Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Keeping Up

As per my new year's resolution, here's my first fictional post of the year. Enjoy!

For the third year in a row, on the second Saturday in July, Deirdre Wallace was in her front garden, on her hands and knees, tearing out fistfuls of failed calla lilies. They hadn’t bloomed. In fact, the dozen, ginger-like rhizomes she’d bought on eBay had sprouted only a feeble spray of fractured greens before dying. Sure, there were still the peonies, phlox, and a handful of other annuals she’d painstakingly nursed from seeds, but the callas were to be the focal point and their absence stood out like the missing piece in a puzzle.

On the edge of the porch sat Plan B: a trio of gaudy grocery store hydrangeas. The judging for the annual “Communities in Bloom” competition would begin at noon. Grace Henshaw would likely win again, but not without a fight.

Deirdre had just finished composting the failed callas when her son, Marcus, burst out the back door, his older-but-no-longer-big sister, Tracy a stride-length behind. By the sly expression on her face, Deirdre guessed she was in full harassment mode.

“You know, I don’t think she’s seeing anybody,” said Tracy, slinging her purse over one shoulder, “You should ask her out.”

“Shut up, Tracy,” said Marcus. His voice already bore his father’s forbidding tone, yet his cheeks and ears glowed red.

Tracy trailed after Marcus who disappeared into the garage. “No, really. Mr. Henshaw’s been dead for, what, a year now? Go for it.”

Deirdre couldn’t resist. “What’s going on?”

“Marcus was checking out Mrs. Henshaw’s butt.”

“I was not!” Marcus reappeared on his bike, already pedalling away. “I’m going to Dan’s.”

Tracy rolled her eyes. “Mom, he was practically drooling. Can I use the car?”

Deirdre fumbled for her handbag inside the back door and handed over the car keys without so much as a warning. Thoughts of the still-potted hydrangeas were suddenly light-years away. Grace Henshaw had lived across the street since the beginning of time. She shopped at Canadian Tire on Seniors Day. There had to be some mistake.

Deirdre wandered into the living room and looked out her front window. Sure as day, there was Grace, thigh deep in callas, of all things, her remarkably well shaped backside thrust skyward as she weeded. How had she never noticed? It was like a pair of linen covered muskmelons. Deirdre ran a hand over her own rear end. Were those dimples?

As if Grace had received some secret transmission, she straightened up, looked back over one shoulder and waved. Deirdre stopped her impromptu self-inspection to wave back. Something had to be done.

She headed straight to her bottom dresser drawer where she kept her old workout clothes. Slipping off her new chinos with the ‘comfort waistband,’ Deirdre plunged her feet into a pair of faded black nylon jogging shorts. She yanked them waist-ward. They stopped mid-thigh.

Not an issue, she thought, everyone needs a goal.

Back on went the chinos, along with a jog bra, t-shirt and socks. A quick search of the furnace room produced her old running shoes—them and a race entry form from 1983 that she’d never mailed. Deirdre checked the time. It was ten o’clock. The hydrangeas could wait.

She had gone two blocks when an unmistakable voice called her name.


In the reflection off the back window of a parked hatchback, Deirdre saw a woman in a pink rhinestone jogging suit about a block behind. Grace. Deirdre picked up the pace. Once that woman got talking there was no stopping her.

Grace called out again. Since when did that woman exercise more than her jaw?

There was only one reasonable thing to be done: lose her.

To this day Deirdre is a bit sketchy about what happened next. She remembers turning down a side street and that Grace had, too. Her legs had been moving with the grace of two stone pillars and her ribs had felt like they were being pried apart with every breath. But after that, things went black.

When Deirdre came-to she was half way down the heavily wooded path that led into the St. Clair ravine. Kneeling beside her was Grace who had already called for an ambulance on her cell phone. Deirdre insisted that she could walk, that she could make it home. That she had to, the hydrangeas and all. And didn’t Grace need to finish weeding?

“You’re not going anywhere and neither am I.” Grace gave her hand a short squeeze. “Things don’t always go the way we’d like them, do they?”

She let Grace drape her sweat shirt over her shoulders while they waited for the ambulance. The rhinestones twinkled and the dappled light.

Eight hours later the hospital allowed Deirdre to go home. As Tracy steered the car into their driveway, she said, “What I don’t get, Mom, is why you ran down into the ravine.”

Deirdre stared at the potted hydrangeas still sitting on the front stoop. “To hide.”

Tracy guided Deirdre into the house where Marcus propped her newly casted foot up on pillows and brought her a glass of water to take her pain killer. But as Marcus left the room, he stopped to look out the front window. Deirdre raised herself up on one elbow to see what he was looking at.

Grace was back weeding again.

“Is it really that good?” asked Deirdre.

“For the last time, I am not looking at her butt. I just can’t get over how much time she spends out there. It’s like she doesn’t have anything else to do.”

Deirdre had never really thought about it. She supposed Grace had taken a rather unhealthy interest in her garden since Hank had passed.

“You know, Mom, she seems to know how to grow those lily things. You should ask her for some pointers.”

Deirdre sank back into the couch. “You know, I think I will.”

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