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Dirt-y Stories 

'She plunged her muddy hand trowel into the fat man's gut ...'

I did not enter the Journal's "99 Words or Less" short fiction contest. Not only do I write for the Journal, but I'm married to one of the judges, which surely disqualifies me. But in the spirit of the thing, I submit to you my own short works of horticultural fiction. This year's deadline has passed, but if this inspires you to write your own garden-related micro-novel, sharpen your pencils and get going. Maybe next year we'll convince the high sheriffs at the Journal to add a special category for botanical fiction.

Okay, that was 92 words. I think I've got the hang of it.

Stealing a rose bush is not a crime, it's an act of mercy. At least, that's what Lila told herself as she scaled the pyracantha hedge around the Ingomar's walled garden at 2 a.m. The heirloom roses had been brutalized by the club's new gardener, leaving her no choice but to sneak back after the Christmas party and dig them up. But when she heard a car pull quietly up behind her and saw the red and blue lights flashing against the hedge, she knew that her career as Eureka's most notorious flower thief was about to end.

If Robert and Danny hadn't decided to get married in their own backyard, and if Danny hadn't insisted on ripping out a perfectly good juniper hedge and replacing it with Casablanca lilies at a cost of over $2,000, and if Robert hadn't demanded that they move the wedding date from August to September so his mother could have her knee surgery first, and if the Casablanca lilies had simply listened to reason and bloomed in September instead of August as they are biologically programmed to do, it would have been a beautiful wedding.

I was 5 when my grandmother offered to pay me to pick snails in her garden. She showed me how to pull them off the sleek blue leaves of hostas and how to crawl under the porch where they hid until nighttime. Every afternoon I would bring her my bucket and she'd count them and give me a penny per snail. She never did discover the old fish tank behind the garage where I was breeding them. I realize I've defrauded a lot of investors over the years, but the only person I regret cheating is my grandmother.

Elaine realized that there was not enough gin left on the island of Manhattan to make these co-op board meetings tolerable. For the hundredth time Enrique from 3A complained that someone was emptying their coffee cups into the topiaries he'd planted in front of the building. For the hundredth time she reminded him that she could not control what every person walking up Park Avenue did with their coffee. But it wasn't until the board voted to install a surveillance system to monitor the topiary that Elaine decided it was time to leave New York.

"Where are you going to plant that?" he said.

"I don't know," she said.

"How much does it cost?" he said.

"I don't care," she said.

"What does it do?" he said.

"It's a vine. It blooms," she said.

"Why do we need it?" he said.

"We don't," she said.

"They why would you buy it?" he said.

"I love it," she said.

"Do you love me?" he said.

"I'm not so sure," she said.

Tony's poison garden started as a joke when a patch of wild hemlock sprouted in the backyard. To that he added castor bean, source of the poison ricin, and hellebore, whose roots were an early form of chemical warfare. But when Sarah complained about the barking dog next door and found it dead in the driveway the next day, she realized Tony's joke had gone too far. Still, she couldn't help but wonder who else might be in need of a hemlock sandwich as long as Tony was taking orders.

Amy woke up on Thursday morning with a hangover and the dim realization that her garden column was due in a few hours. If she didn't get it turned in on time, Hank would sack her for sure. For years she'd been skating by on very little actual horticultural expertise and not much wit or insight. Then it hit her. The realization that comes to every nonfiction writer eventually: fiction. She could just make it up. Her editor would never know. After two cups of coffee and an Advil, she was at her computer, racing against her deadline.

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Amy Stewart

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