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U3A Writing: The Sunflowers

John Leary tells a tale about sunflowers which never flowered.

When Julie Smith’s husband Bert was sent to jail for three years she invited her son Rob to shift back into her house on Paschendale Ave. “I’ll be there on me own” she said “ and I’ll be lonely. You can have your old room, and I won’t charge you any rent as long as you help me look after Bert’s garden”.

This suited Rob well for he was out of work and was finding it hard to manage on the dole. He moved in almost immediately. He brought his girlfriend Liz with him. This upset Julie. She knew - because her best friend Wilma had told her – that Liz sold drugs around the town. “She pretends to be a Tupperware Agent, but that’s just a cover, really she deals in drugs. No-one knows where she gets the stuff, so the cops haven’t been able to catch her red-handed, I guess they’re hoping for a tip-off. She’ll make a mistake one day, then they’ll get her,” were Wilma’s words.

Julie also despised the way Liz dressed – always wearing mocassins and tight torn jeans and tops that let her over-weight breasts bulge above them like balloons. When a chance presented itself she told Rob “She’s a tart. I don’t want her living with us”, but Rob ignored this and Liz stayed.

At first all went well. Bert’s garden was quite large, but Rob had plenty of spare time so he easily managed the watering and weeding. In fact, he found he quite liked it. However it was quite a surprise to his mother when he announced he planned to dig a new bed and plant more garden. “Down by the back fence I’ll build it” he said. “I’ll plant vegetables – lettuces, carrots, beans, tomatoes, maybe even sunflowers.”


“Yeah, sunflowers. They’re really cool.”

Rob borrowed a rotary hoe from his mate Luke Power and established a new garden bed near the back fence. And next time he received his dole money he went to Bunnings’ and bought seeds – lettuce, beans, corn, radishes, as well as tomato plants. “Liz will bring sunflower seeds when she comes home this afternoon” he told his mother.

The two young persons worked hard the next day, planting the various vegetables . in neat rows. Liz had brought a long hose to run water from a tap near the house. “Luke Power will come over next weekend to help us set up an automatic watering scheme” Rob told his mother.

Julie could hardly believe her ears. She had never seen such a display of industry from her son. “It’s almost as if he’s turned over a new leaf” she told Wilma, “He just loves getting his hands dirty, and digging and watering. I’ve never seen him so happy.”

For the rest of that spring and early summer the garden flourished. Soon they were harvesting beans, tomatoes, lettuces, radishes - all the good things. There was so much produce Julie was able to give some to friends. Julie got on well with Rob and his mates, she even began to like Liz a bit.

“She’s like the plants … she grows on you bit by bit,” that’s what she told Wilma.

“Don’t trust her” Wilma replied. “She’s a bad one. She’s still selling drugs. It’s a mystery where she gets them from.”

Rob and Liz worked hard in his garden, and everything flourished - except the sunflowers. These grew well, just like the other plants, but strangely they refused to flower. They stood tall along the fence-line, strong green plants waving in the breeze. When the water came on at evening they gave off a pleasant perfume. Julie’s chooks foraged amongst them delightedly. But no flowers appeared.

Julie was mystified. “It’s strange” she said. “When I drive to town I see sunflowers everywhere. What wrong with yours, Rob?”

“Don’t worry, mum” he replied. “I’m sure they’re alright. They’ll flower when they’re ready.”

A couple of weeks of still, hot weather went by and still no flowers appeared.

One night Rob came home from the pub, without Liz. “We’ve broken up” he told his mother. “She’s going back to live with her mother. She’ll come round on Saturday to collect her things. Tom Modici was at the pub tonight, he’s got a market garden near Murray Bridge, grows vegetables and sells them in the market in Adelaide. I’m going to work there. If I like it, maybe I can become a share farmer with him. I reckon it’s a good opportunity. He says there’s a worker’s cabin I can live in, while I get started on the place.”

Rob packed and left the next morning, and sure enough, the next Saturday Liz arrived. She was in a ute driven by Luke Power. “I’ve come for me stuff” she told Julie.

“Go ahead” said Julie. Liz went to the room she had shared with Rob. It didn’t take her long to collect her few things. While she was doing this Luke busied himself pulling the sunflower plants from the ground and stacking them in his ute.

Liz called “Goodbye you old tart” as they drove away. “Good riddance” thought Julie. She went inside, made a couple of phone calls and began tidying the place.

Next day she received a phone call from Wilma. “Have you heard about Luke and Liz? The cops got a tip on Crimestoppers. They pulled Luke up on the highway on Saturday afternoon. Liz was with him. There was a load of fresh marijuana plants in the tray of Luke’s ute. They’ve been charged with drug trafficking and are likely to go to jail.”

Julie breathed a sigh of relief. The mystery of the sunflowers that would not flower had been solved!


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