Forgotten tomatoes and carrots were gathered at the corners of the raised beds. I thought of taking some while my daughter played in the pond of a community garden in progress.
We came to exchange some books in the Little Free Library at the entrance. For an old cookbook and a self-help book that never helped, we got Wuthering Heights and “Curious George and the Pizza.” She didn’t want to sit on the bench and read with me. Shoveling dirt into the pond was more appealing. Someone had left a spade and a full bucket there, almost as if they knew she’d be coming.
I hadn’t read too many news stories yet, but I knew the neighborhood lore. A 10-year-old girl, maybe even on the ground over which I’d walked, had been raped and murdered two and half years before my daughter’s and my late morning visit.
If I’d remembered that before we skipped over the Little Free Library closest to our home, we might have gone somewhere else. It’s an honest effort to reclaim an ugly place and trade horror for beauty, but the earth there cries out for her; and I feel it every time I walk by. The house where her body was found was razed earlier this year. Ever since, the community has tried to brighten the place. No markers of the dead girl haunt the grounds. They don’t need to.
Every time I pass the garden memorial, I notice a new project half-done. This morning, my own Curious George found the bench swings. Oblivious and innocent to the violent history of this site, she pushed her back and pumped her legs so we could go higher. Once bored with that, she ran to the picnic table, took a seat, and folded her hands.
“Amen,” she said.
She prays all the time. I taught her once, and she reminds me to keep doing it. We held hands and prayed for those who still suffer, waiting for the suspect’s trial, missing their girl.
This is one space designated for one girl. As I filled my dress pocket with those cherry tomatoes, I felt sick with the cycle of life, thinking of the collective burial grounds and crime scenes we tread every day. In the most implausible and corrupted of places, we harvest fruit and flowers. We play with living children where the wind carries whispers of those gone through leaves shaking in the light.
And we say, “Amen,” aching for “Shalom.”