Time passes and we find Rabbit in Mrs. Smith’s “acres,” tending her lush beds from dawn to dusk, then bussing back to Brewer.
Two months have gone by, and the gardening has made it so he doesn’t have to cut his fingernails. He loves this life among nature – the simplicity, the solitude, and the interactions between himself, and nature, and his tools.
The rhododendron plantation part of the garden is in full splendor: a botanical equivalent to Rabbit’s zone. It’s near the end of May.
Of course, the different flowers in the garden remind Rabbit of women. Some he’s known, and some he imagines and would like to know.
Mrs. Smith comes out to witness this rhododendron peak. On Rabbit’s arms she goes among the flowers.
She holds on to him like a “vine” holds a “wall.” She is vulnerable, but has a pretty good hold. She is very old and making great effort; she is pretty cheerful too.
She tells Rabbit that she used to tease her late husband, Horace, about the rhododendrons.
She would say she preferred straightforward colors to the wishy-washy “salmon” of the “Rhody.” She says she said it to tease him, but that she meant it.
She would have preferred the acres had been used to grow alfalfa, or buckwheat – edible crops. She could give Horace the business like that because she was older than him.
She is surprised she outlived him. She does fancy one rhododendron of deep shining pink, the Bianchi. She gets a little wild and asks if the month is June.
He says: “Not quite. Memorial Day’s next Saturday.”
She talks about buying the Bianchi during the Depression, before the war.
She says he probably thinks she means the Korean War (1950-1953) when she says “the war.” He says he thinks “the war” is World War II.
She agrees, excited that Rabbit remembers it.
She says they lost a thirty-nine-year-old son to the war.
She says she hates war, but that World War II was worth winning, not like World War I.
She talks more about the Bianchi, but thinks she’s repeating herself and gets flustered.
She claims theirs is the only Bianchi in the U.S.
She starts moving faster. It’s getting late.
As they walk she says: “I appreciate the beauty but I’d rather see alfalfa.”
She doesn’t know why she can’t make peace with her surroundings.
She talks about being sarcastic with a woman who called the garden “heaven” year after year, admonishing herself and calling herself “an old sinner.”
She thinks it’s ironic that the woman, Alma Foster, is dead and knows the truth about heaven.
Rabbit speculates that Alma’s heaven is rhododendron, while Mrs. Smith’s will be alfalfa.
Mrs. Smith loves this and agrees wholeheartedly. Commonality is achieved!