Borrowed Gardens

Among DC’s finest features are the townhouse gardens—dutifully tended patches of nature that spring up all around my neighborhood, in the U street area, decorating the streets in front of pointed Victorian rooflines. Flowers’ blooms arrive early, and linger for months. I take long weekend strolls and detours so I can relish their humble, hueful brilliance.

Yesterday, I stopped to draw three sunburst-colored petals poking out from a fence on my way back from my favorite coffee shop at 12th and S street (tucked just away from the hum of 14th street). I was immersed in observation and the scritch-scratch of my pen when a woman came out of the garden’s house. I looked up and recognized her immediately from two years ago, when I used to work in that same coffee shop (which always had, and still has, soggy A/C compensated for by a hipster feel and outdoor seats). At that time, she walked slowly, and looked tired and tattered, in a peony trench coat that she wore, no matter the temperature. She persevered too long in conversation, and always ordered an iced coffee with no ice, in a paper bag. I often saw her pacing up and down U street, and assumed she had no home to call her own; yet she came in for her coffee nearly every day, dutifully, at around 2pm.

Today, she descended the steps in the same tattered pink coat and asked in a slow cadence, “Why are you sitting outside the house?” I told her I was drawing the flowers.

She paused and smiled, “My landlord will be flattered.”

I can’t think of a better garden to have borrowed.

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