by Jim Bates
Harold took a sip of coffee, and let out a satisfied sigh. “I love the yard,” he said to Joey, sitting next to him on the back patio. “Look at those lilacs. They’re in full bloom, and that lavender color is beautiful.” Nearby, a house wren began to chatter in a honeysuckle bush. “Hello, little fellow,” Harold said, waving. “How are you this fine day?”
Joey yawned, “I think I’ll take a nap. I had a long night.”
“What’d you do?”
“Oh, man, you don’t want to know.”
Harold grinned. Even though he could be a pain sometimes, it was always interesting having Joey around, especially since he was a djinn. That, you know, probably accounted for a lot.
Suddenly, the peaceful morning was disrupted by a loud beeping coming from out front on the street.
“Oh, no,” Harold stood up, distressed. “Our new neighbor is really going to do it.”
“Do what?” Joey asked, coming wide awake.
“Spray chemicals on his dandelions. It’ll be bad for the bees and butterflies, not to mention the baby birds and bunny rabbits. We’ve got to do something.”
The djinn was always ready for action. “Let’s go!”
Joey had been living in a brass lamp for over a hundred years until Harold had bought it during a trip to Nebraska over two years earlier. He had driven two days from Minnesota to the Platte River country to watch birds, and to try and get over the death of his dear departed wife, Elaine. From that standpoint, the trip had been unsuccessful. But when he’d retuned home, and was cleaning off his spur-of-the-moment purchase from Corn Husker Antiques, he’d rubbed just the right way, and “poof”, the djinn appeared – two feet tall, and dressed in aqua blue pantaloons, a colorful embroidered vest, and a jaunty red skull cap.
“Whew,” he’d said at the time, stretching. “Thank you for that, man. I owe you big time.” Then he shook Harold’s hand. “Hi. My name’s Joey.”
After Harold had gotten over the initial shock of having a djinn in his home, they’d become fast friends, maybe even the best of friends. Having the energic djinn around was good because he alleviated some of the loneliness Harold felt with Elaine being gone, and Joey liked Harold’s easy-going nature, not to mention the fact that the octogenarian gave him a place to live.
Harold’s hobby was gardening, and he was glad to have Joey to help out, even though the djinn was a little on the lazy side when it came to work. Together, they turned the shady backyard into a peaceful oasis planted with hosta and many other shade loving plants. It had a calming feel to it, and was a good place to sit and contemplate the world and life in general.
The new next-door neighbor, Biff Butler, however, was fast becoming the bane of Harold’s existence. The guy was a committed green grass man, wanting nothing to do with flowers. As he’d put it to Harold a few weeks earlier, “The greener the better as far as I’m concerned. I don’t like butterflies, and bees might sting me or my wife or my daughter.”
Harold had tried to convince Biff of the benefits of an ecofriendly yard but the headstrong man would have none of it.
“Not on my watch. I’m having it sprayed for weeds next week.”
And it was happening right now.
Harold and Joey ran around the corner, and saw Ron’s Spray Service parked in front of Biff’s house. Two workmen were unrolling a long hose attached to a tank on the back of the truck. Even without spraying, an acrid chemical smell filled the air.
Joey sized up the situation in an instant. “I’ve got a plan,” he said. “You keep those two guys occupied.” Then he disappeared.
Harold hurried up to the workman. “Hi there,” he said, trying to be friendly. “What’s going on?”
“We’re here to spray. Better move.”
Just then, Biff ran out of the house. “Hey, Harold. Get away. Let these men do their job.”
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Harold said. “Those chemicals will kill the butterflies and bees, and harm baby birds and rabbits. They’re bad for the environment too.”
An argument ensued. While it was going on, out of the corner of his eye, Harold watched as Joey reappeared on the drum on the chemical truck, and did some intricate moves with his hands over the tank. When he was done, he grinned, tipped his hat to Harold, and jumped down, turning invisible before he hit the ground. That was Harold’s sign.
“Sorry, gentlemen. I’ve got to go,” he said, and hurried to join Joey on the patio. On the street, he could hear the sprayer motor start up. It was loud.
Joey was all smiles. “Well, that was fun.”
“What’d you do?”
He laughed, “I turned the chemicals into sugar water.”
Harold laughed with him. “Brilliant!”
Later that afternoon, Harold was weeding among the flowers in one of his sunny front yard gardens. He glanced up when a butterfly appeared, a pretty red admiral, and watched as it fluttered its way over to Biff’s yard. Then a monarch followed along. And a yellow swallowtail. Then a painted lady. And then more and more butterflies appeared, flying over to his neighbor’s yard until it was swarming with them. And bees, too. They were feeding on the sugar water on Biff’s dandelions.
Next to him, Joey appeared and pointed. “What do you think of that?”
Harold smiled, “I like it.”
Biff ran outside with his family and was beside himself, yelling and waving his arms to scare the butterflies and bees away.
His wife and daughter wouldn’t have it.
“Stop it right now,” his wife admonished him. “I like the butterflies. They’re pretty. They stay.”
“I love them, Daddy,” the daughter said as a swallow tail landed on her outstretched hand. She pointed toward Harold’s gardens. “Maybe one day, we can have pretty flowers like him.”
“That’s a great idea,” her mother said.
Biff hung his head, and went inside. Past experience with his wife and daughter told him when their minds were made up, like they were now, there was nothing he could do.
The little girl waved at Harold. “Hi, mister. Could you please help us plant a garden like yours someday?”
Harold turned to Joey, who had suddenly appeared, “What do you think?”
Joey grinned, “It’s great idea. I’ll help.”
Harold went over and introduced himself. “Hi. You can call me Harold. And yes, me and my friend Joey here would be happy to help.”
“Oh, goody,” the little girl said, clapping her hands. “My name is Rosie. I’ll be in third grade next year.”
“Hi, Rosie. Nice to meet you.” They shook hands.
“I’m Susan,” her mother said.
Next to him, Joey doffed his hat and bowed. “Greetings, ladies,” he said, grinning. “Nice to meet both of you.”
Rosie and her mother giggled, enchanted by the sharp dressed djinn. So much so, the next day all four of them started working together to plant a flower garden. Right in the middle of Biff’s front yard. It turned out to be beautiful.
Jim Bates lives in a small town, twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories and poems have appeared in many online and print publications. His collection of short stories, Resilience, is scheduled to be published in 2020 by Bridge House Publishing. All of his stories can be found on his blog: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.