BY DAWN DeBRAAL
Copyright is held by the author.
TOBIAS STRONG surveyed his handiwork satisfied he had accomplished what he started to out to achieve, turning his grandmother’s summer kitchen into a suitable home for him and his dog Whip. Grandmother didn’t want to leave the farm. It was her home for over 50 years, taking a lifetime to build with his long-gone grandfather. As a grown man, Tobias knew he couldn’t live in the same house with his grandmother no matter how much he loved her. She was a witch. Not the broom flying, cauldron boiling kind of witch, but the summer solstice, herb growing, sage burning Wiccan witch. Sometimes she creeped him out. She could see things in him that he could not see, even with that blind eye sealed over in viscous white skin. Tobias hardly noticed the evil eye anymore.
Grandma promised him the farm or what was left of it, in exchange for his caregiving. His job allowed him to work from any location, as long as there was an internet connection. Tobias agreed to help Grandma Pearl with the condition he could redo the old summer kitchen into an apartment for himself. His grandmother accepted those terms. With the money from the sale of his home, Tobias put an addition on the shed. He was anxious to move out after weeks of sleeping in the little room down the hall from his grandmother. She was up all night roaming around, keeping him from a sound sleep. During the day she took frequent naps, so he had to tiptoe around her. About the time he finished the apartment, his vacation was over. Tobias moved out to the old summer kitchen and went back to his programming job. The laptop was set up on the desk near a bright window so that he could look out on the beautiful land surrounding him. Trees that his grandparents had selectively planted around the yard, the herb garden inside the decorative fence and an arbor lent to an incredibly peaceful surrounding. Tobias started to think that this arrangement was going to work, then realized it had better work, he’d sold his house, and there was no turning back.
Grandma Pearl could be demanding. She wanted Tobias to fix drippy faucet right now, not later. The constant drip was driving her crazy! Tobias would sigh, run to town, buy the washers to repair the old farm sink. After the repairs, his grandmother would be very grateful but would find another project. There was that loose board on the front porch, she was going to break her neck on it, if he didn’t fix it right now. Tobias walked out to the barn finding old boards, leaving his work to repair the porch for her. Then there were the shingles on the old milk house, the mailbox flag, the lawn needed mowing, the garden needed hoeing — a never-ending list of real and imaginary things to do, every day.
When he could not take it any longer, Tobias sat down with his grandmother and had a heart to heart talk. He promised her he would take care of her errands on Tobias’ time, not Pearl’s time. Grandma gave him the evil eye. It was then Tobias understand Pearl was not demanding to be mean; she was trying to remain in charge of the life she felt was slipping away.
It started with little things, forgetting what day it was, or how to run the washing machine, unplugging the refrigerator because it could freeze the house. Tobias started to feel that caregiving was getting to be more than a part-time job and that maybe, he couldn’t handle the situation on his own.
One afternoon in one of her clearer moments, Pearl brought over a beautiful house plant.
“I want you to have this, it’s a housewarming gift.” Pearl handed over a small bushy plant in a clay pot.
“Thank you. What is it?” Tobias eyed the lush green plant.
“Oleander, good for the heart, cure for warts, asthma, epilepsy, cancer and a whole host of problems. It’s poisonous, so don’t eat it. Take care of this plant, and you will take care of me.” Tobias accepted the plant and put it on his desk in the sunny location grandmother pointed out to him. He watered the plant generously as per her instructions. After that day, Tobias noticed a marked change in his grandmother. It had been a long stretch since she had one of her spells. Things settled down, he and Whip enjoyed their new lives on the farm.
The day came when grandma had a moment. She couldn’t find something she had put away years ago. He spent the afternoon trying to help her find the picture she was searching for but was unsuccessful. Tobias convinced his grandmother to lay down for a nap. Perhaps she would dream of where she’d left it. After she had fallen asleep, Tobias went back to the apartment gazing out the window when he noticed a leaf from the oleander plant had dropped onto the desk. Sticking his finger in the soil, he realized he hadn’t watered the plant in quite some time. The plant absorbed everything Tobias poured into it. He apologized to the plant for neglecting it. When Tobias looked later, the plant was perkier. He was relieved he hadn’t killed it. Grandmother was fine the next day and continued as her old self into another stretch of days.
A work conference called him away. Tobias asked the neighbour to check on Pearl and Whip daily. Returning a week later, he found his grandmother in a state. Tobias calmed her down. After Grandma Pearl went to sleep, Tobias returned to his apartment where Whip was chasing something around the room. Tobias managed to get the dog to drop what was in his mouth, a leaf from the oleander plant. Several leaves from the plant had fallen on his desk and the floor. He had forgotten to ask the neighbour to water the damn plant. He picked up the leaves and threw them away.
Whip was acting strangely Tobias took the dog to the vet who confirmed Whip could have been poisoned by eating a leaf off the plant his grandmother had given him. When Tobias got home from the vet clinic, he picked up the oleander plant and threw it in the trash can. There would be no poisonous plants in his house anymore. After several days in the hot sun, the plant wilted and lost its leaves. His grandmother’s health had taken a turn for the worse.
Tobias wondered if he brought the plant back to life, would his grandmother’s health improve? He had neglected the far plant too long it was beyond restoring. Tobias couldn’t believe that he was considering the connection between the plant and his grandmother to be real. But she was a witch, perhaps she had put her life in his hands when she gave him the plant. Feeling guilty, Tobias walked away from the trash, leaving the plant behind. He decided to let nature take its course. Perhaps, it was Pearl’s time.