As she packed up her map of Belfast, with its gardens running all over town, Casey hoped that Mike Sloan would be too busy with work at the shipyard to attend the Society meeting. She’d been working on the plans for a year and she knew they were good. There was room for the other members to debate about specifics, but she wanted the locations to stay constant. The locations were the point.
Sam offered to go with her. “You realize it could get nasty. You could use some support.”
She hesitated. “That would be nice, but since you never have attended, it might look strange. As if I’m trying to intimidate them.”
He grinned. “I’m not usually called intimidating, but I see your point. Still…”
She kissed his cheek. “I’ll be fine. Will you read to Jamie for me?”
“Sure. I have a paper on “The Electric Properties of Steel” I’m sure he’d love.” Sam laughed with her, and waved her off to her meeting.
Sloan was there. Casey sighed and took her seat, holding her rolled-up plan on her lap and staring at it in consternation. A year spent working on it, and it would be so much simpler to just pretend it didn’t exist. To let it go. To live quietly…
“Goodness, dear. Is that your last will and testament?” Mrs. Herceforth sat next to her and cocked an eyebrow at the roll Casey held. “You’re looking at it like you’re terrified of it.”
Casey flushed and put the roll on the chair next to her. “I might be, at that,” she said noncommittally, unwilling to explain much. “Just some garden plans. I hope someone likes them.”
“Oh, I’m sure we will, dear. Your plans are so inventive, and we haven’t seen many of them lately.”
As Mrs. Herceforth chatted on, Casey nodded and looked around the room. They still met in the social hall of the First Presbyterian Church and the walls were adorned with pictures of Jesus with the children, with the disciples, and catching fish. A large fireplace supplied the only heat, which worked fine when the large congregation was present with food and activities, but the Horticultural Society, like most groups, had a small number of active members. The room was cold. Casey still wore her gloves and a warm cardigan, although she’d hung her cloak on one of the racks in the back. A few long tables were set up front with rows of chairs facing them. The president sat in front and called them to order. They began with announcements.
Her nervousness grew as the time for new presentations approached. She knew it was radical. She knew she was asking for trouble. She closed her eyes and went over the words she had prepared, hoping to keep the group on her side. Hoping to help them see the beauty behind the plans.
Members were required to place their names on the agenda if they wanted to make a formal presentation. She had done this a week ago, and was pretty sure that’s why Mike Sloan had made an effort to attend. A stab of resentment went through her. Tom was working late nearly every night. Sloan should be working, too, instead of looking for ways to cause her trouble.
“Casey Andrews. We haven’t seen new plans from you for a long time. It will be good to see what you have.” The president beamed at Casey as she stood and moved to the front.
Don’t look at Sloan.
She managed a smile for the president and turned it on the group. “I’ve been working on something for a while, but just in my spare time. It’s based on work done in Berkeley when I was young. Younger,” she added as several of them tittered. She was, by far, the youngest member of the society. The joke had been unplanned, but it helped loosen her up and remember that most of them actually liked her. It also helped that her words were true. She had based her plan on work done when she was a teenager. It was just that the work was done in the 1990s and early 2000s. They had needed to tear up developed areas to free the streams that had been covered over in previous decades. She hoped, in part, to prevent Belfast from making the same mistake.
She held the roll like a cane, letting its end rest on the floor. “The idea was to preserve natural spaces within the city, and nurture the riparian areas. Like Belfast, Berkeley has many streams that run through the town. So my plans are based, firstly, on the geology and topography of Belfast, which is a wide area.” They were nodding, their faces reflecting their anticipation. Despite her resolve to not look at him, she saw Sloan narrow his eyes. He was suspicious.
“As I’ve learned working at the Botanic Gardens, landscaping works best when it’s incorporated into the whole. Isolated, exotic gardens require a much greater effort, and much more expense, to maintain. So…” she unrolled the plan and the president rose to hold one end of it for her.
The first murmurs were because of the beauty and scope of the plans. They had not expected to see the entire city represented. The silence that began to descend over the meeting happened as they realized her plan did, indeed, represent the entire city. All of it. Casey spoke quickly into the silence.
“I’ll leave it up here for you to peruse. I hope we can take the time to discuss it in full.”
“You already know we can’t allow this.” Mike Sloan spoke before anyone could move. “Don’t pretend it’s just another idea we can discuss.”
“I will pretend exactly that, Mr. Sloan,” Casey said. “This plan takes into account the watershed and native habitats as they already exist. I propose that we build on them, in ways that preserve them for future generations.”
Sloan stood and the vice-president tapped a gavel. “Mr. Sloan, you do not have the floor.”
“Well, I’m takin’ it,” Sloan retorted and he turned back to Casey. “Watersheds and natives are all fine, Mrs. Andrews. But ye must keep your plans in the correct areas. Take it home and fix that and then we’ll consider it.”
“It won’t work if you try to truncate the natural environment,” she said angrily. “The watershed doesn’t know or care about political divisions. It just is.”
He pointed at her. “Ye better care about ‘em, lass. They exist for your protection.”
“The land belongs to everyone at once, regardless of religion or income, or…”
“We do not make plans for the Papists!” His voice roared. Timid Lady Talbot put her hands over her ears, and the vice-president stood, his gavel pointing at Sloan, who ignored him. Sloan pointed again at Casey, his face red. He spoke softly, but with more threat.
“Ye, Casey Andrews, have disregarded our laws, our rules, and our way of life, from the day ye got into town. Ye do what ye want, and ye manipulate the people around ye with deceit and lies. And when you’re found out, ye smile real pretty and say you’re sorry. Ye use your feminine charms to keep people under your spell. Ye charm the rich and influential so ye can spread your poison. You’re a danger to this society and to this town. I’m callin’ for your dismissal!”
The small crowd broke into whispers and gestures, some nodding in agreement, most looking uncertain and afraid. Casey held onto her plan and glared at him. “The only thing I disregard is your bigotry, Mr. Sloan. I recognize that all kinds of people live in this town and they all deserve a healthy and beautiful environment!”
Sloan looked over at the secretary, who had stopped taking notes and was staring in astonishment. “I move that Casey Andrews be stricken from the membership of the Horticultural Society, and not allowed to attend meetings. Due to her avowed disregard for the wishes of the Society, and incitement of members.”
Lady Talbot was weeping, but she said loudly, “Flowers. I just wanted some flowers around town. Why do we have to argue like this?”
“I second the motion.” The speaker was in the back, a businessman whom Casey did not know well. He stood and bowed slightly to Lady Talbot. “It is my hope, madam, that we can rid ourselves of troublemakers and get back to planting those flowers.”
Casey’s mouth fell open and she closed it with a snap. I’m the troublemaker! That’s really rich!
Mrs. Herceforth raised her hand and at the president’s nod, she stood. “I’d like to remind all of us that Mrs. Andrews is very young. We do her a disservice with the phrase ‘troublemaker.’ She is only too idealistic, perhaps. Youth seldom understands the larger ways of the world. I’d rather we let her stay and continue to nurture her to maturity. She has a great deal of talent and expertise that have been very useful to this society. I think we can all agree on that.”
“Aye,” Sloan said. “Maybe she doesn’t intend to cause trouble, yet that’s what always follows her. She never minds her place, either; she’s always out lookin’ for some way to meddle. She’s better off at home, taking care of her family, and learning how to behave herself in society.”
The murmurs that followed this were louder and more sincere. Casey fought down her fury and humiliation at the injustice of it, gripping the corner of the paper in her hand, causing it to crumple.
The president was still holding the other end of Casey’s plan and she slowly released it, glancing with regret at Casey before facing the group. Her voice shook. “The motion has been made and seconded, to strike Casey Andrews from our rolls. All in favor, please raise your hands.”
Far too many of them raised a hand immediately and Casey watched, as after a few moments, the stragglers joined them. Mrs. Herceforth sat grimly silent, hands in her lap and tears on her cheeks. Her lip trembled as she gazed at Casey.
“Let the record show…” the president stopped, unwilling to say what the record showed. “If there is no more business, this meeting is adjourned,” she said and they all stood, moving toward their cloaks at the back. But Mike Sloan walked forward, toward Casey, who was still standing in front, holding her plan in front of her like a shield. Everyone turned to watch. Mrs. Herceforth began moving quietly closer to the front.
Casey watched him come, tense, her eyes burning with unshed tears. He stopped in front of her and her chin went up. Her voice was ice. “Are you going to try stripping me again, Mr. Sloan?”
His face flushed with anger, and he clenched his hands into fists as he glared at her. Whatever he had been going to say, she saw him decide against it. Instead, he reached with both hands, and taking hold of her plan in its middle section, he tore it, pulling the Catholic section away from the rest and ripping it in several pieces, before turning and walking out.
“Ah, love.” Tom was there when she got home and he held her as she wept. He had not received a very coherent description of the evening due to her crying, but he had enough to know how humiliated she was. The ripped plan lay at their feet in the parlor. He stroked her hair, dropping kisses on her temple, feeling helpless to do anything useful.
“It’s a wonderful plan, Casey. I was so proud of you, watching you put it together. They would not have gotten a better plan if they’d paid a professional a hundred pounds for it.” He tilted her face up to look at him. “When you’re ready, love, you need to fix it and put it someplace safe. Maybe it’s too soon, maybe it’s too “American,” this idea that people of different backgrounds can work together. And too advanced. Remember, you have a hundred years of history and experience that the rest of us don’t have.”
She nodded reluctantly and he continued, “There’ll be a time when Belfast is ready for your plan. We’ll keep trying to get people to listen and maybe it won’t be long. There are people out there who want peace, sweetheart. They’ll like your plan.”
She choked on a bitter laugh. “If the people who plant flowers don’t want peace, who will?”
He hugged her tighter. “Some of them do. And some of the people who build ships, and some of the people who work in stores, or sew clothes, or cook food. There’s people everywhere, Casey, who want peace. They just aren’t very loud about it.”
She seemed to recover a bit as she listened to him and her smile, while small, was suddenly amused. “You would’ve made a great hippie, Tom Andrews.”
He looked alarmed. “If those are the same people Sam has told me about, I don’t think so. I know I’m not ready for Rock and Roll.”
She giggled at the awkward way he said the phrase, and let him help her fold the ripped sections of her plan. Then she locked them in a drawer in the library.
It was several months before she could make herself look at them again. Sometimes she just stared at the drawer. Once she actually touched the handle, her fingers folding around it, before she snatched the hand back and went outside to work in her own garden.
When Tom or Sam asked her about it, she just shrugged it off and said she’d get to it when she was ready. Just looking at the drawer brought back the humiliation and heartbreak of that night. She couldn’t bear the thought of actually looking at the pages.
But she couldn’t forget about it. Resentment simmered in her, that people she thought were her friends would turn on her so easily, that Sloan so effortlessly succeeded in obstructing her, that Tom went to work, day after day, with the man who had set her up as a sworn enemy.
That wasn’t fair, she knew. When Sloan, the next day at work, had tried to act as if everything were normal, Tom confronted him with quiet rage. Word had gotten around. Tom told her that the majority of workers had turned against Sloan, ignoring him outside of work-related discussions. Most of the less fanatic members of his evangelical group had dropped out. When it came to respect at Harland & Wolff, Tom was the clear winner, and no one was happy at Sloan’s treatment of Casey.
But she had to do something with the plans. She couldn’t face fixing them; she didn’t want to look at them. An idea began nibbling at her mind. After thinking about it for several weeks, she made a phone call. Then, on a conveniently windy day in November, with her head covered beneath her cloak, she walked alone through the streets, clutching a satchel, until she reached a Catholic church. This was a dangerous plan. But she could think of nothing else.
Inside, she paused and gazed at the elaborate beauty surrounding her. It really did evoke a sense of mystery or worship. A priest was coming her way and she stepped to meet him. “Good morning,” she said, wondering if he expected a ritual greeting of some kind. “I have an appointment with Father McCarrey.”
“Aye, welcome. I’ll take ye to his office.” The priest was young and polite, gesturing with a hand to have Casey follow him down a side aisle and through a door in the back. Father McCarrey’s office was in a building connected to the main church by a long corridor, windowless, but with large overarching beams every twenty feet or so. He greeted her with that kind, dignified air she associated with clergy of all types, and she let him take her cloak and usher her to a comfortable chair in his office. He took the chair’s mate, instructing his secretary to bring tea, then looked at her, fingers together and eyes twinkling.
“It’s not often I get a Protestant visitor, Mrs. Andrews. Not planning on converting, are ye?”
She laughed in surprise. “No sir, I’m not. I don’t have much interest in religion at all. I’m afraid I’m the bane of my husband’s family.”
“Well then,” he leaned back in his chair, “Ye said on the phone ye wanted to discuss a gardening plan for the Catholic areas.”
She nodded, licking her lips nervously. “You see, I’m in a bit of exile because of it.” He raised his eyebrows and she tried to explain what had happened at the meeting, without getting into the history she had with Sloan. At the end, she picked up her satchel and pulled out the ripped pieces of the plan, looking up to catch the blink of surprise from Father McCarrey when he saw the pages. His expression was sad.
“Ach, lass. What a dreadful thing to do.” He reached for the plans and moved to his desk, spreading the pages out and reassembling them. Casey sipped her tea and waited.
“What is it you’re hoping for, Mrs. Andrews?” He spoke respectfully, looking at her from his spot behind his desk.
She went to stand in front of his desk, gazing at the pages, before touching a finger to the largest section. “I want to give them to you.” Her gaze went to his face. “I want you to start your own horticultural society among the Catholics and engage them in this work.”
He sighed. “Lass, the Catholic people are poor and struggling. Building gardens is for the rich.”
Her brows lowered in puzzlement. “I know they’re poor, Father. Yet, they’re able to pay for grand church buildings. Gardens are an act of worship just as great. Better in fact, because they nurture the land and provide food, if you plant the right things.”
He stared at her a moment, pursing his lips. Then he nodded, once. “All right. I’ll see what I can do. I think you’re right about it.” He looked back down at the plans. “This is very generous of you. These plans are a work of art.”
She nodded. “Thank you. I’ll be happy to help any way that I can.”
“I’ll be in touch,” he told her.