Written by Héctor Tobar
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The Barbarian Nurseries, 2011
The nursery manager paid a quick visit to Paseo Linda Bonita and left Maureen three pieces of paper. First there was a schematic drawing on a sheet from her sketchpad in which small symbols represented the various succulents the consultant proposed planting in the Torres-Thompson backyard. Second, there was a form in which the price of creating this desert garden was laid out, with separate quotes for "labor," "flora," and "base material," and the alarmingly high figure of the sum total. The third and final piece of paper was a drawing that depicted the succulent garden as it would look from the perspective of the sliding glass doors of her home. The cylinders of a miniature organ pipe cactus would rise to the right, creating an anchor to the composition that would draw the eye leftward, toward the cluster of barrel cacti, mesquite shrubs, and large yuccas with arms blooming like human-sized flowers. When Maureen looked at the numbers on the smallest piece of paper she winced, and felt the dream of the drawing slipping away, becoming so many grains of pencil graphite dissolving into the white blankness of the paper. Then she remembered the argument that she would present to her husband, the logic that would make the garden real, the words the nursery manager had said in a matter-of-fact tone, because the truth of it was so self-evident: "I know it looks a little high. But in the final analysis you’re gonna save a good chunk of money each year off your water bill, and even more off your gardening bill. Because this is the sort of garden you just put in and forget about. Maybe two or three times a year you go in and weed the thing, but otherwise you just stand there and watch it look pretty."
The drawing of the garden looked like a desert diorama, and Maureen imagined the dreamlike effect you got at an old-fashioned natural history museum, the sense of standing in a darkened room before a window that looks into another, brightly lit world. The succulent garden would create the illusion that their house was a portal into the unspoiled landscape of old California. Only Scott and his calculator stood between Maureen and the diorama coming to life.
© 2011 Héctor Tobar; New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux