Short Story: The House on Sutherland Lane (Part 2)

If you missed part one, catch it here. Otherwise, here you go:

“Leave that poor woman alone.”

“As president of the HOA, it is my job to care about our neighbors.” “That’s just your excuse to be nosey.”

“Bite your tongue. I just want to help.”

Emily made a rather large and embarrassing scene last year when Tristan left her for the local school teacher, who was twenty-two. She threw his stuff everywhere, screaming and cursing left and right. She kept saying something about how she never should have come here and how she hated him and wished she never left California and how she would never make this mistake again. They were only married for six years. Eric and I have been married for twenty- three, and sometimes I wish he’d leave me for another woman.

Eric doesn’t say anything else, and I don’t wait for him to speak. I already have my coat and gloves on. I open the door and step into the sharp air. It’s getting so cold, breathing hurts. I wrap my scarf around my nose to warm the air.  I clutch my arms to my chest, trying to keep out the cold. As the light fades and the street lights turn on, each passing minute seems to drive the temperature further south. I reach the curb before Emily’s house and stop a few feet before her garden.

I watch her focused eyes and steady arm move quickly between weed and plant. I watch the way she deftly clips, pulls, and hacks at the garden’s plants. The result is stunning. The garden starts at the curb and goes back six feet into the yard. Every few feet, a new plant erupts from ground. A stone path separates the two sections evenly and leads to the house. The front row of flowers is a maze of marigolds and the next row is full of small pink and red roses.  White lilies line the stone path and end a few feet before the house.

“Your garden is beautiful,” I finally say.

She jumps with a start. Her eyes meet mine and narrow. Her lips form a flat line. She looks back at the ground, and her arm whacks the weeds harder.  I wonder if it’s me she imagines in the dirt.

“Thank you,” she says, so quiet I almost miss it.

“You’re welcome. How do you keep them in bloom so long?”

“Meticulous pruning,” she says, and her eyes flick up. She snips the head off of a small rose bud.

“Oh,” I say. A cold breeze slithers up my coat. I move my back foot closer to the house and wrap myself tighter in my coat. “It’s so cold outside. Aren’t you freezing?”

“No.”

She wears a long sleeve shirt covered in mud and small moth holes. Her pants are worn and muddy, as well. Her skin is red and small patches look nearly frost bitten. “You look it,” I say.

“I’m not.”

“You know, Mrs. Robins down the street uses these plastic bags to keep her flowers from dying in the cold. You put this bag thingy over the flowers. It works like a miniature,” I pause. “You know I can never quite remember the name,” I laugh, but it sounds forced. I hope Emily doesn’t notice.

“Greenhouse,” she says.

“Oh, yeah! That’s the one. Well, anyway, I’m sure if you talk to her, she’ll show you how to keep those beautiful plants alive all winter long.”

“I won’t be here much longer.”

“Oh? What do you mean?” I try to stifle the excitement in my voice, but it’s hard.

“I mean, I won’t be here during the winter. I’m going back to California. I couldn’t care less to live through another winter here.”

I don’t say anything, but the knot in my stomach loosens slightly. I repress a sigh of relief.

“I’m just getting the yard ready to sell,” she says.

I look at the garden, but my eyes wander to the house behind it. The brown paint is peeling slightly. The panel walls are loose in areas and completely missing in others. Not to mention, there are several small holes in the roof. “What about the rest of it?”

She glares at me, and my face turns pink and hot.

“I don’t have time to fix the rest of it. I don’t care about it much either. We bought it as a fixer upper, so I don’t mind selling it that way.” She doesn’t say her husband’s name, but we both know that’s who she means when she says “we.”

“Oh,” is all I can say. I wait a few more seconds, but she stops looking at me and resumes the work on her garden. “I’m sorry to see you go. I know we’ll all miss—“