Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes(5)

By: Denise Grover Swank

I sighed, a deep and heavy sigh. If only sighs could carry all my troubles away. But after a big exhale, they were still there, as large as ever. “I know. But not today, okay? Can I just hang out with you and the babies for a while? I can’t go home and deal with her right now.”

Violet reached over and gave my shoulder a big squeeze. “Of course! Ashley will be so happy to see you and you won't believe little Mikey. He’s almost walking.” Violet beamed with pride.

I envied Violet. Always the pretty one, she was blessed with blonde hair and blue eyes while I inherited boring brown hair and murky hazel eyes. Violet had experienced so much more of life even though she was only two years older. She married her high school sweetheart right after graduation and started having babies several years later. She and Mike, her husband, seemed happy. I couldn't help but wonder if that was because Violet had very little to do with Momma.

A little later, four-year-old Ashley woke up from her nap. We played tea party until thirteen-month-old Mikey got up and showed me his tottery walk. I glanced up at the clock and realized it was after five.

“Oh, I have to go,” I said.

“Do you have to, Aunt Rose?” Ashley asked, her big blue eyes begging in an earnest plea. She looked so much like a younger Violet that my breath caught in my throat.

“I’m sorry Ashley, but I do. Grandma needs me.”

Violet made an ugly face, but to her credit, she didn't say a word. I gave her a big hug after I picked up my purse. “Tell Mike I said hey.”

I left her house and cute little neighborhood, working my way past the DMV and to the older part of town where Momma and I lived. Traffic wasn’t bad in our town of eleven thousand, but a little after five o’clock on a Friday and a holiday weekend to boot, I had to stop at the lights longer than usual.

When I pulled onto our street of older bungalows, I knew I was late. The rustle of curtains in the front window as I parked in the gravel driveway confirmed it. Momma had been watching for me.

The over-grown landscape encroached on the broken concrete sidewalk. I had to sidestep the bushes to walk to the side of the house. Daddy had taken great pride in his house and would be upset to see the state of things. He’d always kept the hedges neatly trimmed, the yard meticulously cut, and a multitude of flowers blooming along the edge of the walk. Daddy had loved his flowers. I often wondered if that was how Violet and I had gotten our names. Momma would never say. I did the best I could with the yard, but it was a big lot and Momma refused to hire anyone to help maintain it. I was lucky to get the lawn mowed and tend to my rose garden in the back.

I walked in the side door and set my purse on the kitchen table. The sounds of the television filtered in from the living room. I knew Momma would be watching the national news on the Shreveport channels we used to get with our giant antenna outside. Now the news came through a little black box that sat on top of the TV. Momma resisted the box and pronounced it a government attempt to spy on us, but the alternative meant no television since Momma refused to get cable. Momma declared cable full of pornography, though what I’d seen at Violet and Mike’s house looked perfectly respectable. Even if I could have convinced her otherwise, she would never have stood for paying to watch television.

“Hello, Momma. Did you have a good day?”

I heard her harrumph. “I most certainly did not. Ya left the air conditionin’ on. It cooled off so I had to go through the entire house and open all them winders.”

“I’m sorry, Momma. They said it might rain so I worried you would have to close the windows if I left them open.”

“I ain’t made of money, Rose Anne.”

“Yes, Momma.” I let the detail that I paid the electric bill slide right on by.

I opened the refrigerator and pulled out the meatloaf I’d made in the morning before work. I would’ve asked Momma to put it in the oven so it would be ready when I came home, but she claimed she couldn’t bend over anymore. She was only sixty-two years old, but you couldn’t tell by the way she behaved. Our eighty-two year old neighbor, Mildred, often acted younger than Momma did.

“Why’re you so late?” she called from the other room.