Terry shoved the mower angrily into the patch of brittle grass, cursing her decision, made the last time she cut the lawn, to leave a few clusters of the bright wildflowers that were so cheerful. Now they were an ugly mass of grey puffballs on stems of iron, causing the motor to diminish its roar almost to extinction each time she passed over them. She was sweating profusely, an unnatural and uncomfortable occurrence; her back hurt, and the bugs were relentless. “Twenty-five years, and I never got a single bit of help from them”, she muttered to herself as she drove the machine over and over the stubborn growth. “And now here I am, doing everything by myself – AGAIN!! – while they are being so harmoniously involved in working together. Together!” – She spit the word out loud, as the mower spat out the chopped bits of grassy spikes.
“The family that toils together coils together.” She twisted the old religious platitude in her mind, amusing herself slightly. They were coiling supportively now, nauseatingly connected in a cause, but she had been the unhappy witness too often to unpleasant tension within the little family. Besides creating an uncomfortable atmosphere for others, the unspoken but visible lack of affection between Sam and Meg was a heartache to her. She wanted her son to be happy, to experience love in a tender, strong and companionable partnership that could withstand differences, and fight the obstacles with humour (not that she had ever had that, having eschewed marriage). Instead, she saw him closed off and closing down more as years went by, and his wife complaining continually about all she did and he didn’t, plus her endless fatigue. They lived in a house in the city that would sell for millions; they had beautiful and bright children; they both worked at interesting and creative jobs, but they never seemed to celebrate that, or to acknowledge and share that joy. Being around them was often not warming; there was no feeling of that idealized love, just tension that made Terry wish she was with her own friends and having a laugh or two.
She yanked the mower around to a new section, bending wearily to pick up the cord and fling it out of the way with energy that came only from anger. How ironic that Sam and Meg were so joined now in this new devotion of remaking as their own, the house that she had built. Right from the ground up, she thought bitterly, from finding the land to researching the kind of structure, to foundation and septic and well building, and bringing electricity into the back forty. And no bloody help from them ever – no visit in twenty-five years except for two birthdays, and later when they wanted summer babysitting for the kids. Her father had helped a bit financially with an occasional item, and her brothers had installed the electric and plumbing. And oh yes, she remembered, as she destroyed another clutch of miniature purple flowers, there were a couple of times when she had invited the whole damn family up to her wilderness, ever-in-progress home. But Sam and Meg didn’t seem to want to spend time there with her.
She had survived the solitude, as well as the groundhogs that ate her car wires, the ice storms, the black flies, a miserable neighbour, now fortunately moved away. She’d kept busy with her small part-time jobs, she’d even had a boyfriend for a while, and he did help her. It was good then, a challenge, and one she could embrace. She had collected old cedar rails from the forest and built some fences, planted wild roses around them, then peonies, poppies and lilac trees on the grounds – all destroyed now by the new mistress. She’d made a milkweed garden for the monarch butterflies, also now destroyed – a rough, natural landscaping to the beautiful cedar logs of the house (they were being painted over, and who does that?) She did it all with pleasure, but basically she’d been alone in the experience, and she’d been struggle-poor, never able to finish the house properly or to furnish it with anything but dump finds, or items her friends gave away. Her home had been artistically rustic-cozy, no showpiece, but a revered and private space linking her to creation. She had memories there that were almost holy. She sold it when she had no income or pensions or savings. She needed the money.
Now, cutting the lawn of the small property she’d invested in with a part of the funds, she felt only fatigue and resentment, and a desire to dump everything, and bulldoze all she owned, like a nearby house that had been razed by fire and then cleared away. She had studied the rain-etched mud and sand in the sunlight where the house had been, the last time she’d been up north. She’d watched the abandoned apple tree in the wind, sole reminder of the now over-grown yard. She’d imagined looking out at the tree from a back bedroom window, that window too now gone. She’d found the barren space comforting, a tiny reminder of the peace she had known on her isolated one hundred acres of nature.
It was all gone now, like so much of her own life. “How the hell did I end up here, feeling like this?” she thought as she rolled the lawn mower into the space beneath the deck, cursing again when she banged her head on a low beam.
As she got into bed that night, too tired to read, she lay in the dark, reviewing the dinner her son and family had brought and shared, and the brief fun they’d had – all her black mood simply evaporating. The evaporation was perhaps helped along by the wine she’d consumed in the time she’d had before they arrived an hour and a half later than planned. But still, she wouldn’t have recognized herself from the earlier witch-of-the-work. “Maybe my whole life has been wrong, wrong for me.” She was falling asleep. “Maybe I shouldn’t be alone so much. I’m too old for this crappy life now, too robbed of good times, not to mention good looks I never knew I had back then. Maybe I should have married someone. Had a companion, maybe I should have one now. That first guy, he was nice.” She started to drift off. “I’m probably just jealous or something.” She heard the song “She’s Come Undone” in her head before she slept, dreaming of toilets clogged and smeared with menstrual blood.
In the morning, she looked out her front window at the lake, beckoning her to her morning run along the cottage-suburbia road. (At least it was plowed in the winter, a welcome relief after her previous impassable farm trail in the bush). She saw the beautiful green expanse of her freshly cut lawn and she smiled with pleasure, rejoicing.
From the “Random Ramblings” Collection, Zoe Chilco