I don't usually write in present tense, but it felt right for this. Also, I know literally nothing about gardening. I may expand on this later, but for now it's a oneshot.
Title is from Inside My Garden Gate by Susan C. Walkinshaw Kelly.
She always reads Christopher's letters in the garden. It's where she feels closest to him—they planted the very first seeds there together, his hand over hers on the trowel as they dug that first hole, and she is nostalgic for the days they spent out there, enjoying the sunshine and one another's company. Each letter is a treasure more valuable than the gold on her finger, and when one arrives, she takes it out to their garden and sits by the gold-tooth aloe, Christopher's favorite, and reads until she's committed each word to memory. When the boys come home from school, young Christopher reads it aloud, his voice so like his father's that it hurts.
Slowly, she realizes the letters have stopped coming. By the time a young man shows up, hat in hand, to tell her what she already knows, she thinks perhaps the endless waiting has numbed her to shock, but it hasn't. She's in the garden that day, too, and to her credit she waits until his car starts down the street before she sinks to her knees in the flower patch.
Tending the garden hardly deserves her attention, after that, next to the boys and the farm and the inner voice that calls her to just lie down and waste away. She does it anyway, taking her anger out on weeds and pests. Keeping those flowers at their most beautiful is important to her in a way she can't name.
The flowers seem to be the only thing she can't ruin. Christopher speaks to her less and less; Jack gets into trouble more and more; around her the farm falls into disrepair.
By the fourth time she brings Jack into Thomas Blake's surgery, Miss Robinson at the desk has learned not to ask how he hurt himself. Or perhaps she's simply too distracted- she's got a shining new ring on her finger as she waves them through, and for once the smile on her face is out of joy rather than pity.
Dr. Blake isn't usually one for much small talk, but he finds a way to bring up Miss Robinson's engagement, and how he'll be in need of someone to take her place, and Jean is halfway out the door before she realizes he's offering her a job.
That night, she cries over her beloved garden, and all it represents, but she knows a lifeline when it's just been thrown at her, and she grabs on with both hands.
Dr. Blake doesn't have a garden, she muses to herself as she takes a cutting from her husband's favorite plant. I can fix that.
She learns quickly. Learns that Dr. Blake is good with medical details, but not so much with names, and so she finds ways to fit them into his earshot— Lovely to see you again, Mr. Goodman.
Evelyn Toohey is here, Doctor Blake.
Good afternoon, Mrs. Foster. How is little Michael doing?
She learns that dinner should be on the table at 5:30 on the dot, or the doctor will be displeased (he won't express his displeasure verbally, but she learns facial expressions quickly, too).
She learns there are two rooms in the house Doctor Blake never sets foot in. The studio, she is content to leave untouched, once he informs her that she doesn't need to clean it. But the abandoned sunroom calls to her, and so when she's settled into the house and it seems clear that this is going to work out, she finds the courage to bring it up as the doctor sips his morning tea.
"I was thinking I would see about the sunroom today," she says as she takes up his empty dishes from breakfast.
First he only hums in response, his eyes on a copy of The Courier. She waits a moment, and he looks up at her. "What? Why?" he asks, not unkindly.
She swallows thickly, but pushes forward; the worst he can do is refuse her. "I was just thinking, well, it seems a shame for such a lovely room to go to waste, and the flower pots are just sitting there, and I've been itching to get my hands into some soil again." The glass plate feels impossibly heavy in her hands, then, and she moves to the sink, hesitating to turn on the water for fear she'll miss his response.
"Alright," he finally says. She chances a glance over her shoulder and finds his attention is back on the paper.
She turns back to the dishes, so he doesn't see the smile spread broadly over her face, but she thinks he might hear it in her voice when she answers, "Thank you, Doctor Blake." If he does, he doesn't say anything.
Jean steps into the sunroom and feels she's gone back in time. Flowerpots hang from the ceiling full of rich soil, though their inhabitants have long since withered away. On a small table, a pair of gloves rest as if the late Mrs. Blake has only just taken them off and will come back in a moment to slip her hands back into them. She finds most of the tools she'll need are already here, and sets aside some of her housekeeper's salary to cover the rest.
Dr. Blake gives her free rein in the sunroom to do what she likes, but still never goes in, and Jack and Christopher have little interest in gardening, so she spends more and more time there when she needs to be alone. Seed by seed, she plants herself a safe haven.
Before long she gets permission to start a garden where there hasn't been for years. The day she moves the goldtooth aloe from pot to rich earth is the day she knows she is home.