BY CELYNNE HINZMANN
Celynne Hinzmann writes literary fiction short stories, essays and novellas. Copyright is held by the author.
BARB SIGHS, and straightens her stiff back. She gives the tub one more rinse for good measure, then shuts off the water and puts the shower head back in its cradle. She looks around the bathroom critically, thinks it couldn’t be any cleaner if it was run through an autoclave, and knows it won’t pass muster anyways. She closes her eyes and sighs again. A whole weekend. She needs a glass of wine.
She checks the fridge over carefully as she takes out the Chardonnay. Looks good. Perfect in fact. She re-checks the fridge as she puts the bottle back after pouring a large glass. Then she opens the fridge again, removes the wine bottle, carries it out the back door and puts in the trunk of her car. It’ll be easier to deal with the cops if she has to than with teetotaller Mom.
She walks slowly through the small house with the glass in her hand, giving each room a final inspection. The place looks immaculate, and she’s proud of all her hard work. Barb is very handy, and very artistic, always working on some new project, or three, and she’s very grateful to Mom for instilling her with this vigour and enterprise. Her quaint little house and gardens are beautiful, the envy of the neighbours and her many friends. But there’s no keeping up with Mom, so Barb’s been working like a mad woman for the past two weeks getting everything in even more perfect form for this visit.
At 67, Dorrie Stevens runs circles around people half her age. She operates a 50-acre working farm with a century house that she renovates perpetually, teaches yoga, music, ESL and painting classes, conducts the church choir, volunteers at the seniors’ centre, the food bank, and the youth centre, takes care of her 92-year-old mother, and is president of the Horticultural Society. And visits her daughter. For a whole weekend. Barb goes back out to the car and pours another glass of wine.
The doorbell rings at 7 am, sharp. Not 6:56 or 7:02. Barb wonders if she stands on the porch and watches her watch with her finger poised over the bell. But Barb’s ready. Well, as ready as she ever will be. She was up at 5, showered, cleaned the bathroom again, got her hair and makeup salon perfect, dressed in her best, tidied the bedroom and even scrubbed the kitchen floor, again, after breakfast.
“Mom! How nice to see you!” Barb smiles widely and gives her Mom a big hug, which is returned twice over.
“Hello, sweetheart! You look fabulous, dear! That shade of blonde washes you out a little, but what a darling cut. Pixie? I haven’t seen one of those in years, practical though I suppose.” Dorrie smiles brightly. “I see you finally got around to painting that old wicker porch set, what an interesting shade of yellow, but what on earth happened to your flower bed, dear?”
Barb grimaces. Damn, how could I have forgotten to check that this morning! “Oh, it’s that darn little Nancy from next door. She loves to play in the dirt. Don’t worry about that, Mom, I’ll deal with it later.” Barb reinforces her smile. Her cheeks hurt. “Come on in, Mom, I’ve got your room all ready. I’m so sorry I couldn’t take the day off work, but we’ll have a nice visit for the rest of the weekend. Now I want you to just relax today. Take a book, sit on the back patio and put your feet up for a change.”
“Oh, don’t worry about me, I’ll find plenty to keep myself amused, dear.” Dorrie chippers. “I know how busy things are for a teacher the last couple of weeks of school, I’m sure you’re swamped. Though back in my days we had to write out all those report cards by hand, but I’m sure even with computers and all those canned comments it’s still an enormous chore. Have you had breakfast yet?”
“Yes, but why don’t I fix you something?” Barb’s smile is threatening to crack her face.
“Don’t you bother at all dear, I’ll find myself something. You go and get yourself ready for work.”
Barb forces her eyes to keep from rolling, decides to take the reprieve and retreats to her bedroom for a few moments to talk herself down. I can do this. When she re-appears a several minutes later, the coffee is brewing, the bacon she didn’t even have in the fridge is frying, and the orange juice is being squeezed.
“Can I fix you a couple of eggs?” Dorrie is wearing an apron and wielding a spatula.
“Thanks, Mom, but I had some granola earlier. I make my own, it’s all organic.” Did that sound defensive? It felt defensive.
“Well, at least have some juice. I brought some oranges, nothing like fresh juice. Thin girls like you need to be careful to get your vitamins.”
Let it go, Barb thinks as she takes the glass being held in front of her. Mercifully it’s time for her to leave. Mom sees her to the back door. “Now really, Mom, please just relax today. I’ll pick up some nice steaks to barbeque for dinner, so don’t fuss at all.”
“Don’t give me another thought, dear. I brought fresh vegetables from my garden for a nice salad for dinner and I’ll get to that flower bed out front, right after I defrost the fridge.”
“Mom, really, I…” Barb grits her teeth. “I really appreciate that. Thank you.” She escapes, hoping the car radio will drowned out her screams on the drive to work.
Dorrie is hanging out the freshly laundered living room curtains on the clothes line when the back porch screen of the house next door opens, and a little blonde girl in shorts and a T-shirt comes out holding a popsicle in her chubby fist.
Dorrie waves gaily. “Yoo-hoo, Nancy, dear.” The little girl looks around curiously, and then back at the lady. “I’m Dorrie, Barb’s mommy. It’s so nice to meet you. I understand you like flowers.” The little girl nods at her blankly.
“Well, maybe you’d like to help me plant some?” The girl brightens. She nods happily and comes running over. The pair get gloves and trowels from Barb’s garage and head to the front yard. Dorrie patiently explains all the fine details of planting flowers, getting the girl to help her dig new holes and smooth the cool earth around the root-balls, tells her the name of all the flowers and points out the shape and form of each variety. She talks about the importance of balance and scale to her mesmerized, obedient audience, how each plant has it’s own peculiarities and requirements for light, nutrition and water. When the bed is finally transformed, Dorrie takes her little charge by the hand.
“Well, doesn’t that look nice? Thank you for helping me, and now you can see how much work it is to put all those flowers back, can’t you?” The little girl nods seriously. “Good, time for a little treat then. Shall we have a tea party out on the back patio?”
Dorrie brings a china tea pot filled with fresh squeezed lemonade and a plate of the sugar cookies that she baked that morning out to the patio table on a silver serving tray. The little girl is delighted, enthralled with her beautiful new fairy godmother who knows all about flowers, lets her have three cookies and drink from a real tea cup, and she’s sorry when her mother finally appears at the porch door to call her in.
“Hello, you must be Barbara’s mother?” her mommy calls to the wonderful lady. “I hope my little one hasn’t been a bother?”
“Oh, no, not at all, we’ve had a lovely time!” Dorrie waves back.
“Well, thank you.” Mom says. “Barb’s invited us over for coffee after dinner, we’ll see you then. Come on in now, sweetie.” The little girl slips off her seat and gives Dorrie a shy, quick hug before she runs home. Dorrie hums happily as she takes the tea things to the kitchen, and gets started on a lemon cake for the visit later.
The first thing Barb sees pulling in the driveway of her house, is the restored, improved, flower garden. Oh, goodie.
Dorrie is on the back patio, polishing silver and sipping lemonade. Barb knows it’s homemade, and is suddenly, actually, looking forward to a glass. And wishing she could add vodka.
“Did you have a nice day, dear?” Dorrie asks as she pours.
Barb sinks into the patio chair, and gratefully takes the glass. “It was fine, thanks Mom, but not nearly as productive as yours, I see.”
Dorrie laughs lightly. “Well, I do think I’ve solved your problems with Nancy. I had her over this afternoon, and got her to help me replant the garden. We had a lovely chat about all the different varieties, and the importance of respecting other people’s property, and then we had lemonade and cookies as a nice positive reinforcement for all she had learned. Really, Barb, I’m surprised you hadn’t thought of applying a little child psychology to the situation yourself, but I’m sure you won’t have any more trouble with Nancy digging up the flowers.”
Barb can’t help it. She leans her head back and laughs out loud, long and glorious. “Oh, Mom,” she finally manages, wiping the tears of mirth away with the back of her hand. “I’m so glad you had such a nice afternoon with Lisa. Nancy is her German Sheppard puppy.”