Elisabeth lost most of her precious plants in the freeze weeks. She took it stoically enough, though the fact that the windows opening out to the gardens remain shuttered and curtained has given away her real feelings on the tragedy. She rallied enough to suggest a party, the reasoning being that this was the ideal time, what with the advantage of a ruined garden, since children couldn’t trample on her prize bulbs and women couldn’t ask her for a bulb or two. She clung hard to this happy thought for two days. Today, she had me over, and told me to make myself useful with the landscaping.
“But I don’t know the first thing about it!”
I didn’t, not until today. My parents are both territorial when it comes to their gardening/landscaping realms and the only participation my brother or I had was in watering the plants. My grandmother was an autocrat too, in the heyday of her gardening mania.
“You’ll have to learn someday,” Elisabeth said.
“I don’t think I’ll have to learn someday. I am in an industry that has work only in the cities. Cities mean flats, or small houses and plants in pots.”
“You, a city-dweller?” She laughed, and wandered off with her lemonade, leaving me to scowl alone.
So I took my new laptop out with me to do some research, along with fresh lemonade, and made myself obscenely comfortable in the shade of the large maple, the only one remaining on the grounds. Sibelius’s great-grandfather had planted five, one for each of his children. For a moment, I wondered if the maple had been damaged too. It is large and lovely in the autumn.
Somehow, by magic and desperation, I managed to give the woman a plan for her Spring/Summer planting. She nodded, made suggestions, waited patiently until I made changes and then took my large sketch paper with her, muttering to herself about ivy, and looking quite pleased. I hope the tulips, the azaleas and the crocuses and the hyacinths and the orchids all get along. And the oleanders. I hope I get to see them all abloom in the summer. They are beautiful flowers.
I didn’t get to dwell on my thoughts too long. Rachel joined me under the maple, looking bored out of her wits.
“Multiplication tables,” she said, as if that explained all that is wrong in this world.
“I don’t want to memorize them,” she continued, pouting and sulking and scowling.
Ah, that explained it. She had brought a straw along with her. She dipped it in my glass of lemonade and took greedy sips.
“You can’t share this straw. We aren’t special people.”
“Special people drink from the same straw. And eat ice-cream with the same spoon,” she said.
“No, we aren’t. I am a bit too old for you.” Precocious, but wasn’t that Sibelius’s nature too?
“You should go on a vacation,” she said. “You are bored. I’ve got school. I can’t go on vacation.”
I sighed. She was right. My mother had suggested it, Yoda had suggested it, Sibelius had suggested it, and Elisabeth had suggested it. Now I was being ordered to go on a vacation by a precocious child. I probably should.
“You should go before the second week of March,” Elisabeth said then, having wandered back in time to have eavesdropped on this part of the conversation.
“I am having the party the week after that. I need you to run around.”
“I don’t want to help you arrange a party,” I told her, feeling rebellious for all of fifteen seconds, after which I was doomed to compliance by the stern gaze. Somewhere, somebody must have been playing the Imperial March. I wondered what this tendency - this tendency to fall into the company of women whose background music is the Imperial March – said about me.
“I should learn to say no.”
Elisabeth snorted. Her grandchild mimicked the snort. I caved in and started to look up vacation spots on my very portable laptop.