Aphids

Joe and Evan watched their mother through the kitchen window.

“Sucks to be us,” Joe said.

“Dude, sucks worse to be them.”

• • • • •

Audrey was in kill mode. She stood in front of her favorite ‘Buff Beauty’ rose, grasping a small towel in her gloved hand. Aphids swarmed over the buds.

“Die, bloodsucking scum, die.” She plunged the rag into a bucket of suds, grasped the fat rosebuds in her left hand and scrubbed each one. She repeated the process all over the bush, letting out a few wincing screams whenever she got hooked on a thorn. Now she picked up the hose with the high-intensity nozzle, blasting the bushes clean. A few buds were decapitated in the process. Next came ‘Anne Boleyn.’

Pam Wells/The Pullets

• • • • •

“She gonna stay out there until Monday?”

“I don’t know, dude. We’re gonna have to warn dad when he gets home.”

“I called him.”

“Good.”

• • • • •

Audrey was getting almost as wet as the roses but she didn’t care. She was working her way around the yard when Carl drove in. His arms were full of stuff—travel mug, wadded-up sweatshirt, a roll of plans—so he just waved to her and headed into the house.

• • • • •

“Thanks for the heads up,” he said inside. “Where is it?”

“Here,” Evan said, and handed his dad a postcard of the British countryside. “It’s a little smeared. I cleaned off the coffee grounds and tuna gunk.”

Laboring somewhat over the handwriting, Carl read aloud: “Went to see family candle—castle. Lard and lady—Lord and Lady Carew, that’s what we are. Took the grand tour. Tell you all about it when we see you on the ninth, love Jeannie and—” He put down the postcard. “What does she mean, ‘when we see you on the ninth.’ Ninth of what? May? Like, Mother’s Day?”

Joe and Evan shrugged.

“Oh, this is bad,” Carl said.

• • • • •

Audrey paused in her aphid-purge to stretch. She folded over and let her arms hang loosely, feet apart. From this position she could see up the driveway as Danni came rolling down.

“Hi,” Audrey said, straightening up. “Evan’s in the house, if you—”

“I didn’t come to see Evan,” Danni said. “I came to see you. How are you doing?”

Audrey found it easy to answer. “I’m blowing off steam, if you really want to know.”

“Looks like you’re blowing off aphids.”

“Yeah. It’s that time of year.”

Danni seemed to understand. She rolled her wheelchair close to Rosa rugosa and studied the brown and green insects latched onto the tender new growth.

“Aphids are born pregnant,” Danni said.

“Aphids are—what?”

“Born pregnant. It’s called parthenogenesis. They’re almost all female, and they give birth to females who already have embryos growing in their bodies. Grandmother, mother, daughter.”

Audrey aimed the spray at ‘Lucia di Lammermoor.’ “You mean I’m erasing three generations of crazy women all in one shot?”

Danni smiled and manned the hose. Audrey seized the towel for the next round.

The guys came out of the house with a plan but decided this was not the time to implement it.

©2010 Pam Wells

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Love Audrey

Audrey took off her bike helmet and sat on the red vinyl bench. The young Chinese hostess disappeared to the back of the restaurant.

Dear Dad,

Things are growing in the yard like you wouldn’t believe. I took a different approach to weed control this year… by eating them. Even if we make dandelion pesto on a regular basis, I don’t think we’ll be able to keep up.

A waiter set down a large tray of Chinese greens and rice on a nearby table.

Guess I’m trying to control a few other things, too. I finally got Carl to go in for his colonoscopy, and we decided to name Joe as Evan’s guardian in our wills. Okay, I decided, and Carl agreed. Was I ever this bossy as a little kid? Don’t answer that. I’m hoping this won’t be a problem with Jeannie. I can’t even remember the last time she saw the boys. She’s probably teaching the Belgians how to make chocolate by now… sorry.

At another table, a big sister was instructing her sibling on the proper use of chopsticks, the two of them merrily dropping rice on the floor.

Pam Wells/The Pullets

Evan still runs nearly every day, though from the looks of his shoes he’s heading into the woods. He likes having Joe around, if only because Joe does so much of the yardwork. They’ve developed this sort of brother-talk. Pretty funny. Actually I think it’s been good for Carl, too. I’m not sure he would’ve driven out to Forest Grove to buy my anniversary painting if Joe hadn’t gone with him. I feel like Joe is reconnecting with the family. With any luck, Todd will come home, too.

The cashier added a handful of fortune cookies to Audrey’s take-out order.

I’m taking the night off cooking tonight. Invited Felder over for Chinese food because he eats alone so much of the time. Guess I should go pick it up. Clouds are breaking up… maybe I’ll ride my bike.

The large white bag strapped to her bike rack, Audrey rode through the post office drive-thru. She made sure the envelope didn’t stick in the slot.

Love,

Audrey

Dancing with the tiller

It was a perfect day to work outside.

Gardening had gotten under Audrey’s skin this year. And when gardening gets under your skin, it gets under your nails and in your shoes and in your nose. The scent of wisteria and warm compost demand company. When the rain retreats and the thermometer advances, there is no keeping the gardener out of the garden, or at least out of the general vicinity.

Photo by Pam Wells ©2010

Audrey labored at her laptop on the patio table.

“What’re you working on?” Joe asked, and sat down with his coffee.

“A garden piece,” she said. “Funnily enough.”

“Funnily, huh? You’re not laughing.”

“Well, who am I to complain? Sunshine, fresh air, everything glooming—”

“Glooming?”

“Blooming, blooming. I’m waiting for words to bloom on the page.”

“Not happening, huh?”

Audrey glowered at her blank document. “So what are you up to? Gonna work on your script?”

“No, I’m tilling.”

“Today?”

“It was either that or move out.”

“Oh, when did you start taking me literally? I meant it’s the perfect time to prepare the soil. Then it needs to rest before you can plant it. Have you taken its temperature?”

“No—what?”

Joe clearly was not engaged in garden logic, but he refilled his mug and followed his mom to the back yard. She had staked out an ambitious garden plot, about twelve by twenty feet. Several bags of manure were piled off to the side. She inserted an instant-read thermometer two inches into the soil. Her expression said she was satisfied with the reading.

“Ninety-eight point six?” Joe asked.

Audrey smirked at him as she grabbed a shovel and dug up a small chunk of earth. She closed her fingers over it, then opened her hand. The moist clod broke apart with an extra squeeze. “Felder says you can destroy the soil structure if you till it too wet,” she said.

“You should make something out of it. A bowl.”

“That’s a big pile of manure.”

“Mom.”

“Steer manure,” she said, nodding toward the bags. “I should’ve bought compost, too. I think we’re supposed to do it all at once. Felder says you shouldn’t till too often or you can pulverize the soil.”

“I never knew there were so many ways to wreck dirt.”

“Yeah…” Audrey’s expression gradually changed from student to skeptic. “It does sound kind of silly,” she said. “You know what? Maybe we should try the tiller and make sure it runs. I don’t think Felder’s used it for a while.”

Joe drained his mug, then told Audrey he needed a quick break. He headed to the house as she inspected the old tiller. This was no motorized trowel; this was a serious garden machine. The four-cycle, eight-horse engine perched up front like Yoda. Handles were offset so the operator didn’t have to walk over the fresh-tilled earth. Audrey checked the gas reservoir: full. No easy-start button here, just the jerky old pull cord.

• • • • •

It was a perfect day to work outside. Joe hummed away at his laptop on the patio table. Out back, a serious gardening machine rumbaed across the new garden, its partner hippity-hopping along behind. Felder coached from the sidelines.

©2010 Pam Wells

Out like a limo

March 31, 2010

Joe leaned up against his headboard. He sipped a beer and typed on his laptop:

Yo Todd,

Great talking to you on dad’s birthday. You’ve really got that military look down. Not sure I could pull it off, not that buzz-do on top o’ yo head. Mom tried to use the old clippers on dad today before they went to a funeral. LOL.

Marble grave markers studded the grassy slope. Audrey held the hood of her raincoat snug around her chin as she and Joe walked slowly uphill. Umbrellas moved in step ahead of them.

Perchance you’re wondering why I came back here. You should’ve seen the look on mom’s face when I rolled in the driveway. It was worth it just for that. I don’t know, bro. I guess I needed a little home time, and my bus is almost DOA. The vehicle situation around here is pretty bad in general. Dad’s truck got keyed a couple of days before I got here, and Evan is making noises about driving. Going to be insane.

A black limousine stopped at the top of the hill next to the mausoleum. The family—surely the family, somber in every detail—got out. One was a teenage boy, about Evan’s age. Audrey and Joe nodded to them as they reached the gathering area.

News flash—Evan has a girlfriend. She’s seriously cute but very short. Kidding—she’s in a wheelchair. She was in some kind of accident when she was little. He’s all nervous about bringing her home to meet the folks, but if he doesn’t do it soon, I’m pretty sure somebody’s going to do it for him. Somebody might have to send them a singing telegram.

The mourners finished the second verse of  “Amazing Grace” using the words in the printed program. As a few of them shared thoughts and memories of Debra, Audrey looked more troubled than sad. She whispered to Joe, “Either I didn’t know her or they didn’t,” and she raised her hand to speak.

I don’t know, dude. It’s good being home, but it’s tense too. They’ve got me cooking and doing a lot of gardening around here, which is cool I guess, but dad’s into blaming me for things like running out of coffee and beer, and I have to pay rent. Like, what? But I’ve got plenty of time to write, and mom is pretty cool about helping me with that—have you read her movie reviews? They’re online, dude. She’s all over dad’s case to get a colonoscopy now, which he should’ve done ten years ago, because this friend of hers just died of colon cancer.

The clouds had broken by the time Audrey and Joe drove away in the truck. They had decided to skip the reception.

Of course he’s all over her case because she hasn’t produced his birthday present. Yesterday he said he thought she was just yanking his chain because all she gave him was a shirt. Now she’s threatening to cancel whatever awesome thing is on backorder, and I’ll bet she hasn’t said two words to him all day.

Audrey and Joe stood in the kitchen, hugging tightly.

I do not want to be here when they get back. See ya, dude. Time’s a-wastin’.

Joe hit ‘Send.’

©2010 Pam Wells

Deadheads

January 22, 2010

A break in the weather sent Audrey outside to deadhead the hydrangeas. In six months they would fill the garden with blue, but now they were papery brown echoes. She was careful to cut each stem down to a pair of fat buds, not into the old wood.

“Don’t be precious,” came a voice. An old man’s voice.

Photo by Pam Wells ©2010

Audrey looked up. She couldn’t see anyone.

“You’ll be there all day,” the voice said.

“What?”

“Or maybe that’s what you want.”

Audrey turned toward the arborvitae hedge between her house and the next door neighbor’s. “Hello?” she said.

A white-haired man walked through a gap in the hedge. One of the shrubs had died last year and Evan had volunteered to remove it with a chain saw, along with a perfectly good one next to it.

“Nice patch of macrophyllas,” he said, and tucked a pair of red-handled pruners into his jacket pocket.

“Thank you,” she said, extending her gloved hand. “Um, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Audrey.”

“Audrey,” he repeated. “No, I travel quite a bit, and—oh—” He fumbled for the phone ringing in his pocket. “Oh, boy, I have to get this, I mean I really have to get this.” Answering, he waved and stepped back through the gap in the hedge.

“Nice to meet you,” Audrey said.

• • • • •

Audrey turned off the blow dryer when Carl came into the bedroom. “I met one of the neighbors,” she said. “The brown house.”

“Yeah?” Carl said, kicking off his shoes.

“His name is Felder. One of his daughters is a pilot.”

“That’s spectacular. You want a beer?” Carl was putting on his sweatpants.

Audrey shook her head. “He offered me some tickets for tonight.”

“Oh, Aud—”

“They’re free. He can’t use them because he has to go to PDX to meet his daughter.”

“The pilot.”

“Yeah, she has a layover for a few hours. You know they fly these pilots halfway across the country just to get to work—”

Carl was halfway across the kitchen just to get his beer when Audrey told him the tickets were for the Winterhawks. He went back upstairs, put on his pants and took his son to the hockey game.

Audrey spent a quiet evening reading up on dormant pruning.

©2010 Pam Wells