From Publishers Weekly
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About the Author
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The shovel half-rang like a muted bell as it struck the metal. Leila Anderson sighed and stopped digging, wiping the back of her leather glove across her forehead. She was hot and tired, but determined to finish planting this last section of her garden.
She turned from the corner where she had been working and looked across the big backyard. It should have been our garden, our yard, our house, she thought to herself. Sam should be here with me.
But he wasn't. Samuel Barrington had left her for a girl of twenty-two, a girl who made mooning cow's eyes at the silly man. Before Cow Eyes -- Marietta Hinchley -- came into the picture, Leila had known exactly how things were going to be. She knew that after four years of being engaged, she and Sam would finally marry; knew that they would move out of the apartment they had shared and into a lovely house; knew that she would keep getting promotions at the investment firm she worked for; knew that Sam would continue to be able to pursue his doctorate in mathematics, because she, Leila, would support them, just as she always had. And most certainly, back in those golden days, Leila had known what was expected of her. Her ability to predict and her own predictability. That was Leila's life.
But Sam had surprised her. She hadn't ever been fond of surprises, and this one did nothing to endear them to her. "You're so reasonable, Leila," Sam had said that day. "I know you'll understand." Leila would always be his friend, Sam had told her, but in Marietta, he had found passion.
Passion! Didn't he know she, Leila, was capable of passion? Of course she had always been controlled around him. She had eschewed the sentimental, been the "reasonable" woman he had come to rely on. As logical as his beloved mathematics. The habit of it was ingrained in her so deeply, that even as he was telling her of his unfaithfulness, she had reacted just as she had known Sam would want her to react, exactly in the way he had come to depend on her to react: reasoned, calm, controlled. But that was on the outside. Inside, she raged. Raged passionately.
So used to pleasing Sam, though, she was determined not to let him know how wounded her pride was. She reasoned that at that particular moment, the only psychological weapon she had to defend herself with was her dignity, and she used it like a knife.
She had met Marietta the next day. Sam, oblivious to the tension between the two women, had begun his "let's all be friends" campaign without delay. A beautiful, slim, athletic, young woman, Marietta had tried hard to upset Leila's equanimity. She made allusions to Leila's age, which was not more than eight years above her own; she hinted that Leila was out of shape, which was untrue. Leila was not the athlete that Marietta was, but she was no slouch. Sam had seemed a little displeased with Marietta's lack of grace. And Leila knew that while Sam had been relieved and grateful that she had not fallen apart, Marietta had been hoping for a tantrum, a scene. Marietta, Leila had seen in a moment, was a bitch. Leila had smiled, certain that Sam would more than do his penance.
He would do his penance, but at that moment he was too smitten with Marietta to realize what he had let himself in for. He saw Marietta as a lonely child, dependent on him for guidance. He later tried to apologize to Leila for Marietta's bad behavior, saying that Marietta was alone in the world, without family to guide her. Sam thought himself capable of teaching her manners. Leila thought it was the biggest joke Sam had ever played on himself, but said nothing.
Hoping that living well was indeed the best revenge, she went on with her life. She had chosen this house on her own and bought it. The house had been built in the 1920s, and she loved its polished wooden floors and arched windows and tall ceilings. The day after her furniture was moved in, she went to work on the garden with all of the passion she had leftover from the end of her relationship with Sam. She dug up old, neglected flower beds and planted them with bright, beautiful blossoms: impatiens and fuchsia and pansies and geraniums; a wild, unpredictable mix of anything that would give her eye a moment's pleasure. She planted pink jasmine and roses along the high stone fence that surrounded the big yard. She was glad of the privacy that fence gave her yard, her little oasis of color and fragrance.
She had saved this corner for last. A week ago, while pruning back the poorly tended honeysuckle that had overgrown this corner, she discovered something that had made her cry. Beneath the vines she had found something made of stone, broken in two parts. When she had realized it was a loveseat, it had suddenly come to symbolize her broken romance with Sam, and for the first time since the day he had told her of Marietta, she had cried. Four months of bottled pain and humiliation burst from her like champagne from an uncorked bottle, and cold, predictable, passionless Leila wept in her garden.
The relief of it had been great. Later she called her old friend, Arnie, who was a landscape contractor. Arnie, who had benefitted more than once from Leila's ability to chose investments, was happy to make arrangements to have the broken loveseat hauled off. The day after it was gone, Leila went back to work in the garden.
On this warm June day, she had dug up about two feet of soil in the area of the corner, preparing to plant a last trio of rosebushes, when the shovel had rung out. She knelt down on all fours, picking up a small hand spade, and tried to clear away the soil that covered the metal object that was thwarting her progress. Thinking of Sam and Marietta, she dug with furious movements, showering dirt everywhere, some of it landing in her hair and on her clothes. Before long, the spade struck the object as well. She scraped aside enough of the soil to reveal a dark, rusty piece of metal. Curious, she continued to dig at the soil surrounding it. It was flat and smooth. She reached a curving edge and burrowed with her hands to grasp the edge of object. She tugged and pulled, and suddenly it came free, causing her to fall back on her rump. Dirt flew everywhere, and she laughed as she looked at the heavy object on her lap. A frying pan.
"Why would anyone bury a cast iron skillet upside down in the corner of a garden?" she wondered aloud. It was heavy and large, but there were no special markings on it. She set it on the brick walkway which curved past the area she was working on. She brushed herself off and looked into the hole from which she had pulled the skillet. A shiny object caught her eye, and once again she used the hand spade to clear the soil away. She soon had freed enough of the soil to see that it was the lid of a jar, and could tell that the jar was still attached.
Feeling a certain mild excitement, as if she were a backyard archeologist, she carefully worked around the jar, finally freeing it. She brushed it off with a gloved hand and held it up. A Mason jar, filled with old-fashioned buttons. The glass of the jar was thick, and she wondered how old it was. She set the jar next to the skillet, trying to make sense of them, and of their burial.
Unable to succeed in solving that puzzle, she stood up and went back to work with the shovel. But she had not been digging very long, when once again the shovel struck an object. She knelt again and went to work with the hand spade. This time, she found a small, crude wooden box, about the size of a shoe box. The blow from the shovel had splintered the lid, and inside the box was a small canvas bag filled with old marbles. She continued to use the hand spade.
An hour later, she had an odd collection on the walkway: to the skillet, the button jar and the marbles, she had added an old pocket watch, a wedding band wrapped in a linen handkerchief, a fragment of stained glass. The handkerchief bore pretty embroidery, and the initials "CG"; the inside of the ring was inscribed, "Chloe and Jonathan, 2-22-41." There was no inscription on the watch, but the crystal was cracked and the hands stopped at 6:10. Again she wondered why this particular group of objects had been buried here. A child might bury marbles, maybe even buttons, but a skillet? A wedding ring or a pocket watch? Why hide such objects? It was unsettling.
Leila continued to dig, and the next discovery brought her up short. The toe of a rubber boot. She was afraid to touch it, afraid the boot would still be attached to the owner. She stared at it, wondered if she should call the police, then smiled to herself over this unexpected nervousness. Still, when she reached down to move the soil away from it, her hand trembled. The toe of the boot felt as if it had something in it.
Timidly, she used the small spade, afraid to reach down into the soil with her hands. But as she made her way through the layer surrounding it, she saw no bones or rotting flesh. She pulled it free and held it upside down, spilling most of its contents on the walk. The boot held a woman's black leather shoe, and nothing but more soil. She pulled the shoe out. Further digging led to no new revelations.
Leila gathered the collection of objects and took them back to the house, where she cleaned them off as best she could. She poured a glass of red wine and sipped it thoughtfully while she took a long, hot bubble bath in her claw-foot bathtub. She climbed out when the water began to chill, and made her decision.
"I appreciate your coming by on such short notice," Leila said to her guest, as they reached the back patio.
Alice Grayson smiled as she looked across the backyard, then back at the young woman who had invited her here. "You've done wonders with it."
"As for the notice, I am no different than most old ladies; I have more time than opportunities. And I must admit your invitation intrigued me. Buried treasure in the backyard of the house you bought from me?"
"Have a seat, please," Leila said, gesturing to a rattan patio chair that was next to a low table. The table, covered with a lumpy cloth, held what ...