|Chagrin River Review||
They found her in the greenhouse, purple pleated pants hiked up to reveal nude stockings, white blouse buttoned to her neck, blood at the corner of her mouth and in her soft gray hair from where she had hit her head on the way down, tacky and brown. The radio was still on. A deep-voiced woman was reviewing the weather for the day. “Sunny skies, temperatures in the mid-80s, falling to a low of 66 at night. We have a remarkably cloudless, windless week ahead of us, folks,” she was saying.
They stood uncomfortably in the hot, small space, taking in the scene: the cracked earthenware pot, the spilled soil, the bare roots of an orchid, blossom dirty and ripped. The heat was suffocating and the body beginning to smell. Her scent mingled with the air, tinging the floral perfume with something dark and heavy. They looked briefly at each other, and then crossed the lawn and re-entered the house, leaving her there, alone in the damp of the glass tomb.
They used her phone to call the funeral home, and while they waited for the mortician, they made themselves tea in her small kitchen. They sat around the formica table, absently stirring in heaps of sugar, tapping the spoons against the chipped gold rims of the cups. Liza said something about it being weird to drink hot tea on such a warm day. Janice commented on the yellow wallpaper, how strange the pattern was. It showed a fox hunt, the men and women in red riding jackets, chasing a fox that was half the size of the horses.
“Grandpa must have picked it,” Dan said. They sipped their tea. They thought of her in there, tending her plants, watering them, gently detaching brown leaves, listening to talk radio, breathing in deep the rich, green smell. They did not look at each other, but down at their tea cups, out the window, at the walls.
“Honestly, it was a pretty good way to go,” Eddie said. They nodded. They thought of the moment, when her body had seized up, maybe her heart had given out, or maybe she had simply grown heavy, or perhaps light, and sunk into darkness, fragile bones folding as her muscles released and she fell to the ground to Morning Edition's exuberant introductory notes.
They had come over because it was Sunday, and after church they always stopped by her house for tea and pie. The pie sat on the counter where it had been left to defrost. It was a Sara Lee key lime, unnaturally green, sagging in its tin.
Dan found he was thinking of the pretty neighbor who lived next door. She had sleek brown hair and a pool in the shape of a lima bean, a blue gem sunk into the concrete. He had seen her from an upstairs window as she lay suspended on a pink float, bronze limbs dragging languidly in the water, sweat beading on her skin. He wondered if he would get to see her again. Liza was thinking about the movie she had been planning to see with her friends that evening, and if she would still be allowed to go. Eddie was worrying about the ten dollars he had stolen from Liza. Janice was thinking about her new boyfriend, a soccer player named Eliot, and sex. The more she thought about it, the more wrong it felt, and the more she could not stop thinking about it. The mother, Anne, was still thinking about her mother in the greenhouse. She was not crying, but she felt a tightness in her chest. She did not want to know how long her mother had been lying there. She got up and went to the refrigerator. She pulled out butter, eggs, mushrooms, spinach, garlic, and onions. She started chopping. The knife was dull. Her mother's knives were always dull, her cutting boards too small. She threw a pat of butter into the frying pan, watched it melt, tossed in the onions and garlic, let them soften. The mushrooms, then the spinach for a minute, and finally the eggs. She pushed them back and forth, glistening folds of yellow. The kitchen was filled with the smell of butter and garlic, the fast, loud sizzling, the scrape of the spatula in the pan.
When it was finished, she turned off the stove and sat down, leaving the steaming eggs in the pan. Her children looked at her for a long minute as she looked out the window. The sounds that had filled the kitchen were gone, and the house felt somehow quieter than before. One by one, her children got up and took plates from the cupboard, served themselves from the pan, seasoned with salt and pepper, and sat back down at the table to eat. They ate in silence, save for the clink of forks on plates.
When they were finished, Dan did the dishes. They all speculated briefly if the spinach had been grown in the greenhouse, leaves pinched by the grandmother's hands. Janice looked down at her own hands, folded tightly in her lap. They looked fat and suffocated, squeezed together like that. From her right she could hear the faint tapping of Liza texting under the table. To Liza's right, Eddie was looking out the window at the greenhouse sitting squatly in the backyard. Its windows were fogged. The sun fell with the afternoon, and the greenhouse looked like a bottle battered by the sea. Eddie looked across the table at his mother, and noted how her eyelashes had clumped with mascara.
The mother looked at the wallpaper. She was fairly certain her father had not picked it. Maybe it had been the odd couple her parents had bought the house from. She remembered them only vaguely, a husband and wife in their early forties with nervous eyes and no children. She wondered where they had gone. She thought of all the meals that had been prepared in this kitchen, the arguments and quiet moments, how tight and supple her parents' skin when they first cooked here, the faint splatter of red beside the fridge from a pot of spaghetti sauce she had dropped at age eleven, the way her first boyfriend had placed his sweating hand above her head on one of the many wallpaper foxes as he leaned in to kiss her, the dent from her father's foot colliding with the wall, the passing of countless days and nights, sun and moon bleeding through the window, her mother standing in the kitchen, white blouse and yellow wallpaper, unwrapping the pale green Sara Lee and placing it on the counter, the lifeless form in the moist air of the greenhouse, red coats perched on velvet flanks, a ceaseless canter across dewy grass and downy forest, hounds like waves in the rolling canon of a chase, and the fox, plush and small on padded feet, a darting orange arrow careening through trees and brush, a fleeting and eternal thing in the waning evening light.
Jill Winsby-Fein grew up in Milford, Delaware. She graduated from Warren Wilson College in 2013, where she studied creative writing and anthropology. She currently works as a dishwasher in Asheville, NC.