It was an Annual Event but was it to celebrate or commiserate over. After all, Eustace he looked forward to entering all his prized vegetables in the competition as he almost always received a nice, new Blue Ribbon for his wall. He already had 24 of them, so this was a special year–he wanted the 25 year win to show true achievement.
His corn, cabbages, turnips, and carrots were always picture perfect; but his amazingly huge butternut squash samples were always something to see. They were often the size of very large watermelons, and drew gasps from judges and fair-goers alike.
As he loaded his truck with his finest samples, he remembered as well to pack the bottles of plant food; his special concoction, to go along for the ride as he always have the freshly cut plants a small soaking before they went on display. The “juice”, as he called it, always created just the right sheen and glow for the entries so the judges would see them well, and, he thought, give him an edge on the competition.
He loaded three gallons of “the juice”, closed up the tailgate and went off to the State Fair. It took only about an hour to get there from his greenhouse. He enjoyed the solace of the open road in the country and always gave the “hi” sign with his index finger when people passed him. After all, that was just good manners and being neighborly on these sometimes lonely roads.
He arrived just in time to get unloaded, heft his bounty onto the judging platforms and place his trademark sign “Samples from Eustace T’s Gardens Green” in from of the massive squash and the other pickings from his garden for the season.
The fair-going folk, clad in overalls and straw hats gathered around as usual to gawk and stare in slack-jawed awe at the size and sheen of the vegetables Eustace had brought in. He had stopped about a mile back to rub down the plants with “the juice”, after all, so they were in prime show condition.
Soon, the judges came and took their walk up and down the rows and surveyed the entries. They stopped at Eustace’s platform and just dropped their jaws and clipboards and began to talk amongst themselves with great fervor.
After a time, they announced the judging and final results would be presented in 30 minutes which gave Eustace the perfect amount of time to pick up a corn dog, a shake and some funnel cake and then come back to, hopefully, collect his 25th Blue Ribbon. The Owner of the Garden was going to be proud of his sacrifice and hard work. He would be rewarded. It would be 25 years after all. A quarter of a century of devotion.
Eustace gathered his treats and returned for the final event. “After careful and heartfelt consideration”, said the lead judge, McPherson, who Eustace thought was a jackass but still, he was the judge after all…”It is unanimous! Eustace Tucker–come and get your Blue Ribbon! Your entries were unbelievable and so magnificent they cannot be surpassed!”
Eustace couldn’t resist. He pumped his fist in the air and allowed himself a small victory jig which everyone got a great laugh about. He collected his ribbon, said a few words, (he hated speaking to people, he couldn’t stand them after all), and then; leaving his bounty behind, loaded “the juice” back on the truck and headed home. The Blue Ribbon laid so very delicately in the passenger seat next to him in an old Coca Cola crate.
He had just about gotten home, about ten minutes away, when he saw her. A pretty young thing sitting on a suitcase at the side of the road. Burnt red from waiting in the sun too long, and barely strong enough to stick out her thumb for a ride, she sat on the battered old suitcase and an old guitar case beside her. Eustace instantly pulled over.
“Going somewhere ma’am?”, he said to her; “Can I give you a lift?” The girl replied “Well…I’m ok for now; just trying to get to Barstow…but it’s a long way. Just need to find somewhere to get a bite and make a call. I can get someone to pick me up and get me the rest of the way if I could just get to a phone….but the sun; I’m just beat right now”.
“C’mon, young lady”, Eustace said, and reached over to open the old truck’s door from the inside; “I’m just up the way and have a phone you can use; it’s outside the shop so it’s ok–I’m not a weirdo” he laughed..”And I’ll get you some sandwiches for the wait”. She smiled and , wearily, picked up the suitcase and the guitar case and put them in the back with “the juice” which clanked around as she put the items in. ‘Careful with those bottles, please miss”, he said…”they’re kinda special”
She got in the truck and sat down, but only asking if it would be ok after seeing the Blue Ribbon so carefully placed on the seat. “Oh, no problem”, Eustace said to her, and placed the crate between them instead. “I just won that! It’s my 25th! 25 years you see!”. She clapped her hands and told him “Great job sir! I’ll bet you’re proud!”
“Sure am”, said Eustace; “And the Garden Owner will be too!”. He smiled again and off they went.
In ten minutes exactly, they were at ‘Eustace T’s Gardens Green” and he stopped the truck and they got out. “You can just leave the cases dear” Eustace said. “They’ll be there when your ride comes…the phone is right there” and he pointed to the wall just to the right of the teal green door where the entrance to the greenhouse was. The road was empty and, as usual, it was quiet.
She dug out a quarter from her jean shorts, ripped and worn from walking along the road Eustace had thought…he picked up on those things… and she waited for the dial tone. She kept waiting. She dug around and found another quarter and did the same thing. Eustace watched her from a little corner area he like to watch them from…when they figured out the phone didn’t work.
“Mister?” she said “I think you’re phone is…”; but that was the last she said–before Eustace had managed to pick up her head from the porch.
He picked it up and went inside the greenhouse, littered as far as could be seen with new saplings and vines and buds just waiting to burst forth and blossom and bloom. He placed her head in the middle of the crudely-drawn symbol on the floor that the plants surrounded and thought to himself, “she’s gonna do just fine”….and went back to get what was left on the porch so he could start processing it, and creating more “juice”.
He locked the door behind him as he left for the porch. The Owner, he remembered, didn’t like to be interrupted when he fed. He wanted his vines and roots and pods to be able to feed properly and in peace; wihch is why 25 years of devotion had paid off.
Eustace took the body to the old shed. There on the wall, in a now perfect square (after adding the 25th Blue Ribbon) were 24 years of sacrifice and devotion indeed. Eustace hummed a pleasant tune, allowed himself a small victory jig, and began to process more “juice” for next year’s bounty of entries.
“Yep, she’s gonna do just fine” he said.