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This is one of my entries this week for therealljidol. I invite you to read and vote for the many fine entries. This week we're writing on several topic; this addresses the topic "Artifice."

Cat with Artificial Flowers
An orange tabby cat relaxes in an artificial garden.

Exploring our new neighborhood about six years ago with my then-constant companion, my affectionate dog, Una, she poked her snout through the slats between a wooden fence that, strangely, was painted barn-red. Inside, to her delight, Una discovered an orange tabby cat, reclining on a concrete step covered with green felt, like the kind you find on mini-golf courses.

As Una sniffed loudly, trying to force her entire nose through the fence, I made a discovery. The garden, I realized, consisted of plastic blooms in bright colors, lovingly "planted" in real dirt. The fence was much higher than seemed necessary for such a small yard (four feet square, if that). The slats were so close together you could barely see through it. Other than the cat's step, there was no place to sit and enjoy this plastic refuge, and since the fence surrounded it on four sides, it was also hidden from the house. A curious space, indeed.

When I told my husband about the discovery, he agreed it was odd but suggested that somebody was looking for a low-maintenance solution to add some color to the yard.

But why, I wondered, would you grow an artificial garden that nobody could see? Did it exist only for the cat's amusement? Or was it an alien's off-kilter idea of how to blend into suburbia? The garden became a great source of amusement for Una and me, who poked our noses through the fence to see what we could see. Often, the cat sunned itself on the felt-covered step, purring loudly enough for us to hear.

A few weeks later, I met the artificial gardener. He was painting the sidewalk with sealant, laying it on heavy over the few spidery cracks. I learned his name was Carl, which immediately reminded me of the crochety old man from the animated gem "Up." This Carl, however, was a jovial, spry man with bright white hair. He was hard of hearing, or merely selective when it came to answering questions. While I couldn't get up the nerve to ask about the garden, I did learn that the cat was not his. So the secret plastic garden was not, apparently, designed to keep his cat happy.

This Spring, as the snow melted, the faded flowers from the previous year remained a-kilter. The fence, faded to pink, was beginning to fall down. The sidewalk had not been painted. By the time I realized it, I had no idea how long these changes had been taking place. I chalked it up to a mother's distraction, along with the fact that my walks have grown sporadic, since Una passed the Rainbow Bridge a year and a half ago. These days I walk to clear my head and lull my active toddler into sleep.

Fearing the worst, I deduced that, like so many other elderly neighbors, Carl had either moved to a senior citizen home or flown a plastic balloon to the Pearly Gates. There, he'd pot plastic ferns to line Heaven's antechambers. Inwardly, I mourned. I saw the cat, wandering the neighborhood, its tail twitching.

Then, one afternoon, returning from a stroll with my son, I smelled sealant. As if nothing had ever happened, Carl was kneeling on the pavement, brush in hand. He wore brand-new jeans and a white polo shirt, and he greeted me warmly. Upon my professing that I'd been worried about him, he waved the concerns away. "I'm fine," he told me. Nothing else.

Perhaps he was in the hospital. Or maybe he spent an extended visit with family. Maybe he had to check in with the overlords, to report what he'd learned about the humans he's been watching. Whatever the reason, he has revived his garden. Once more, plastic blooms decorate a lawn I've just realized is really cement painted green. Curiouser and curiouser.

ETA: I just managed to find my best pic of the garden from about four years ago in response to a comment below, so I've added it as an illustration. He added felt to the step since this picture was taken. The fence isn't visible, since I took this photo through a gap between the slats, and there's a three-inch gap between the top of the steps and the upper portion of fence, though one of the fence posts is visible, painted red, in the background.

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( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 7th, 2012 02:24 pm (UTC)
I vote for the overlord-check-in trip. And the garden is because he read in the manual that you should tend a garden so you fit in.
Aug. 8th, 2012 04:54 pm (UTC)
I'm sure! You know, I also don't think he's aged a bit since we moved in six years ago or so.
Aug. 7th, 2012 08:03 pm (UTC)
I used to recycle used plastic and sometimes silk flowers hit and miss in my real garden with the real flowers. Adding an extra touch of color never hurt!
Aug. 8th, 2012 04:55 pm (UTC)
I'm almost certain it looked far more authentic than his!
Aug. 8th, 2012 03:19 am (UTC)
Curiouser and curiouser indeed!
Aug. 8th, 2012 04:57 pm (UTC)
Reality can be stranger than fiction. :)
Aug. 8th, 2012 05:58 am (UTC)
This story has me wondering about the garden, too!
Aug. 8th, 2012 04:59 pm (UTC)
It's hard not to!
Aug. 8th, 2012 02:47 pm (UTC)
This does indeed make me curious!
Aug. 8th, 2012 05:00 pm (UTC)
If I saw this garden in a dream, it would make more sense than being on my block in the waking world.
Aug. 8th, 2012 04:14 pm (UTC)
Please tell me that this is entirely non fiction and Carl exists.

Maybe he's a hit man and that garden is where the bodies are buried. :)
Aug. 8th, 2012 05:11 pm (UTC)
Absolutely, 100 percent real!

Cat with Artificial Flowers

I didn't have time to look for this pic before posting it, but this was taken during the hey-day of the garden, a few years ago. You can't see the fence, because I took it through it. Also, there's a gap of a couple inches between the concrete of the step and the upper portion of the fence. Good thing I tag all my Flickr pics. This was easier to find than I thought it would be.
Aug. 8th, 2012 05:26 pm (UTC)
Aug. 8th, 2012 10:10 pm (UTC)
LOL! I live the way you think!

And yes, I'm curious about it all too! Very neat!
Aug. 8th, 2012 10:43 pm (UTC)
It doesn't take much to make my imagination wander.
Aug. 9th, 2012 01:59 am (UTC)
I love the picture - it really adds to the piece. :)

This icon is of my cat, Tigger, who passed on several years ago, but I've always had a soft spot for orange tabbies.
Aug. 14th, 2012 03:32 am (UTC)
I am the happiest person on earth that this was real :D Very curious indeed and I love it!
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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