Read Wallflowers Online

Authors: Eliza Robertson

Wallflowers

BOOK: Wallflowers
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For Toad, Bear, and Moose

Contents

 

Who Will Water the Wallflowers?

Ship’s Log

My Sister Sang

Worried Woman’s Guide

Nightwalk

Where have you fallen, have you fallen?

Roadnotes

L’Étranger

Electric Lady Rag

We Are As Mayflies

Missing Tiger, Camels Found Alive

Sea Life

Thoughts, Hints, and Anecdotes Concerning Points of Taste and the Art of Making One’s Self Agreeable: A Handbook for Ladies

Good for the Bones

Here Be Dragons

Slimebank Taxonomy

We Walked on Water

 

Acknowledgments

A Note on the Author

Who Will Water the Wallflowers?

 

 

The day before the flood, the girl slices lemons into a wide-mouthed mason jar. She has been reading about storage devices in the sunroom. Jars will replace Tupperware, she reads, for leftovers. They will store tulips, sourdough starter, kombucha. Ms. Feliz must have read the article too, because these vessels fill her larder. Crystal-cut pots of marmalade line the bottom shelf, and above that, quarts of beans and crumpled tongue chipotles. They appear to the girl as display cases. She expects to find a flask of dead bees on the shelf, or water beetles. A Mesozoic crab. The girl’s larder contains no such jars. Her mother buys items in cardboard boxes. Often, the boxes remain in the cupboard long after they have been emptied. Neither she nor her mother like to untuck the seal and flatten the cases into bright cards of recycling. Their hands navigate around them instead. They rattle each box of Kraft Dinner or Hamburger Helper before they lift it from the shelf.

Ms. Feliz left last week for her time-share in Palm Springs. She is paying the girl ten dollars a day to pet her cat, Cha-Cha, and water the lemon tree. She has left a pint of unpeeled eggs in the fridge. When Ms. Feliz baby-sat the girl ten years ago, she prepared eggs at every meal: a soft egg with toast soldiers for breakfast; hard-boiled with cantaloupe for lunch. At dinner, she carved the eggs into triangles and tossed them with potatoes.

Boiled eggs for you
, Ms. Feliz wrote on the checklist she stuck to the fridge.
Feed the spares to the raccoons.

The week the girl cat-sits for Ms. Feliz, the rain starts. Fat toads fall from the sky and fill the hanging geranium pots. The soil cannot contain it; water courses over the thin terracotta bowls like open mouths. In the kitchen, she listens to the rain stamp on the roof while she carves lemons. Ms. Feliz grows the lemon tree in an earthenware pot on the counter. Thirteen fruit nipple from the leaves and bend the branches into the sink. The acid bites her fingertips as she works, revealing all her nicks and holes—a paper-cut on her thumb, a torn nail bed. After she quarters two lemons, she washes her hands and pours cold water into the jar.

Across the street, Mr. Bradley pulls his Mazda into his driveway and emerges from the driver’s seat. A folded umbrella swings on his wrist. She often passes her neighbour on the walk home from school. She knows his stance from the bottom of the road—stiffly stacked, like a candlestick. He wears a suit jacket while he tosses a stick for his dog. Despite the office clothes, she wonders if he works from home. He is always there. She steps outside to help her mother with the groceries, or call Ms. Feliz’s cat, and he appears on cue, in ironed slacks and flip-flops to collect the mail. His wife is a thin woman who wears needle-heeled shoes and cranberry jumpsuits. She works in town, the girl thinks. Her heels click down the driveway every morning.

The girl winds the metal ring over her lemon water. She leaves the jar in the fridge and removes a tin of Cha-Cha’s cat food. He hasn’t come inside yet, which is unusual during such rain. He is a delicate breed—a Turkish angora. This rain could wash him away. She spoons the pâté into his dish, then opens the front door. The rain chutes off the porch eaves. Even the roof troughs overflow.

“Cha-Cha!” she calls.

Across the street, Mr. Bradley reopens his car door, then shuts it again. Rain fills his collar. His hair drips down the thin line of his suit.

“Oh, hi,” he shouts from his driveway. “Didn’t see you there.”

“Hey Mr. Bradley.”

“Ms. Feliz working you to the bone again?”

“Just feeding her cat.”

“How’s school?”

“It’s fine.”

“Learn something?”

She never knows what to say to that. He asks her every day. To avoid replying, she crouches to the porch step and scans the cedar shrubs.

“Cha-Cha!” she calls again.

When she stands, Mr. Bradley hasn’t moved.

“Today we watched a movie on geysers,” she offers.

He smiles through the rain. The water spiders his eyebrows.

“I know a joke about geysers,” he says.

Cha-Cha appears from the shadows and tears between her heels.

“It probably wouldn’t be appropriate.”

The wet shag of Cha-Cha’s tail rounds the hallway corner. She turns after him.

“Got to go, Mr. Bradley. Good night.”

 

The designers built every home in Copper Waters off the same floor plan. Two bedrooms, one bath. A row of cedar shrubs separates each driveway, and behind the shrubs, one square cartwheel of grass. To identify her house without door numbers, she must count the lots from the entrance. Or recognize the parked cars. Or estimate her
x
and
y
coordinates on the Apple Crescent parabola. All the streets in the subdivision are named after fruit trees. Once, she conducted a study on suburban nomenclature for her Career and Personal Planning class. She researched the names of behavioural health facilities, rehabilitation centres, and ready-home subdivisions. Sandy Gallop, Lavender Hill, Arbutus Grove. The titles were indistinguishable.

Both her mother and Ms. Feliz left their rooms as sold. The decorator painted them a starchy colour, like blended potatoes. Only the bathrooms were spared, and these became her favourite spaces. An artist stencilled plants on the walls with such care the girl can identify them in her
Farmer’s Almanac
. Irises spring behind the taps, and fists of hyacinth. Wisteria fills the tub. A spray of lilac peels off the wall and nods into the toilet.

The girl enters the bathroom after she finds Cha-Cha. Tonight more than ever, she feels the heat of the photosynthesis, the roots on the wall silently sucking. She fetches the comb from the soap dish and joins the cat in the living room. On a hand towel behind the door, a peony spreads its petals and belches.

The fur of a Turkish angora resembles feathers, each hair free to lift from the rest, sensitive to breeze, gathered in a pearly crest around the sternum. Sometimes she expects Cha-Cha’s tail to winnow behind him like a peacock’s. In rain, however, he loses all majesty. The plumes hang off his bones in wet clumps and cowlicks. She picks through it with a comb. She often spends the night when she cat-sits—her mother does not mind. She likes to watch TV programs in the evening, like
Wife Swap
, or televised ballroom dance competitions on PBS. In the day, her mother collects basalt stones. She stalks the river and lifts stones from the stream bed to sell to local spas.

Outside, the rain still falls, and inside, the burnt-cream walls surround the girl like a milk carton. Cha-Cha fans across her lap, his throat on her wrist until he stretches and pins her jeans to her kneecap. She rakes the comb down his spine. His hair dries and lifts. A car passes and parts the water on the pavement with its tires.

Then she hears footfalls. Shoes on the flagstones, the porch. A key in the door, though Ms. Feliz won’t return for another week. Whoever’s out there has not tried the right key. The teeth grind in the cylinder as the person tugs the key free. They try another. The brass rattles against the doorplate. The person swears. They try a third key.

The girl sits very still. She wills the cat to stay with her, but Cha-Cha mews and leaps to the carpet. The girl scans the room for weapons of self-defence. She finds few. She arms herself with a decorative copper bowl.

“Hey, let me in,” shouts the man on the porch. His shoes sound light. If she is not mistaken, he’s wearing leather soles.

“Hey, Miranda.”

The man thumps the panel of glass that frames the door.

“Miranda, I’m locked out.”

The girl does not know a Miranda. She rises to her feet and squints through the peephole. The intruder leans with his arm against the glass, a shamrock hat on his head. He looks like he is trying to push the house over.

“Miranda!” he calls again, and aims his gaze straight at her. She recognizes him then. Goosebumps flower over her back. She clears her throat.

“This isn’t your house, Mr. Bradley.”

She unlatches the door and opens it. The rain has soaked his hat. A vein of water rolls down his neck from the brim.

“Miranda?”

He steps onto the welcome mat and braces his hand on the door frame.

“You’re drunk,” she says.

This hasn’t happened since New Year’s, when Colin and Leslie Hall stumbled home to the Singhs’ and tried to make an omelette.

“I’ll get my umbrella, Mr. Bradley.”

The thick tabs of his eyelids sink and flash open. He regards her with suspicion, as if she might be a dream, or a house gnome. He wrings his hat between his fists. Water spills down his thigh. She steps into her rubber boots.

“It’s you,” he says.

She pinches his coat sleeve and leads him down the flagstones.

“What’s the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish funeral?”

“I don’t know.”

“There’s one less drunk.”

She looks both ways and guides him across the street.

“Oh, here’s one,” he says. “Say ‘Irish wristwatch’ five times fast.”

“Try your key here, Mr. Bradley.”

He doesn’t move. She steers his hand toward his pocket.

“Say it,” he says.

“Irish wristwatch.”

BOOK: Wallflowers
2.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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