In the back of my apartment building there’s a box garden measuring about 7 feet long by 2 feet wide. Following years of neglect (not my own) the soil has become poor. In dry times, it’s sandy. Under a steady rain, it turns to paste. The steady application of compost has improved the garden but only somewhat.
A few herbs can thrive: thyme, oregano, lavender, and winter savory. A rose bush casts shadows in the evening. Its leggy branches sway in the almost nonexistent breeze. As the blossoms die away, they tumble onto the courtyard floor. A carpet of petals, dry and crimson, leads toward the basement laundry room.
But other plants (or plans) refuse to grow. The elephant garlic has rotted away. So have the sweet onions. The basil remains as pale and stunted as the day I planted it. An epazote bush droops into the lavender. Its leaves are withering. Beyond the garden, over the cinderblock wall, stand three newly built townhomes, their blank facades lit by the evening sun. Some luxury cars (Audi, BMW, Mercedes) are parked in the narrow driveways between units. Occasionally I’ll hear a door being shut, the beep of a car alarm set to activate, and then silence.
A single story rental house once occupied the lot. Its crooked walls were painted a fecal shade of brown. An elderly German Shepard named Gorgon lived there. He would escape on occasion, shambling up and down the block on his weak hips, whining softly to himself. The people I met only briefly. Their names escape me. None of them were as striking as Gorgon. A few days a week a band would practice there, at the house, playing an amateurish blend of indie rock and funk. Dingy quilts hung over the windows to baffle the sound.
Further on, at the end of the block, was a motel fronting Highway 99, one of the main north-south thoroughfares in Seattle. The name of the motel escapes me, despite it being one of the last places Kurt Cobain was seen alive, in early April of 1996, a few days before he retired from music, at his mansion facing Lake Washington, with a shotgun and a fatal dose of heroin.
The motel lot has proven less tractable for redevelopment. The sound of traffic echoes through its empty foundations. A few box vans park there during the night. In fissures along the concrete fennel and blackberries grow wild. Rats scurry between clumps of vegetation.
Every week my landlord gets mailed offers to sell his property. I’m uncertain how long he will hold out. At any rate, eventually, the box garden will demolished, the plants composted, and the soil (the soil I helped rehabilitate) sent to the landfill.
Since moving to this apartment, nothing has really changed for me, not really, not yet. I tend to my garden, sit on stoop. But I do miss hearing from Gorgon, his voice mixed the rustling of leaves, the muffled beat of drums, and the traffic as it diminished slowly toward nightfall.