Benjamin E. Lee sits in the garden at night. It’s July and it’s been over a hundred and six degrees every day for more than a week now. The old air conditioner in his wife’s bedroom broke down yesterday and she asked him to fix it, but it’s too damn hot to mess with something that’s supposed to be in the back of the truck on it’s way to the dump. This chair has been out here for about ten years, and the blue paint is peeling off and the caning in the seat has mostly been scavenged by birds for nests. Benjamin can’t sleep, so here he is, sitting with the tomato plants and the cucumber vines at two o’clock in the morning. The yellow light bulb on the porch is swatting moths and there’s no moon and the haze he remembers of every July night since he was a boy, since his father taught him how to drive a tractor, just is not there tonight . . . it’s too hot for haze and so there are stars all mixed in with the fireflies and they are giving off heat, everything is giving off heat. Benjamin feels the heat in the soil beneath his feet coming up through his tennis shoes. He hears wings beat overhead and a small ruckus in the potted ferns on the porch, “the wrens can’t sleep neither . . . ” he thinks. He sees a light go on across the road, in the upstairs window of the People From New Jersey’s house. They decided to have a garden a couple years back, and so they bought a John Deere that was too big and they dug up half an acre and they worked and they worked and put up fancy little row markers and everything died, not one thing grew and now they got this dug up half-acre that they go out and stare at and scratch their heads and bend over and pick up the dead soil and crumble it in their hands and then they go back in the air conditioning and eat their tomatoes from the store. And some time last spring they brought home those goats and those great big hairy dogs that must eat more than all their children put together, he’s never figured out how many children they got, sometimes it seems like fourteen, sometimes four, and so they put up this crazy wire fence around the half-acre next to the dead vegetable half-acre and the goats are over there breeding away and the big white dogs run back and forth and back and forth and they got so much hair that Benjamin E. Lee thinks that maybe those dogs are going to succumb to the sun by the end of the week, but those people came home with a baby pool strapped to the top of their Bus, Mrs. Lee calls it a Bus, and they put that out there and stuck a hose in it and all afternoon the kids stood there and when it was full they wrestled the dogs and put them in the pool, and they kept yelling “Stay, Stay!” and those damn dogs would jump out and chase the goats again. Benjamin E. Lee watches the light in the upstairs window of The People From New Jersey’s house and figures it’s Mrs. New Jersey who can’t sleep - she’s a nervous type, and he knows this, cause she came to his door about a year ago and asked if she could buy some of the vegetables from his “Gorgeous garden,” and he turned her away saying, “Mrs. Lee cans everything and what we don’t can, well, we eat now, and we give to my sister who lives in town with her son who ain’t right . . . ” and he regretted saying that about his nephew, cause Mrs. New Jersey shifted slightly and her big sunglasses slipped, “Oh I’m sorry . . . ”
“Nothin’ to be sorry about, he just didn’t get enough air when he was a baby . . . ” And Benjamin could hear Mrs. Lee stirring around in the TV room and he knew that she was saying low to herself, “Benjamin E. Lee, you tell that nice lady to go home now . . . ”
Benjamin suddenly wishes he’d brought a flashlight with him, cause he notices that there’s a terrible amount of weeds under the cucumber vines and he’d like to pull them up. But no flashlight unless he goes back in the house, and then he’s sure the batteries are dead in that flashlight cause the last time he tried to use it was when his Boxer Dog was raising hell one night back in May and he went out their to tell her to shut up and to make sure no one was stealing tractor parts from the garage and the damn flashlight didn’t work. And he never bought new batteries, so no flashlight.
A light goes on in his kitchen, Mrs. Lee is up. The side door opens and the moths scatter and the wren that was finally sleeping in the potted ferns flurries away, “Benjamin? Is that you out there in the garden?” Ben?“
”Yeah, it’s me Mrs. Lee . . .“
”Come back to bed before you get bit by a snake.“
”Ain’t no snakes Mrs. Lee, it’s too damn hot.“