If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write - Stephen King, On Writing, p. 147
The outhouse loomed when she looked out of the kitchen window. She couldn’t deny its rotting planks; rusted hinges and drunken lean did nothing to enhance the manicured beauty of her garden. The garden she was determined would take the top spot in this year’s Talented Amateur competition in the local paper. Precisely askew stepping stones sat in a lawn clipped to within a half inch of its life and smooth as glass. The orderly profusion of her flowerbeds spoke of taming, control.
The outhouse had to go but the thought of demolishing it alone brought back the pain. Eric, her husband, had been gone a year now but she still felt his absence when she stepped onto the patio and into what she had once considered his domain. When he had needed space the garden had been his haven. For too long after the aneurism took him, one second bent over his beloved roses, the next impaled on them, she hadn’t been able to face the empty space that followed her when she stepped out of the door. He was absent when she knelt to pull up a dandelion, when she fought with the mower. He wasn’t and she couldn’t be.
Hesitantly, like a blind woman negotiating unfamiliar territory, she found a purpose. Tearing out bindweed released her anger. Shearing the shaggy lawn gave her exercise. Learning how to hammer in a fence pole had given her a sense of achievement. Less than a month ago she had risen from weeding the flowerbeds, eased out her back and realized with gentle sorrow that she had not missed Eric that day. In tending his garden, she had come to terms with the hole in her life.
Winning the competition would crown her achievement and perhaps Eric would somehow know she was coping. The obstacle was the outhouse. Eric had refused to get rid of it, sometimes winking at her as he peered through the half moon cut in its door. She knew he read his paper there and it hadn’t mattered but now she had to face her final demons.
She stood in front of the eyesore and sighed. Close to it appeared to be held together by a mad tangle of stems and branches that chased under and over, even through the wood panels. She realized the tender new branches with their delicate leaves were those of a rose and felt a pang of sorrow as she raised her secateurs. Eric’s favorites. Pulling away dry, dead branches a label fell at her feet, a white rectangle of plastic with barely legible words. She wiped the leaf mould away and felt warm tears on her cheeks as she read the words and smiled at the outhouse, giving it a reprieve.
‘For our twentieth anniversary – Love Eric.’
That summer the profusion of blowsy pink roses over the outhouse drew many admiring glances, more than the little plaque pinned beneath that read ‘Winner – Best Amateur’.