||Work In Progress
A Seat In The Garden
by Thomas King
'If you woke up one day and found a big Indian standing
in your cornfield ... what would you do?'
JOE HOVAUGH settled into the garden on his knees and began
pulling at the wet, slippery weeds that had sprung up between the
neat rows of beets. He trowelled his way around the zucchini and up
and down the lines of carrots, and he did not notice the big Indian at
all until he stopped at the tomatoes, sat back, and tried to remember
where he had set the ball of twine and the wooden stakes.
The big Indian was naked to the waist. His hair was braided and wrapped with white ermine and strips of red cloth. He wore a single feather held in place by a leather band stretched around his head, and, even though his arms were folded tightly across his chest, Joe could see the glitter and flash of silver and turquoise on each finger.
"If you build it, they will come," said the big Indian.
Joe rolled forward and shielded his eyes from the morning sun.
"If you build it, they will come," said the big Indian again.
"Christ sakes," Joe shouted. "Get the hell out of the corn, will ya!"
"If you build it..."
"Yeah, yeah. Hey! This is private property. You people ever hear of private property?"
11 ... they will come."
Joe struggled to his feet and got his shovel from the shed. But when he got back to the garden, the big Indian was gone.
"All right!" Joe shouted and drove the nose of the shovel into the ground. "Come out of that corn!"
The corn stalks were only about a foot tall. Nevertheless, Joe walked each row, the shovel held at the ready, just in case the big Indian tried to take him by surprise.
WHEN RED MATHEWS came by in the afternoon, Joe poured him a cup of coffee and told him about the big Indian and what he had said, and Red told Joe that he had seen the movie.
"Wasn't a movie, Red, damn it. It was a real Indian. He was just standing there in the corn."
"You probably scared him away."
"You cat* let them go standing in your garden whenever they feel like it."
"That's the truth."
THE NEXT DAY, when Joe came out to the garden to finish staking the tomatoes, the big Indian was waiting for him. The man looked as though he was asleep, but, as soon as he saw Joe, he straightened up and crossed his arms on his chest.
"If you build it..."
"I'm going to call the police. You hear me. The police are going to come and haul you away."
"...they will come."
Joe turned around and marched back into the house and phoned the RCMP, who said they would send someone over that very afternoon.
"Afternoon? What am I supposed to do with him until then. Feed him lunch?"
The RCMP officer told Joe that it might be best if he stayed in his house. There was the chance, the officer said, that the big Indian might be drunk or on drugs and, if that were the case, it was better if Joe didn't antagonize him.
"He's walking on my corn. Does that mean anything to you?"
The RCMP officer assured Joe that it meant a great deal to him, that his wife was a gardener, and he knew how she would feel if someone walked on her corn.
"Still," said the officer, "it's best if you don't do anything."
What Joe did do was to call Red, and, when Red arrived, the big Indian was still in the garden waiting.
"Wow, he's a big sucker, all right," said Red. "You know, he looks a little like Jeff Chandler."
"I called the police, and they said not to antagonize him."
"Hey, there are two of us, right?"
"That's right," said Joe.
"You bet it's right."
Joe got the shovel and a hoe from the shed, and he and Red wandered out into the garden as if nothing was wrong.
"He's watching us," said Red.
"Don't step on the tomatoes," said Joe.
Joe walked around the zucchini, casually dragging the shovel behind him. Red ambled through the beets, the hoe slung over his shoulder.
"if you build it, they will come."
"Get him!" shouted Joe. And before Red could do anything, Joe was charging through the carrots, the shovel held out in front like a lance.
"Wait a minute, Joe", yelled Red, the hoe still on his shoulder. But Joe was already into the tomatoes. He was closing on the big Indian, who hadn't moved, when he stepped on the bundle of wooden stakes and went down in a heap.
"Hey," said Red. "You okay?"
Red helped Joe to his feet, and, when the two men looked around, the big Indian was gone.
"Where'd he go?" said Joe.
"Beats me," said Red. "What'd you do to get him so angry?"
Red helped Joe to the house, wrapped an ice pack on his ankle, and told him to put his leg on the chair.
"I saw a movie a couple of years back about a housing development
that was built on top of an ancient Indian burial mound!
"I would have got him, if I hadn't tripped."
"They finally had to get an authentic medicine man to come in and appease the spirits."
"Did you see the look on his face when he saw me coming?"
"And you should have seen some of those spirits."
WHEN THE RCMP arrived, Joe showed the officer where the Indian had stood, how he had run at him with the shovel, and how he had stumbled over the bundle of stakes.
After Joe got up and brushed himself off, the RCMP officer asked him if he recognized the big Indian.
"Not likely," said Joe. "There aren't any Indians around here."
"Yes, there are," said Red. "Remember those three guys who come around on weekends every so often"
"The old winos?" said Joe.
"They have that grocery cart, and they pick
"They don't count."
"They sit down there by the hydrangea and crush the cans and eat their lunch. Sometimes they get to singing."
"You mean drink their lunch"
"Well, they could have anything in that bottle."
"Most likely Lysol."
The RCMP oficer walked through the garden with Joe and Red and made a great many notes. He shook hands with both men and told Joe to call him if there was any more trouble.
"Did you ever wonder," said Red, after the officer left, "just what he wants you to build or who 'they' are?"
"I suppose you saw a movie"
"Maybe we should ask the Indians"
"Maybe they could translate for us"
"The guy speaks English"
"That's right, Joe. God, this gets stranger all the time. Ed Ames, that's who he reminds me of"
ON SATURDAY MORNING, when Joe and Red walked out on the porch, the big Indian was waiting patiently for them in the corn. They were too far away to hear him, but they could see his mouth moving.
"Okay," said Red. "All we got to do is wait for the Indians to show up.
The Indians showed up around noon. One man had a green knapsack. The other two pushed a grocery cart in front of them. It was full of cans and bottles. They were old, Joe noticed, and even from the porch, he imagined he could smell them. They walked to corner of the garden behind the hydrangea where the sprinklers didn't reach. It was a dry, scraggly wedge that Joe had never bothered to cultivate. As soon as the men stopped the cart and sat down on
the ground, Red got to his feet and stretched.
Come on. Car* hurt to talk with them. Grab a couple of beers, so they know we're friendly."
"A good whack with the shovel would be easier"
Hey, this is kind of exciting. Don't you think this is kind of exciting?"
"I wouldn't trip this time."
When Joe and Red got to the corner, the three men were busy crushing the cans. One man would put a can on a flat stone and the second man would step on it. The third man picked up the crushed can and put it in a brown grocery bag. They were older than Joe had thought, and they didn't smell as bad as he had expected.
"Hi," said Red. "That's a nice collection of cans."
"Good morning," said the first Indian.
Getting pretty hot," said the second Indian.
"You fellows like a drink?" said the third Indian, and he took a large glass bottle out of the knapsack.
"No, thanks," said Red. "You fellows like a beer?"
Lemon water," said the third Indian. "My wife makes it without any sugar so it's not as sweet as most people like."
"How can you guys drink that stuff?" said Joe.
"'You get used to it:' said the second Indian. "And it's better for you than pop."
As the first Indian twisted the lid off the bottle and took a long drink, Joe looked around to make sure none of his neighbours were watching him.
"I'll bet you guys know just about everything there is to know about Indians," said Red.
"Well," said the first Indian, "Jimmy and Frank are Nootka and I'm Cree. You guys reporters or something?"
"You never know," said the second Indian. "Last month, a couple of reporters did a story on us. Took pictures and everything."
"It's good that these kinds of problems are brought to the public's attention:' said Red.
"You bet," said the third Indian. "Everyone's got to help. Otherwise there's going to be more garbage than people."
Joe was already bored with the conversation. He looked back to see if the big Indian was still there.
"This is all nice and friendly," said Joe. "But we've got a problem that we were hoping you might be able to help us with.
"Sure," said the first Indian. "What's the problem?"
Joe snapped the tab on one of the beers, took a long swig, and jerked his thumb in the direction of the garden. "I've got this big Indian who likes to stand in my garden."
"Where?" asked the second Indian.
"Right there:' said Joe.
Right where?" asked the third Indian.
"If you build it, they will come," shouted the big Indian.
"There, there:' said Joe. "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" said the first Indian.
"They're embarrassed," said Red under his breath. "Let me handle this."
"This is beginning to piss me off," said Joe, and he took another pull on the beer.
"We were just wondering," Red began. "if you woke LIP one day and found a big Indian standing in your cornfield and all
he would say was, 'If you build it, they will come,' what would you do"'
"I'd stop drinking," said the second Indian, and the other two Indians covered their faces with their hands.
"No, no," said Red. "Thats not what I mean. Well ... you see that big Indian over there in the cornfield, don't YOU!"
The Indians looked at each other, and then they looked at Joe and Red.
"Okay," said the first Indian. "Sure, I see him."
"Oh, yeah," said the second Indian. "Hes right there, all right. III the ... beets?"
"Corn," said Joe.
"Right," said the third Indian. "In the corn. I can see him, too.
Clear as day."
"That's our problem," said Red. "We think maybe he's a spirit or something."
"No, we don't," said Joe.
"Yes, we do," said Red, who was just getting going. "We figure he wants LIS to build something to appease him so he'll go away."
"Sort of like ... a spirit" said the first Indian.
"Hey," said the second Indian, "remember that movie we saw about that comunity that was built..."
"That', the one," said Red. "What we have to figure out IS What be wants us to build. )'Oil guys got any ideas?"
The three Indian,, looked at each other. The first Indian looked at the cornfield. Then he looked at Joe and Red.
"Tell you what," he said. "We'll go over there and talk to him and see what lie want,. He looks ... Cree. You guys stay here, okay."
Joe and Red watched as the three Indians walked into the garden. They stood together facing the beets.
"Hey," shouted Joe. "You guys blind? He's behind you"
The first Indian waved his hand and smiled, and the three men turned around. Red could see them talking, and he tried to watch their lips, but he couldn't figure out what they were saying. After a while, the Indians waved at the rows of carrots and came back over to where Joe and Red were waiting.
"Well," said Red. "Did you talk to him?"
"Yes," said the first Indian. "You were right. He is a spirit"
"I knew it!" shouted Red. "What does he want?"
The first Indian looked back to the cornfield. "He's tired of standing, he says. He wants a place to sit down. But he doesn't want to mess up the garden. He says he would like it if you would build him a ... a ... bench right about ... here."
"A bench?" said Joe.
"That's what he said"
"So he can sit down?"
"He gets tired standing"
"The hell you say"
"Do you still see him?" asked the second Indian.
"You blind? Of course I still see him"
"Then I'd get started on the bench right away," said the third Indian.
"Come on, Red," said Joe, and he threw the empty beer can into the hydrangea and opened the other one. "We got to talk"
JOE PUT THE PAD of paper on the kitchen table and drew a square. "This is the garden," he said. "These are the carrots. These are the beets. These are the beans. And this is the corn. The big Indian is right about here"
"That's right," said Red. "But what does it mean?"
"Here's where those winos crush their cans and drink their Lysol," Joe continued, marking a spot on the pad and drawing a line to it.
"If you draw lines from the house to where the big Indian stands and from there to where the winos crush their cans and back to the house ... Now do you see it!"
"Hey, that's pretty good, Joe."
"What does it remind you of?"
"No," said Joe. "A triangle"
"Okay, I can see that."
"And if you look at it like this, you can see clearly that the winos and the big Indian are there, and the house where you and I are is here"
"What if you looked at it this way, Joe," said Red and he turned the paper a half turn to the right. "Now the house is there and the old guys and the big Indian are here"
"That's not the way you look at it. That's not the way it works"
"Does that mean were not going to build the bench?"
"It's our battle plan"
"A bench might be simpler," said Red.
"I'll attack him from the house along this line. You take him from the street along that line. We'll catch him between us"
"I dorn't know that this is going to work."
"Just don't step on the tomatoes."
The next morning, Red waited behind the hydrangea. He was carrying the hoe and a camera. Joe crouched by the corner of the house with the shovel.
"Charge!" yelled Joe, and he broke from his hiding place and lumbered across the yard and into the garden. Red leaped through the hydrangea and struggled up the slight incline to the cornfield.
"If you build it, they will come," shouted the Indian.
"Build it yourself' shouted Joe, and he swung the shovel at the big Indian's legs. Red, who was slower, stopped at the edge of the cornfield to watch Joe whack the Indian with his shovel and to take a picture, so he saw Joe and his shovel run right through the Indian and crash into the compost mound.
"Joe, Joe ... you all right? God, you should have seen it. You ran right through that guy. just like he wasn't there. I got a great picture. Wait till you see the picture. just around the eyes, he looks a little like Sal Mineo."
Red helped Joe back to the house and cleaned the cuts on Joe's face. He wrapped another ice pack on Joe's ankle and then drove down to the one?hour photo store and turned the film in. By the time he got back to the house, Joe was standing on the porch, leaning on the railing.
"You won't believe it, Joe," said Red. "Look at this"
Red fished a photograph out of the pack. It showed Joe and the shovel in mid?swing, plunging through the corn. The colours were brilliant.
Joe looked at the photograph for a minute and then he looked at the cornfield. "Where's the big Indian?"
"That's just it. He's not there"
"Does that mean we're going to build the bench?"
THE BENCH WAS A HANDSOME affair with a concrete base and a wooden seat. The Indians came by the very next Saturday with their knapsack and grocery cart, and Red could tell that they were impressed.
"Boy," said the first Indian, "that's a good?looking bench"
"You think this will take care of the problem?" asked Red.
"That Indian still in the cornfield?" said the second Indian.
"Of course he's still there," said Joe. "Can't you hear him?"
"I don't know," said the third Indian, and he twisted the lid off the bottle and took a drink. "I don't think he's one of ours."
"What should we do?"
"don't throw your cans in the hydrangea," said the first Indian. "It's hard to get them out. We're not as young as we used to be"
JOE AND RED spent the rest of the day sitting on the porch, drinking beer, and watching the big Indian in the garden. He looked a little like Victor Mature, Red thought, now that he had time to think about it, or maybe Anthony Quinn, only he was taller. And there was an air about the man that made Red believe ?? believe with all his heart ?? that he had met this Indian before.