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Column: Here’s the dirt on her secret life of plants

“Tis dangerous to take a cold, to sleep, to
drink; but I tell you, my lord fool, out of this
nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.”
-Henry IV 

Evenings, my wife is entranced by true crime shows. The broader the blood splatter, the better. The serial killer ones are favorites, rivaled only by wives whacking husbands. 

I refuse vacations with her if the allure involves cliffs. One thing I’ve learned from her shows is it’s near impossible to determine if a death is caused by slip or shove.  

Another thing I’ve learned from her shows is that many murders are solved through DNA taken from cigarette butts tossed in victims’ toilets. Dear killers: flush the damn crime scene toilet. Cigarettes kill, especially when they land you on death row.

Brynne told me that the perfect murder often entails no body being left behind. Now, I check the garage for vats of sulfuric acid. 

“If they don’t have a body, it takes them a really long time to prove it . . . or they never prove it,” she said, a Gacy glint in her eye. 

Who is this mad woman I married? Lizzie Borden? 

In bed, I try to sleep with one eye open when Brynne’s bedlam is in the TV glow. I need the white noise of a box fan to lullaby me to sleep (not to mention a jackknife on my nightstand). She needs narrations of Bill Curtis (Cold Case Files) and Keith Morrison (Dateline). 

To be fair, there’s a softer side to Brynne that I should tell you about. By day, her favorite mental escape is tending to the flora in our yard.

Streaming murders by night, planting flowers by day. The dichotomy that is my wife. 

Sometimes the cat and I look at her from my upstairs writing room window. She seems at peace down there on her gardener’s bench amongst her countless pots, watering petunias that will add color to the coming Fall, digging dirt, enjoying a serenade of cicadas and Paul Carrack’s blue-eyed soul. I once heard Barbara Streisand singing “Ageless and ever evergreen” from the outdoor Bluetooth speaker, and my heart became a yo-yo. The cat yawned. I returned to the keyboard, inspired by my wife’s creativity. I imagined how at the onset of each new Spring our dormant yard must appear to her as a blank page, a clean canvas, awaiting her next masterpiece.  

Recently, I asked her to reveal her innermost thoughts about her secret life of plants, that world where each plant’s name sounds like a piece of a poem in progress.

Spearmint. Cat mint. Beardtongues. Dusty Miller. Stonecrop Sedum.

“It captures all of my senses,” she said. “It’s therapeutic to stop, see, smell, and feel. It helps me to feel grounded in where I am. The birds, the bugs, the breeze . . . ”

Lobelia. Sweet William. Bachelor’s Button. Tall Phlox.

“Feeling the dirt on my hands and under my nails. The smell of damp dirt. That really does it for me,” she said. “It smells good. It smells like Earth. It’s a love and a respect for the earth.”

Daylilies. Royal Mallow.  Vinca. Creeping Jenny. Purple Coneflower.

As a speech-language pathologist, Brynne focuses on improving a person’s memory, cognitive skills, swallowing, and regaining their speech. It’s exhausting work. After a long drive home, she’s happy to trade her patients for impatiens. “I don’t really want to talk to people when I get home,” she said. “I talk to my plants.”

Rocket Larkspur. Elegant Zinnia. Afro-Australian Daisy. Black-Eyed Susan. Speedwell. 

“I like figuring out the compositions. What colors and heights and textures will look nice together. The spacing of things. Something big, something little; I like that pattern. I love getting as many unique colors as I can find,” she said. 

Shasta Daisy. 4 O’Clock. Columbine. Johnny Jump-Up. Salvia.

“I’ll go out there after work to forget, detach and get grounded again,” she said. “I am carried away, to the point that I don’t know what time it is.”

Russian Sage. Balloon Flower. Heuchera (Coral Bells). Coleus. 

“I always want to touch flowers,” she said. “I want to deadhead. Get the dead out of there so new growth can come. It’s crazy to me that you can pinch back a plant so it looks like hardly anything is left, yet it comes back full because you did that. It’s sort of a metaphor for life. It’s true for a lot of things.”

It’s awkward for me when she deadheads flowers in public places. She can’t help it, like a compulsive CVS shoplifter. I look away, playing innocent bystander while her covert pinches behead faded blooms, causing spent seeds and dried petals to fall on the sidewalk. It’s macabre, really, and takes me full circle to her nighttime murder documentaries. 

I imagined the following Keith Morrison narration: “By DAY, she filled their yard on ALL AMERICAN ROAD with BEAUTY and LIFE. By NIGHT came something SINISTER—”    

“It’s hard for me to sleep knowing you know how to get rid of a corpse,” I said.

“I have a wood chipper coming from Amazon tomorrow,” she said. It was her stab at a joke. Note to self: no more “Fargo” for Brynne.

“You didn’t order a wood chipper,” I said. “Too much online evidence.” Then, more imagined Keith Morrison narration: “—now it’s HER husband WHO is PUSHING DAISIES.”

Contact: scottsaalman@gmail.com

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