THE SEEDS OF DISCONTENT

 

Billy Barnes woke up in his bed, alone except for his tabby cat named Junior, more skin than bones.  Billy set his feet on the cold of the rough floorboards, upsetting a thin layer of dust.  He looked around his small, one-room house. 

            He didn't amount to much did he?  His plot of land wasn't much bigger than his house.  The front yard was a foot-wide flower bed and two steps down to the curb.  The back yard was a little patch of dirt, a trash heap, and an outhouse.  It was probably better he never married.  He barely scraped together a living as it was.  

            But all that was going to change.  That pumpkin in his back yard was going to win him a blue ribbon at the county fair. 

 

Lily Evangeline owned the property on all sides of his scrap of land.  No matter which direction Billy looked, he felt small. 

            Her house was to the east, surrounded by a splendid rose garden.  Her orchards were to the north, acres and acres, all the way to the river.  Her prize vegetable garden was to the west.  And on the street to the south, the townspeople whispered as they walked by, "Miss Evangeline should just rid the town of that ugly blight of a shack in the middle of her beautiful gardens."        

            Winter was Billy's favorite season.  The vegetable garden was just dirt covered in straw.  The orchard was just a bunch of naked, knobby trees.  The rose bushes were just a bunch of ugly sticks wrapped in burlap.  And the neighbors walked less in the cold.  But winter never lasted. 

            Spring came and Lily Evangeline was out cutting roses.

            Summer came and she was picking fruit with a ladder in her sun hat.     

            Fall came and she was harvesting vegetables.  Then she took the flowers, fruit, and vegetables to the county fair, returning with ribbons galore.     

           

Billy Barnes was tired of feeling small.  That's why he snuck into Lily Evangeline's vegetable garden one night and stole himself a pumpkin.  She had plenty of pumpkins.  She wouldn't notice one missing. 

            Pumpkins had always been his favorite.  So big and orange.  Not as useful as carrots or lettuce.  Not as versatile as tomatoes or as flashy as squash.  But pumpkins made a nice pie if you took the time to sort through all that mess on the inside.  

            He opened that pumpkin up.  Scooped out the seeds and saved them in a tin can.  Then he carved a great big grin on that pumpkin's face, put the stump of an old candle inside, and put it on the windowsill facing Lily Evangeline's house. 

            He planted those seeds in his little patch of dirt, and he watched his pumpkin grow.  And boy did his pumpkin grow.  It grew and grew.  And then it grew some more. 

 

Lily Evangeline never paid much attention to Billy Barnes.  She had plenty of opportunity to look at him, of course, because her property was on all sides of his.  But when she did look, it was like she was looking through him, not at him.  That was because he didn't amount to much.  She did, however, notice when he stole her pumpkin. 

            She took no immediate action against her neighbor.  It's impossible to be a gardener without a great deal of patience. 

            She watched the jack-o-lantern on the windowsill rot. 

            She watched the sty he called a yard harden with frost, and then thaw. 

            She watched him scatter her seeds into the furrows of mud.  

            She watched her pumpkins sprout in his yard. 

            All the time knowing they were not ordinary pumpkins. 

 

The largest pumpkin grew and grew.  And then it grew some more.  The county fair was only one week away.  Billy Barnes stood in his yard, admiring his pumpkin.  His neighbor could not have grown a pumpkin so large.  It might even get him into Guinness. 

            Lily Evangeline watched from among her fruit trees, as a chill wind pulled the bright leaves from their branches and flung them onto the giant pumpkin and the little man.  She rolled a burlap sack into a bundle and held it to her breast, clutching the neckline of her blouse closed against the cold.  She waited as the sky darkened too quickly and the pumpkin continued to grow. 

            It was growing more rapidly now.  Its vines climbed up the walls of Billy Barnes' house.  It knocked over the outhouse.  The little shack shook as the pumpkin creaked and groaned and continued to grow.  Soon the pumpkin was bigger than his house.  Billy Barnes cowered in fear, as the pumpkin pressed him against the trash heap in the corner of the yard.  The pumpkin flattened his house as it continued to grow.   

            That's when he heard, caught on the wind, the distant sound of an infant's cry.  And then the cry came closer.  And closer.  Until it was coming from nearby.  Until it was coming from beneath him.  Until it was coming from his own throat.

            Miss Lily Evangeline smiled as she watched Billy Barnes shrink.  And shrink.  And then the wind stopped, the sky lightened, and the pumpkin returned to a more reasonable size, sitting in the middle of a demolished house, and an ugly yard with a toppled outhouse. 

            Miss Lily Evangeline walked to the infant crying on the trash heap.  She laughed and thought, Why do men behave like children?  She picked the baby up and stuffed it into the burlap bag, as it continued to shrink.  And shrink.  Soon, all she held in her hands was a burlap bag full of pumpkin seeds. 

 

The townspeople would remark later how glad they were that Miss Evangeline had finally bought that property and had that ugly little shack removed.