She stood in her flower garden and assessed the extensive job before her. Sweat rolled down her back and between her breasts. Her hair stuck to her head beneath her ballcap. Weeding, forever it seemed, and still she had a day’s work ahead of her. She’d let this job go for too long. Her hands hurt and even the gloves she wore didn’t stop soft blisters from forming.
“Celia, bring your mother some lemonade.”
“Celia, I need my medicine.”
Her mother’s constant requests and reminders echoed thru her mind. Three years she’d been at it, playing off-and-on assistant at first and as decline set in she served as part-time caretaker, along with a hired nurse until the money ran out. After that, she became the full-time, around-the-clock caretaker.
She stopped her work every few minutes to listen…Was that her mother calling or some trailing cry on the wind? She held her breath, one of only a hundred times she would in a day or a night, making sure she wasn’t being summoned. She waited…nothing…and she could breathe again.
A hospital bed was brought in and set up in the living room a month ago. ‘Any day now,” the people told her the first week. ‘Sometimes they linger when they still have things to say,’ in the second week. ‘She’s tougher than we thought,’ in the third week. ‘Call should something change,’ last Friday. And like that, the good death watchers left her alone, again.
She pulled at stubborn weeds, crowding out and growing taller than her turf lilies and columbines. She wondered if she should till the whole bed up and start over. It wouldn’t have gotten so bad if it weren’t for…As quickly as the thought came to her mind she pushed it away. Of course taking care of her mother was more important than flowerbeds or a man or a job or…she stopped and looked up.
The hoe leaning beside the front steps called to her to take a whack at a few of the more persistent grasses around the chrysanthemums.
Again, she paused, ever on guard…she heard only the call of some wild bird though, free to come and go at will. Somewhere in the distance was a dual between two roosters, crowing, it seemed, to disturb the silence.
The hoe offered better success and she was actually happy with her progress when she heard the cry, like pain caught in the throat unable to escape the body. Celia’s eyes widened as she saw the wriggling foot and the blood spurt. She dropped to her knees to see an open gash on the belly of a large toad that had been hiding beneath one of the weeds she’d been trying to uproot. Soft cries of agony escaped the suffering creature.
“Celia, Celia…I need my medicine.”
“Celia…where are you?”
Her mother needed her again. The toad struggled in the dirt. She had to help him.
“Celia?” She had to help her, too.
The weeds spread before her like a carpet being unrolled. Heat rose up her neck and face…she’d never finish this work.
Her body shuddered at the suffering before her. She knew she’d have to strike the toad to end his misery, one big blow to cut his head clean from his body.
“Celia?” Again, her mother cried out for her.
Coughing, rattling sounds, a gurgling noise. She gripped the hoe in her hands. Deep breath, no hesitation and there it was…silence, the agony over. It was easier than she thought, so she stepped off the porch and back to the spot where the little toad took labored breaths. With the hand of a newly-skilled expert, she made one simple swing of the blade and the toad, too, fell silent.