Lollipop Garden

December 1, 2011
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Anita’s hands shook as she pushed her dark brown tendrils of hair behind her ears. She rubbed the cuff of her sweater against her nose to staunch the flow of mucus. A glimmer of sunshine brushed the bathroom sink. The light reflected, striking Anita’s diamond ring; jubilant flaming ghosts drifted along the ceiling. Anita searched the mirror, seeking the gentility and grace of her youth. Instead, she saw skin marred with worry and lips chapped with remnants of bitter words.
“Toothpaste,” she murmured, two more tears trickling from her eyes, “a melt-down over toothpaste.”
Anita looked at her engagement ring and wedding band. She hadn’t minded Robert’s disorder then. She had been amused that he had measured each small in-laid diamond himself to ensure they were equally proportioned. She had thought it sweet, even: a symbol that he cared deeply about both the ring on her finger and, more importantly, about her.
But now, each misplaced utensil needed to be readjusted before they could dine, the water in every glass had to be even, each vase had to have the same number of flowers, and the damn toothpaste had to be squeezed from the end of the tube and rolled over just so. Anita was no longer amused.
Touching her cheek with her fingertips, Anita shooed the tears from her face. It was Saturday, she remembered, and Saturday was pruning day. Robert maintained a modest garden with specified rows of tulips, roses, hydrangea, snap dragons, and numerous other flowers. Anita and Robert took turns pruning the garden. When Robert worked weekends, it was Anita’s turn. As long as no dead leaves or buds remained, Anita could prune however she liked. For that reason, Anita had come to enjoy the arduous task.
Anita washed her hands with warm water and dried them. She opened the door with the towel still wrapped around her fingers. Then she hung the towel on the rack beside the sink. She paused halfway out the door.
“Every movement…” she whispered. “You’ve ruined me… Oh, God, what have I married?” Anita choked on the words, another sob rising in her throat. She swallowed the impulse to cry, refocusing herself. “Pruning. I’ll get the shears.”
As Anita slid on her gardening gloves, she opened the door to the back porch. Her worn sneakers were there, dirt clods from last time clinging to the sides. She considered them, knowing they would cramp her toes and make her feet sweat, knowing that Robert would be even more incensed if she dirtied the feet that slept in his bed. Robert’s words echoed in her head: Can’t you do anything the right way? You are slovenly and disrespectful.
“Slovenly, am I?” Anita laughed to herself. “You don’t know the half of it.”
And she strolled by the sneakers with her head held high. She wiggled her toes deep into the musty dirt, savoring the coolness of the soil. A worm wriggled beneath her big toe and she startled, giggling at her foolishness. A wicked thought crossed Anita’s mind: stripping, right there in the backyard, tossing her clothes to the breeze and rolling in the cool earth. Anita threw the gloves into the grass first. She reached to remove her shirt, her body pulsing with excitement at her own daring. The back door clanged open and shut, the metal screen reverberating as it smacked the wooden frame.
“Mommy, you dropped your gloves,” Abigail said.
Abigail stood on the back deck, a pink pail dangling from her clenched fists. She wore a red dress with white polka dots and vibrant red sandals. Anita smiled. The sunlight caught Abigail’s hair in such a way, her auburn curls looked golden ruby.
“Thank you, sweetheart.” Anita stooped to pick up her gloves, blushing. She turned her back on her daughter to hide her embarrassment. Anita berated herself mentally for her lapse in judgment. How could she be so cruel to her husband? She should be sensitive to his disorder. Even worse, she was being disrespectful. Anita roughed her feet through the grass, causing most of the dirt to fall away from her soles and heels. She walked to the garden hose to rinse her feet.
“Socks and sneakers… yes,” Anita muttered, “And a grilled cheese for Abigail’s lunch, as long as I’m inside.”
Abigail trotted merrily down the steps, passing her mother with a toothy smile. The contents of her pail clattered with each step. Without pause, Abigail jostled to the plot of grass she had measured with a measuring stick the day before. It was a two by three foot section of yard where the grass grew lush and even. She had marked her plot with four square stones, as equal in shape as she could manage to find, and each the same shade of downy gray. From her pail, Abigail drew six jumbo-swirl lollipops. The Easter bunny had placed them beautifully in her basket full of emerald cellophane grass, set in a halo around an extra-large panoramic sugar egg.
Abigail nestled each lollipop in the lawn, humming a tune as she went. Using the stick of each lollipop to dig the holes, she planted them, one by one. She used her shoes to measure the distance between each. Though her measurements weren’t exact, she was visually satisfied.
“My lollipop garden, where the rainbow lollies grow, my lollipop garden where it will never snow. I sit here and stare, and the lollies stand there, and my lollipop garden is where rainbow lollies grow,” Abigail sang, perching on her heels, as young children do. The tune was high-pitched, no specific path to the wavering notes. The screen door banged open once more. “Mommy! Mommy! Look what I made!”
Anita walked out the door, a sandwich and a glass of juice in either hand. “What is it, love? What did you make?”
“It’s my lollipop garden, Mommy!” Abigail squealed and ran to her mother.
“It’s wonderful, sweetheart. Wash your hands and eat some lunch.” Anita smiled, admiring her daughter’s creativity. “You live a happy life,” she said to herself quietly, “Abigail is your joy. Devote yourself to her.” A smile hinting on her lips, Anita slid on her gardening gloves once more.
The rainbow lollipops gleamed.

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