He buried Cody in the southwest corner of the old garden, where it was said only red plants would grow. When he was done, he kept digging. He worked in the garden all week. It was as if once he’d begun, he simply couldn’t stop. He tilled the soil, moved rocks, put up a new fence, laid down fertilizer. He had perennials and shrubs delivered and planted each one. He wouldn’t have bothered to eat, but his mother brought his meals outside on a tray, fixing him sandwiches and carrot sticks, the way she had when he was a boy. She sat on a metal chair and gazed into the woods. Louise said she’d fallen in love with John Mott when she’d planted this garden, long ago. She’d always imagined the plants turned red because everything she felt had gone into them. She couldn’t hide her love away and so there it was for all to see.
James worked in the rain and the heat. He didn’t shower and was soon covered with red dirt. He hardly took the time to sleep. Whenever his mother called out that Brooke was on the phone, he said he didn’t have time to talk. He was trying to figure out what to do next. He was thinking about his father on the last day he’d seen him before he took off for New York. He wished he had done something for his father, just once in his life, but he didn’t know what that might have been, they’d been so far apart. Then one morning he looked up from the row of tomatoes he was putting in and there was Arthur. He’d climbed out his bedroom window and found his way across town. Arthur was standing outside the fence throwing stones into the woods. His mother had told him about the dog.
James went over to him. “Your mom’s going to be worried,” he said gently.
“I wanted to see where Cody was.”
James took the boy into the garden to show him the spot where he’d buried the dog.
“That’s where you go when you’re dead,” Arthur said solemnly.
“Your body goes into the ground.”
Arthur thought that over. It wasn’t a satisfactory answer. “Your body isn’t all of you.” He stood there stiffly. “I can hear him breathing,” he declared. His voice was breaking, but he sounded convinced.
“I don’t think so,” James said. “Cody’s quiet now.”
But there was a sound. It wasn’t Cody; it was something entirely different. It was the beehive Arthur had hit while flinging stones. The bees had been disturbed, and now they swarmed toward the garden in a funnel-shaped cloud. James remembered that sound from the time when his father had raced across the meadow toward him and covered him with his jacket. James grabbed Arthur and ran. The swarm followed in a fury, so James kept running, through the fields. He heard ragged breathing, his own and Arthur’s. He batted bees away when they tried to land on the child, and he didn’t feel a thing when they stung him. When he had no choice and the steep riverbank was before them, James leapt into the Eel River, the boy in his arms. They went into the cold water, then resurfaced, sputtering and safe from harm. James thought about the garden, with soil so red it seemed to have a bloody, beating heart. He thought about where it was people went when they died, and how when he squinted he could see Cody, racing back and forth, barking, how his father seemed to stand right there on the riverbank, turning back the bees, closer than he’d ever been before.