusted they'd given her the dress, the purse, the penny.
The tomatoes were supposed to be soft, reaching. But they never sprouted, the soil turning moldy. We wondered if we overwatered it. Dad was an absent-minded professor type. I used to thrill at helping him in the morning--checking he had his briefcase in hand, his wallet in the case, his sweater the right way round. I suppose from another angle he could have seemed aloof, careless.
I often wonder what it would be like to be his daughter now. If he, too, would think about the tomato seeds we never planted.
Stephanie Evans is a writer and content strategist based in Minneapolis, MN. As an immigrant to the US from South Africa and England, she explores grief and vehicles for connection in her writing. You can connect with her on Twitter @hmsevans.