Excerpt from The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Garden of Small Beginnings

by Abbi Waxman

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman X
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
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    May 2017, 368 pages

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I nodded and put on my intelligent listening face, adding a little between-the-eyebrows frown for extra focus. I was actually just waiting to hear my name, like a dog.

"We'd like you to illustrate them."

I nodded again, but she had stopped talking.

"Well, that will be . . . fun." I was puzzled. What was the fuss about? Why was she pulling me into her office to tell me about a job? Normally we get briefed on new projects downstairs, in a short meeting, and then they arrive via e-mail.

Roberta started up again. "It's a very big job."

"Well, there are lots of vegetables in the world."

"Yes. And the Bloem people want to cover all of them. There will be several volumes, plus an addendum."

"I love an addendum."

"And we want you to do it by hand, not computer. Watercolors, pen-and-ink, charcoal, whatever you like. Bloem wants to create something artistic and lasting. While at the same time capitalizing on the rebirth of interest in slow food, organic gardening, and the back-to-the-land movement." She was nervous about something, I could hear it in her voice. She suddenly looked at me and blurted out, "I'm afraid I did something terrible. Truly, truly terrible."

I was surprised, because I hadn't thought she was that kind of girl, but I got ready to be shocked.

"I said you'd take a gardening class." She cleared her throat. "A vegetable-gardening class."

"I'm sorry?" I frowned. "Did you say a gardening class?"

Roberta blushed. "I was on the phone with the woman from Bloem, and she mentioned that one of the Bloem family sons was teaching a class on vegetable gardening, here in Los Angeles, and I said you'd take it."

"The class?"

"Yes."

"On vegetable gardening?"

"Yes." She spoke more slowly, as apparently I wasn't getting it. "I said you'd take a class on vegetable gardening." She said it the way someone else might have said, "And you'll be slowly dipped in battery acid, toes first."

"I don't mind taking a gardening class. It sounds like fun." I paused. "Unless it's a three-year commitment and requires a lot of heavy lifting?"

She shook her head quickly. "It's Saturday mornings, for six weeks. We would of course be compensating you for your time." I half shrugged, and she leapt on it. "And giving you extra vacation days."

I would have done it for nothing, but there was no need to tell her that. "Sounds fair."

She shuddered. "I would have taken the course myself, but I simply couldn't."

I altered my opinion of her, subtly. "Why?"

"I hate worms." She visibly shivered, and may even have gone pale. It was hard to tell under her perfect makeup. "I had a bad experience as a child. I can't even stand too close to soil, you know, just in case."

I had to bite my lip not to ask for details. What qualifies as a bad worm experience? I imagined her running along, tiny and cute in coordinated Baby Gap, tripping, falling, her little braids twisting in slow motion as she hit the ground, skidding, coming face-to-face with a worm . . . that pulled out a gun and shot her? That bit her on the nose? I mean, honestly, they don't even have mouths. But you can't say that kind of thing to people. You can't mock their fears openly. But I made a note to do it later, in private.

She still looked worried. "So will you do it?"

I shrugged. "Of course, happy to. I'm sure it will inspire my illustrations." I didn't add that I could always get up close and personal with a carrot in the produce department, but she seemed to think this class would help the project, and who was I to argue?

She relaxed, visibly, and stood up. Her clothes fell perfectly, not a wrinkle. Maybe she had some little guy under the desk, steaming her as she sat. Mine kind of stuck where they were, as if someone had wadded them into a ball and thrown them at me.

Excerpted from The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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