Tended by Laura Seaborn

Screen door slammed, no air conditioning back then. My family set on the porch, drinking glasses of iced tea, sweet like it was supposed to be. Grams rocked and shelled peas.

Marlene crossed the front lawn to lean against the porch railing and dab a handkerchief at her sweaty neck.

“Like some tea?” asked mother.

“Right neighborly of you,” said Marlene. “Your zinnias sure are pretty.”

They are cause I water them every day with the left over dish water. Soap seems to make them grow taller. Mother smiled with her lips closed. She didn’t show that broken front tooth to nobody.

Marlene’s boys, one older, one my age, slid to a stop at our front steps. “Goin’ to the swimmin’ hole.” said Ned, his eyes all shiny.

In unison, my brothers’ and sisters’ heads swung toward mother. She nodded. They stampeded inside to change. At the last slam of the door, I turned to her. My answer was in the tight set of her lips. No, I could not go. I was to be a lady. I could not play with boys no more. Mother said it wasn’t right.

She lifted little Billy into her lap and eyed me. “Fix up a cobbler with the last of the peaches afore they go bad.”

“Yes, mama.”

Gramp spat out his wad of chew. “I hanker to go fishin’. Want to go?” he asked me.

Again, I turned to mother.

Billy poked a finger into her cheek. She folded his arm to his side and gave him a squeeze. “Reckon them peaches will last another day.” She turned a stern eye on gramp. “I expect to be frying up a mess of fish come supper.”

“Thanks.” I leapt to my feet to get the bait and canes from the shed.

Billy raised both arms to me. “Go.” His eyes pleaded.

I tossled his hair. “No. You play with Lucy.”

At hearing her name, the dog thumped her tail. Last summer, she run with us to the crick to worry the rabbits and bark at the squirrels. Her hip seized up this winter and so these days, she lay in the sun and snoozed. When the kids run back out, she raised her head with a low whine.

I wanted to whine, too, but I remembered my manners. “Nice to see you again, Ms. Marlene.”

And so, I escaped for that day. At the crick, I heard the others’ screams and splashes at the swimmin’ hole round the bend. Sweet torture to me. Gramps didn’t talk much, just nodded, chewed, and spat.

Summer lasted forever that year, no hotter or drier than most. Just lonely.

Me, I come to be a lady. And so I tended zinnias and babies, and later, Grams.

I tended.