Glynn A. Germany
green tea with almond biscotti
‘I'm waiting for Daddy to come back,’ the child answered.
Maizie straightened with care, one hand to her back, and put the lace curtain back in place at the window. She frowned and shook her head.
‘Oh my,’ she muttered. ‘What has gotten into that poor girl now?’
Maizie ambled to the kitchen and poured a glass of iced lemonade with a straw. She put it on a polished wooden tray with a white doily then carried it to the porch.
‘Come sit up here in the shade,’ Maizie said as she patted an oversized wicker chair. Luelleen climbed into the chair and kicked her bare feet back and forth.
‘I told you before, it is not ladylike to sit in the sun. You'll get covered in ugly freckles. You don't want that, do you?’
‘I'm not a lady. I'm only six years old.’
‘That's lady enough for me. Here, I brought you some lemonade.’
‘Thank you, Maizie.’
Maizie eased herself into an adjacent chair. The wicker crackled under her and gave off a musty scent of dust, the smell of furniture outside all day. The hot, humid afternoon air brought out the sweet scent of the honeysuckle climbing on the railing. Afternoon thunderclouds were building rapidly, leaden with rain. She was grateful for the cool shade of the wide veranda that wrapped about the house.
Mrs. Chandler emerged at the end of the veranda where hydrangea and azalea nestled in the shade of dogwood trees. A tall erect figure in a pale cream gown with a broad-brimmed sun hat fastened beneath her chin with an emerald ribbon, she walked at a regal pace through the garden, touching a blossom here, a leaf there.
Maizie watched her, then brought her attention back to the child beside her.
‘Now, tell me again what you are doing out here,’ Maize said.
‘I told you. I'm waiting for Daddy to come home.’ Luellen's cheeks puckered as she drew deeply from the straw. She craned her neck to see down the drive that led to the house.
‘Your father's been gone quite a while,’ said Maizie in a gentle voice. ‘What makes you think he is coming back today?’
‘Because I made it all better,’ said Luellen. She rocked back and forth with the straw in her mouth.
‘How did you make it all better?’
‘Well, me and Jim was down at the woodshed this morning--’
‘You went down to that place? After all the times I told you not to?’
Luellen sat with her mouth open, then nodded without making eye contact.
‘That pile of lumber is older than me,’ Maizie said. ‘Ready to fall down on you at any moment. I don't know why Mr. Chandler didn't have it torn down before he... The important thing is it's dangerous. Full of hornets, black widows, cottonmouths, and who knows what else. I don't want you down there. Hear me?’
Luellen nodded. ‘Yes, Maizie. That's what Jim said, too. But I was so bored and it is so quiet around here now.’ She spoke in a plaintive tone. ‘Jim said we shouldn't be there. I said it was okay, but he said it was not okay. He said he was going to tell, so I pushed him down.’
‘Louise Ellen Chandler! You pushed your little brother down? You can't go picking on him just because you are bigger.’
‘But he was going to tell.’ The child's voice took on a whining note.
‘I don't care, Missy. That wasn't ladylike. You want to grow up and be a lady like your mother, don't you?’ Maizie glanced back to the flower garden where Mrs. Chandler held court on a bench under the oak tree that backed the garden.
‘I want you to apologize to your little brother.’
‘Right now? I want to wait here for Daddy.’
Maizie wiped her mouth and sat back in her chair.
‘Well, maybe we can take care of that later,’ she said. ‘I still don't see what you disobeying me has to do with your father.’
Luellen rushed forward, her eyes wide.
‘It was all scary inside, just like you said. Then I found this box, old and falling apart like it was a million years old, filled with the most wonderful stuff. Coats and hats and that thing queens wear...’
‘A crown?’ asked Maizie. Luellen nodded and Maizie gazed across the yard to the horizon. ‘Goodness me, I forget about all that stuff.’ She was silent a moment, then turned back to Luellen.
‘When your mother was not much older than you, we used to play dress up. We had all kinds of getups, wigs, cheap costume jewelry--necklaces, rings, that sort of thing.’
‘That's what I found! A ring!’ Luellen bounced in excitement. ‘It was all dirty and yucky but I was so excited. I ran home and washed it up. I had to use Jim's toothbrush to get all the yuck off--’
‘You did what?’
‘You should have seen it. It is the most beautiful ring in the whole wide world. With all kinds of pretty stuff on it, green and blue and red. So much better than the old plain ring Mommy used to have, and I knew then that everything was going to be okay.’
Maizie wiped at the sweat on her brow and frowned. The air seemed thicker with the approaching rain.
‘Honey, I don't see it. How does an old ring make everything okay?’
‘Do I have to explain everything to you?’ asked Luellen with an exasperated look on her face.
‘Yes, child. Your old Maizie's feeling her age today. I think you better spell it out.’
‘Well,’ said Luellen, as if she were lecturing a slow student. ‘Mommy doesn't wear her ring anymore, right?’
‘You're talking about her wedding ring?’
Luellen nodded. ‘And that's why Daddy had to go away. You can't be married without rings. That's the rules.’ She emphasized her point with a sharp nod of her chin. ‘It's kind of like magic. Two people want to get married, so they get rings and that makes it okay.’ She took a sip of lemonade, then added as an afterthought. ‘And that's where babies come from.’
‘Whoa. Wait a minute. Babies come from rings?’
‘Of course. Don't you know anything? The mommy and the daddy put their rings together and then the baby appears in the mommy's stomach. Like with Jim.’
‘And with you, as I remember.’
‘Me, too?’ Luellen stopped to consider this, then rushed forward with her lecture.
‘Anyway, that's why Daddy had to go away. Don't you see? Mommy lost her ring! That's why Daddy was so mad all the time. He knew he would have to leave and, of course, he didn't want to, so he got mad. But now I've found an even better ring for Mommy, so Daddy can come back and things will be even better than before.’
Luellen took a deep draw of lemonade and craned her neck again to look down the drive.
‘Did you give this ring to your mother?’ Maizie asked.
‘Yep. And I told her how everything was going to be okay now.’
‘And how did she like that?’
‘She didn't say much, but I could tell she was happy because she was almost crying. You know how she gets when she is real happy, like when I drawed that picture for her last Christmas. She told me to run along, so I came out here. I want to be the first to see Daddy come back and tell him how much we all missed him.’
Maizie batted her eyes, then dabbed at them with a tissue she kept tucked in her bodice. She looked at the honeysuckle, listened to the low thrum of hummingbirds working among the blossoms. A breeze, laden with the scent of rain, carried a rumble of thunder.
Then she spoke, picking her words with care.
‘Sweetie, you know I've always been here for you. Whenever you got hurt, I was there to make it better. Wasn't I?’
Luellen broke off her surveillance of the drive and turned to Maizie.
‘Like that time I stepped in that red ant bed and you spit that icky stuff all over my feet?’
‘Girl, a paste of snuff for bee stings and ant bites is a cure older than me. It worked, didn't it?’
‘But it was icky!’
‘Well, that taught you to be more careful where you stood, didn't it?’
‘My point is this,’ Maizie said, then paused. ‘My point is this,’ she repeated in a softer tone. ‘I'm still here. And I will always be here. Anytime anything hurts you, you can come to me.’
‘Like if I step in another anthill?’
‘Yes. Or, maybe, if you want something really badly and you don't get it. That would be bad, too, wouldn't it?’
Luellen shook her head. ‘That won't happen now that I've made everything better. It's like in fairy tales. We're all going to live happily ever after.’
Maizie closed her eyes, and after a few moments, bowed her head. The old woman and the child sat without moving. The heavy afternoon air muffled all sound. Even the hummingbirds fighting dogfights in and out of the honeysuckle, driving each off with angry buzzes, seemed to be at a distance. Suddenly the hummingbirds darted away like a school of fish before a predator. The leaves of the pin oaks in the front yard, awakened by the freshening wind, whispered among themselves. The pine trees murmured in agreement. Out of sight down the drive, a dog barked once. Then all hushed as the wind died away. The world held its breath for three eternities until Luellen slurped the bottom of her glass with her straw.
Maizie opened her eyes and straightened.
‘Would you like some more lemonade?’ she asked.
The child considered the question for a moment, then nodded.
‘Wouldn't you like to come inside, honey? I've got some bread-and-butter pudding about to come out of the oven. Wouldn't you like some of that?’
The child considered this question in turn, then shook her head and craned her neck again.
Maizie sighed and eased out of her chair. She took the empty glass, put it on the tray, and walked to the door. As she turned, she saw Mrs. Chandler on the garden bench under the oak in the garden, crumpled forward, face in hands, with her hat tumbled to the ground. Her disheveled hair blew in the gusts that rushed before the coming storm.
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