THAT SPRING LOUISE took her mother’s old Jeep down to Harvest Hill, a huge nursery off the Mass Pike. She came back with fertilizer and seedlings and flowers of every variety. After all those months in the hospital watching her mother die, Louise had a strong desire to witness something grow. She donned the mosquito net cloak, affixed it with one of her father’s old eelskin belts, then got to work, pulling out brambles and weeds in the abandoned garden. Louise had no friends in town and only a few acquaintances, card-playing pals of her parents. But even the old guard had mostly retired to Florida or moved to the village of Lenox, where the long, snowy winters were better spent and there were card games galore in the summertime.

Although she’d grown up in Blackwell, Louise had always been an outsider. She was shy, red-haired and freckled, and that alone would have set her apart. Then her parents plucked her out of the local kindergarten and sent her to the Mill School in Lenox, where they felt she would get a better education. She’d never really made connections in town. Although she knew Latin and Greek and had the honor of dropping out of Radcliffe, she had never been in the Jack Straw Bar and Grill or had anything more than a hurried cup of tea and a slice of Look-No-Further Pie at the coffee shop or a wedge of their famous Apology Cake, made from a secret recipe a summer resident had once given the owner’s grandmother. Louise had never been to a high school football game, even though the Blackwell Bears were ranked among the Commonwealth’s top ten teams, nor had she attended one of the ballet recitals held at the town hall that attracted people from as far away as Connecticut and New York. She talked to people as if they were strangers, even though some were her very own cousins. She had attended several of the Hallie Brady festivals, held each August to commemorate the birth of Louise’s ancestor who had founded the town, without whom the original settlers wouldn’t have lasted past their first winter. But mostly she’d been gone in the summer, off to camp in Maine, or on trips to France to study the language or renting a cottage in Provincetown, where she worked as a waitress, rooming with a gang of college friends whom she imagined she liked until she got to know them, and vice versa if truth be told.

Living in the old Brady house, Louise simultaneously had the feeling of being at home and also being in a foreign land. She hadn’t been up to the attic since she was a little girl playing dress up. She couldn’t abide the sadness of entering the bedrooms where her aunt and her mother had slept. Sometimes she dreamed of burning the house down. Then she’d finally skip town. She’d have the freedom to head off to Vienna, where she’d buy a season ticket for the opera, or better still, she’d hightail it to Oregon, where it was leafy and green and there was rarely snow. Instead, she stayed on, making plans for the old garden. She was a big planner. She always looked before she leapt, so Oregon and Vienna were probably out of the question at the moment. It would take her months just to get through the guidebooks and come up with an acceptable plan of action so that she could finally fashion a life of her own.

AFTER HER FIRST week of work, the brambles in the garden were torn out and fertilizer was spread around. One night Louise had a bonfire and watched the weeds burn in a metal trash can, sending sparks blazing into the sky. After that, she started collecting the rocks that littered the ground, shards of mica-filled granite. She made a pile she intended to use for a rock garden, unless she wound up in Portland. She worked tirelessly. She had discovered that gardening made her stop thinking, and she was pleased by the effect of hard labor. When she realized her hands had become ragged from her digging, she found an old pair of her mother’s leather gloves. Even they didn’t do the trick; when she took the gloves off at night, her fingers were bleeding. She soaked them in a bowl of warm water and olive oil, then rubbed in some of her mother’s lemon-scented hand cream.

One day Louise went to the hardware store to buy white paint. She planned to freshen the shabby picket fence that surrounded the garden. She hadn’t even known it was there till she’d cut down the last of the brambles. The fence was falling apart, and she hoped a coat of paint might spruce it up enough to make it last a while longer. People thought anyone related to the Bradys was surely rich, but they just looked that way. After her mother’s illness, the accounts had dwindled to almost nothing. Louise didn’t mind being thrifty. She’d never had an extravagant personality.

The checkout girl at the hardware store was about her age, pretty, and extremely competent. “Hey,” the girl said to her, tentative. “Don’t I know you?”

“Nice to meet you,” Louise said, not really listening in the way that people who live alone often ignore others, their heads filled with silent, argumentative dialogue. Right then Louise was busy thinking about paint, debating between Sherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore. She made her decision and pointed to the shelf of Benjamin Moore. “I’ll take two gallons of the white.”

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