After breakfast the next morning I dialed Francisco’s number.
He picked up immediately. “Hola!” he sang out cheerfully.
“Francisco, this is Patrick.”
Clearly he was already sauced.
“Could you stop by this morning?” I screamed, straining to make myself heard about the ear-splitting background noise.
“I’d like to discuss the garden with you.”
“Yes, your garden. You like?”
“Not so much,” I said.
“What time can you stop by?”
“But you like your garden, si?”
“What you mean?” He sounded genuinely hurt.
“Let’s discuss it when you get here.”
Loud slurping noises ensued, followed by a sloppy belch. “To me, it perfect.”
“To me, it not,” I replied.
Okay, time out. Had I just uttered the phrase, “To me, it not”? Why, oh why did I always fall into Francisco’s fractured speech patterns every time we spoke?
Obviously this dude was getting to me in a bad way.
“See you at 11,” I said, as briskly and syntactically as possible.
He arrived at noon.
Michael was ready to throttle him.
“Let me talk to him first, then you come down and have your say,” I urged, fearing bloodshed.
Francisco was leaning against his truck drinking a beer as I unlocked the carport gate. When he saw me approach he chug-a-lugged his morning brewski and tossed the empty can into the cab of his truck.
“Buenas dias!” he bellowed.
“Welcome to your new garden,” he began, gesturing grandiosely around the barren patch of earth that, in retrospect, had been a veritable Garden of Eden just two months earlier.
“You love?” he asked hopefully.
“No, Francisco, I don’t love. It’s a disaster.”
He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “What you mean?”
I pulled out my notes. “Well,” I began, “let’s see. For starters, you promised to plant a mature hedge of bougainvillea across the bottom of the driveway. I wouldn’t exactly call what you planted ‘mature’,” I said, gesturing to the scraggly, 10-inch-tall specimens he had stuck into the ground at uneven intervals. “I’m not sure I’d even call them plants.”
“These will grew very fast,” he claimed.
“I don’t think they’ll grew at all,” I shot back. Grew at all? The one-time-English-major in me paused for a moment of quiet despair.
“And then there’s the hibiscus hedge,” I soldiered on. “Just call me curious, but is there any particular reason why you planted it out of sight behind the garbage cans?”
“This is good spot.”
“This is terrible spot. Unless you’re a garbage man who happens to like hibiscus. And now let’s talk about all the beautiful plants you removed.”
“I’m glad you asked,” I said, smiling demonically, at which point Francisco finally began to look the teeniest bit uneasy. “I have the list right here: one palm tree, three ferns, five Heliconias and seven Calatheas.”
“Not to mention,” I paused for dramatic effect, pointing down the steps towards the lower level, “the ten beautiful seagrapes you hacked down and replaced with $5 weeds.”
“Weeds!?” he screamed righteously.
Just then, as Francisco and I squared off across the driveway, rhetorical daggers drawn, the guests staying in the house below ours came clomping down the stairs loaded with towels, beach chairs and a cooler.
“Good morning!” I called out cheerfully, pretending for all that world that I hadn’t just been on the brink of murdering our gardener.
“Hey,” they muttered nervously. And, without further ado, they crammed the beach things into the back of the car, threw open the gate and screeched down the hill in record time.
My guess was that they’d been eavesdropping through one of the back windows and had decided to escape before the real shooting began.
“Weeds!?” Francisco repeated, picking up exactly where we’d left off.
“That’s what I said, weeds,” I replied wearily.
As fun as this was, it was clear we weren’t getting anywhere. I had said everything I wanted to say, and Francisco had offered a series of non-responses so unconvincing that only someone drunker than himself would have fallen for them.
But then I realized that I hadn’t said the most important thing of all: “To be honest, we feel cheated.”
This got his attention. First his face flushed bright red, then he looked as if he might cry. “I no cheat you,” he whined. “I honest.”
Michael rounded the corner of the house as Francisco spoke. “Okay, if you’re so honest then prove it,” he said.
Francisco looked puzzled.
“Fix our garden.”
A bubbly sigh escaped Francisco’s puffy lips.
“Okay,” he said, dangerously close to tears. “I fix.”