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In Colleen's Garden, Toronto

LILIES of the valley jampack your backyard!

I tell you how my Russian grandmother loved lilies of the valley, how her bridegroom, a colonel then in the czar's Imperial Army, had Faberge make her a locket. The enamel indigo face was set with two sprigs of white bells on stems slender as threads, flanked by a leaf blade, dark green.

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The ovoid halves, hinged at the top, slid apart and uncovered a tiny mirror. Etched on the silver side were the words "To beloved Lili from Leonid, 1899."

She sewed the locket into her hem when she fled Leningrad in 1933.

Lilies of the valley grew in a few of our American yards. We moved too often to learn if those we planted spread through the shade of others' lives.

I tell you how on my wedding day she gave me the locket, and how, after that marriage failed, a burglar stole my jewelry box. What I regret most is the locket.

You offer some of your lilies.

I take your trowel to a crowd of green, push the blade hard through the root-woven soil riddled with twigs and rocks, wrest four plants with tubers and blooms, pat back the soil.

I notice two snails, striped gold-beige-maroon, elegant as enamel, that would fit on a locket. I pick them up. Stunning, but what gardener wants snails?

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Unsure where to put them, I stand on the threshold, the other hand clutching lily-of-the-valley plants. Now their opercula are ajar. They poke out their heads, elongate their necks, extend minuscule horns like sea-anemone tentacles. Each stretches its single foot. They crawl along the lines of my palm, two blind gypsies deciphering my life.

You note my catch. "Yes, we always must watch our step so we don't crunch the shells."

"You don't kill snails?"

I toss them back in the leaves, thank you, and in time I must move again. I take my clump home to plant, sorry to leave the snails.


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