Summer House: Ch. 14

porch

Sonya and I sat at the kitchen table with a pot of tea and the ledgers, going over the figures from the first week’s sales, while the rain from a summer storm rolled down the windows.

“I think we’ve covered the expenses,” I said.

“Seriously?”

We added the columns again.

“All except the cost of sugar,” Sonya said.

“Mom!” cried Elise. “My phone’s dead!”

“Maybe it’s the storm?” I suggested.

Sonya pulled out her phone. “Crap. That’s not it.”

She switched it off as Elise stomped in.

“Mom?”

“Can I use your computer?” Sonya asked me.

A few minutes later she was back.

“Well, that’s that. He’s closed our mobile accounts. I can’t afford this right now. Honey, what do you need a phone for? I haven’t noticed you calling kids back home.”

“Duh, Mom. My clients? How do I know if I’m supposed to babysit if they can’t call me?”

“You can use my landline,” I volunteered.

“But you never answer your phone,” Elise said.

It was true. I had an aversion to talking on the phone. Anyone who lived on the island who needed to talk to me could drop by, and anyone on the mainland who needed to get in touch could email.

“But I would answer if I knew you were expecting a call,” I said. “And you could answer, anytime you heard it ring.”

“But what if it was for you?”

“Then you could take a message.”

“And tell them you’ll never call them back, right?”

“Well, yes. That goes without saying.”

“Thank you, Cathy,” said Sonya. “Again.”

We had a deal. One crisis averted.

Later that afternoon, during a break in the rain, Sonya and I put on our boots and slogged down the puddled paths to harvest mesclun greens for the market. Sonya thanked me again.

“Seriously, it’s nothing,” I said. “Might as well get some use out of  the phone.”

“You don’t know what your help means,” Sonya said. “But you might one day. You see, this is significant, what he did.”

I looked at her with my questions in my eyes.

“It means something,” she said. “It means he’s cutting us off financially.”

“Oh, that’s rough.”

“Elise suspected he’d do this all along. I was holding out hope, I guess. But this pretty much spells it out. We’re on our own now.”

She picked up her harvesting basket and headed inside to rinse and package the greens. Some people find relief when they talk, but I’d learned that Sonya didn’t. When she spoke of their troubles, the wounds opened up. Maybe in the long run, that would be the way to healing. But I could see that she felt she had to stay strong for her two kids and for herself. I guessed she feared that once she opened up, it would be a while, maybe a good long while, before she could find her way back to strength.

I finished the harvesting, mulched a few beds to keep the rainwater from evaporating, and joined her in the kitchen. She kept her eyes on the greens she was layering into the plastic bags.

“Bernard asked if he could do some painting, like you offered. You think maybe you could help him find the paints and such? He’s up on the porch.”

I passed Elise sprawled on the couch, Tiger and Crystal lounging on either side of her, an old Jean Arthur movie on the TV.

“Is that Arizona?” I asked.

“Yeah,” replied Elise. “She’s tough. She’s not taking it from anybody.”

Bernard leaned against the railing of the porch looking out over the puddles. He raised his finger to his lips when I approached.

“There’s a nest,” he whispered.

He pointed to the rafters where a pair of mourning doves had built their nest of pine needles and marsh grass.

“I know!” I said. “This is their third batch of the summer!”

His eyes widened. “How come there’s only the mom?” he asked.

“I’m not sure that is the mom,” I said. It looked like the male to me. “They both take turns.”

“Really?”

“Sure enough. They take shifts.”

We sat and leaned against the wall, looking up at the dove, who cocked his head and looked back at us.

“He’s not afraid,” said Bernard.

“Nope. He and his wife know me,” I said. “His wife grew up here, in that very nest, and so did her mom, so they know me from way back.”

We heard the whistle of wings, and the female flew up to the porch, landing on the railing.

“Hello, mama,” I said.

Bernard smiled.

The female tilted her head to see us better, took a few steps along the porch rail, then flew up to the nest. Just as she landed, the male flew out, and we felt the rush of wind from his wings.

“They take turns,” Bernard said. “I wonder maybe. The babies stay there, right? I wonder maybe, could my mom and dad do that?”

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Summer House: Ch. 13

babysit

I keep a fleet of second-hand bikes for the use of the other half of the duplex. Flat with wide country roads and little traffic, the island’s ideal for riding. Half an hour brings you to the other end, where the village sits, housing the ferry terminal, the library, the school, the Farmers’ Market plaza, and the best ice-cream parlor in the county. Two hours takes you around the island’s circumference. Once Elise discovered the bikes, she and Bernard headed off on adventures many an afternoon.

One evening, she and Bernard arrived home from a trip to the library while her mother and I were finishing our test of pie-dough recipes.

“I think number three has the right amount of butter,” I said. “One was too moist, and two was too dry.”

“Three was flaky.”

“Just right.”

“Guess what!” Elise rushed in. “I’ve got a job! It pays ten dollars an HOUR! Ten! Ten hours, that’s one hundred dollars!”

“Excuse me,” said Sonya. “We didn’t talk about this. What’s the job?”

“It’s babysitting. There was a flier. I was looking at it, and I met the couple, and they liked me! They said I could have the job!”

She pulled the flier out of her pocket and spread it out on the table.

“Do you know these people?” Sonya asked me, pointing to the contact name on the flier.

They were neighbors, a summer family. I’d grown up with the man who was now the grandfather of the children needing a babysitter.

“Do they drink?” Sonya asked.

“Not to excess,” I said. “They’re good people. He’s an architect. She’s a doctor. The kids are cute. Very little.”

“They’re two and four,” said Elise. “You know I’m good with little kids.”

“I need to meet the parents,” Sonya said. “I’m glad you’re excited, but before it’s a done-deal, I need to meet them and give my approval.”

Sonya and Elise talked in low voices as they headed towards the kitchen door. “But it’s so much money,” I heard Elise say. “You know we need it.”

The next day, the kids headed off to pick blackberries while Sonya and I made jam. The Cottage Foods application had been processed, reviewed, and approved. The kitchen next door had passed its inspection, and Sonya and I both received our food handlers permits. We were in operation and busily preparing for Thursday’s market.

“I never thought I’d wish a child of mine to be less responsible,” Sonya said, passing me a jar to fill.

“You mean Elise?”

“Yeah. She’s just got it in her mind that she’s got to take on all our troubles. She’s the one who’s gonna rescue us.”

“She’s a good person.”

“She’s fifteen. She should be hording her money for the mall–or for i-tunes or something. Not planning how she’s gonna cover our grocery bills.”

We worked in silence. The windows fogged over with steam. After we’d jarred the batch, we walked out to the back porch with our tea.

“In some cultures, the eldest daughter typically helps out, financially and with domestic labor,” I said. “And think about my grandmother’s generation, too. That was the norm. I think a lot of strengths can be developed, self-esteem, included.”

“I appreciate your putting a positive spin on it,” Sonya said, “but that’s not really the point. The point is she’s got two parents, alive and capable. And we should be providing for her. That was the deal. I can’t help it if one of us reneged, and the other–that would be me–was totally unprepared. This all helps, the jam and all, don’t get me wrong. But the point is…”

She didn’t finish.

We sipped our tea, looking out at the clouds banking over the lighthouse, and I thought of all the ways she might finish her statement. The point was, they were in need. The point was, for whatever reason, the children’s father, Sonya’s husband, wasn’t meeting their financial needs. The point was, he wasn’t there, and for all knew, from all appearances, he wasn’t coming, and he hadn’t been in touch with them. The point was, this mother, these kids, were hurting.

That was, actually, the main point of it all.

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