The petunias were stored in the back hallway. Last year, at this time, they hung beautifully in an odd row of three at the front of the wrap-around porch. Nancy hadn’t bothered to buy the other five baskets for the west side of the porch.
Mother Nature paid no attention to the calendar. She confused and swirled the Wisconsin seasons together. The sun seldom made its appearance between the endless, overcast days. Nancy sat in her dim sunroom — her feet propped on an ivory ottoman with a shag blanket tugged to her armpits.
Nancy read. She distracted herself with pop psychology in attempt to drive her blues away. Blues is such a disrespectful euphemism for the depression, which came each winter uninvited. This noun identifying a disease was misunderstood as a characterization of a feeling, a controllable emotion.
In truth it was an intermittent interruption of a productive life. It interfered with the most basic tasks — showering and eating. And, certainly, it killed manicures & haircuts, shopping & socializing, and work & school for the young.
Blah was the rain for which Nancy had no umbrella, no shield or armor. Comfortable misery enveloped her as did the sweaters, thick and soft. She longed to bounce into well-being, snap out of it as the cliché goes.
A passage she read said to do something, anything, just move, find any activity to take your mind off your feelings. Nancy thought about those empty hooks around the white house. She thought about the baskets of petunias that she could not hang. She thought about the rope in the garage. An idea came to mind.
Nancy went outside without a coat, but she kept that blanket for a shawl. She grabbed the rope from the garage and walked to the back of the house. She could see the koi pond in the northeast corner of the city lot. She was enclosed in the privacy of the cedar perimeter. Nancy dragged a heavy, iron chair away from its table and pair. Looking up, Nancy saw the hooks secure enough to hold a two-pound basket. What about a two hundred pound blob of a woman wearing sweatpants and slippers? She looked like the grandmother she wasn’t; her children — one gay and the other selfish — had grown to move away and find happiness without kids. She had no family nearby, no child’s colorings on her fridge. Her green, lush gardens were the only life she tended.
Nancy heard footsteps on the porch, delicate footsteps.
“Hello? Nancy? Hello? Are you here?” a sweet voice called from the front of the house.
Nancy recognized her neighbor Grace who considered herself a social butterfly, but Nancy considered her more of a busy body bee buzzing around without invitation.
“Yes, I’m in the back,” Nancy called and kicked the rope to the side of the house.
“Oh, thank goodness you’re home! I wanted to bring you these marigolds for Rodger. I remember they were his favorite and I couldn’t help but notice your window boxes have been empty the past two summers,” Grace gushed.
Nancy hadn’t had the heart to fill those boxes. She a tended the grounds, her hostas, hydrangeas, lilacs, bleeding hearts, corn flowers, daisies, and ferns; her garden beds were the envy of the neighborhood. The annuals were Rodgers job.
“Why thank you. How thoughtful of you,” Nancy said.
The curt nature of her response was meant to thwart any attempt Grace would make to worm her way into a glass of tea or conversation of phony pleasantries.
“Well, I just wanted to drop off the flowers. I was at the garden shop and thought of you, well Rodger, when I noticed the bright orange blooms and sturdy stems,” Grace said. “I think you could plant now and they will survive this lingering winter. It is mid-May after all.”
“Yes this winter is a bugger,” Nancy agreed. “I’ll bring these in the garage and watch the weather report to make sure we don’t have a repeat of last night’s frost.”
“Okay. Well, I’ll be going. Spring should stick around now. They lady at the garden center said seventies by the weekend,” Grace said.
Nancy smiled, really smiled, and allowed hope to plant inside her.
She wasn’t planning to fill those window boxes. No, they would remain empty. What she did plan to do was bring the marigolds where they belonged: to Rodger. She’d plant them in the half moon plot in front of his headstone. Nancy pictured herself visiting those annuals throughout the summer to deadhead the dying making way for new blooms.