The late afternoon sun streamed sideways through the trees, painting the flowers brilliant shades of orange and gold. It caught in the fencing, and reflected against the side of the house. The incense cedar towered over the long grass, and the maple had lost most of its leaves, carpeting the ground in a shower of red and gold and brown. The leaves of bulbs peeped up through the flower beds, and the earth was dark and moist. Alive.

We were both drinking lapsong soochong and staring down at the strawberries, which were confused by the weather, small white blooms crinkling in their planters, leaves a mass of rich green, eagerly overflowing, seeking the ground.

“This year I’m going to plant all strawberries,” he said. “I’m just going to fill the whole yard with them. Those ones last summer were so good. I don’t know about this kind, though, maybe I will plant different kinds, just to see.”

“That heliotrope is certainly looking good,” I said.

“Yeah, that really took off, didn’t it? Probably the fucking deer will eat that too, they eat everything else. Everything the gophers don’t.”

“Well, your little fence probably helps.”

“Probably. Damn birds ate the strawberries, that’s why I made the cages.”

There was a pause while we looked to the west.

“I think it’s going to rain again,” I said. “Look at those clouds.”

“They certainly are dark, aren’t they? You know, they carted Johnnie off to Sherwood Oaks.”

“Really? I remember you were telling me he wasn’t doing too well.”

“He just went crazy. One day I went up there and had to tuck him into bed.”

“I remember you mentioned that. That’s a pity. I remember you went up to their anniversary party. I wonder what Flossie is going to do now.”

There was another pause while we looked to the east, and I could see Martha tottering about her greenhouse.

“Martha’s out again.”

“So I see.”

“I was getting worried, for awhile there.”

“Is her daughter still here?”

“I don’t know what’s going on there, she’s been here since before Martha had her stroke.”

“Wouldn’t you hate it if I did that?”

“I don’t know,” he said, suddenly turning to me. “I think maybe people get kind of lonely sometimes.” He turned away and rolled another cigarette, and we looked to the clouds in the west again.

“I suppose we’d better bring those towels in, eh? Wouldn’t want them getting rained on.”

“Oh, let’s stay outside for a moment longer,” he said. “I can’t believe I’m almost sixty.”