This piece was submitted to the monthly Blog Battle challenge, with the word prompt of ‘flute’.
They sat, in their re-purposed dust-sheet-covered armchairs, on the back verandah, as dusk descended on ‘The Farm’. The name came from his Asian colleagues, curious about his regular Facebook posts from his veggie patch. When he told them he had a modest half acre, they told him that made him a farmer.
Of course he and his wife could never afford a real farm but it amused them to think of the backyard patch they had labored long and hard to rescue from suburban desertification as ‘The Farm’. As a joke, he’d often tell people it was named after the CIA training headquarters in the US. Given his regular world travels and the fact that he worked for a mysterious American organisation (meaning they’d never heard of it), some of the laughs from his guests were nervous.
“When did you first decide that you loved me?”, he said. He was prone to verbalising seemingly random thoughts while gazing into the middle distance.
She paused in her thoughts about how those flowers she’d loved in the nursery had now become invasive weeds and how she should have nuked them, rather than having to keep pulling them out. He’d learned to wait for her answers when it involved something more complex than “Have you seen the good secateurs?”
Eventually she said “When you told me how much you regretted buying the giraffe.”
Well, he hadn’t actually bought it, he’d adopted it, through one of those wildlife funds but he chose not to quibble.
Not long after they first met, he told her that one Christmas, in a fit of idealism and youthful sanctimony, he’d decided to buy all of his family a sponsored animal in Africa. You know the sort of thing. A card reading ‘Congratulations, you just bought two goats for an impoverished family in Kenya.’
His father just grunted, half-cut and miserable as usual by lunch-time on Christmas Day and working up to his inevitable melt-down during the meal, either over some imagined slight or being ignored in his attempts to hold court. He and his brother used to take bets on the exact time it would happen.
Everyone else seemed pleased with their non-gift (or at least said they were), but his mother could not conceal her disappointment in having adopted a giraffe. Written on her face was a look of betrayal and a certainty that her thoughtless son had found yet another way to sink a knife into something else she held dear, this time the annual present-giving ritual.
She would not be consoled and she had never forgiven him for what she perceived as a cruel and mocking act. Every year thereafter, when he handed her his Christmas gift, that look would return to her face and she would look at the gift as if it were a live hand grenade and say “Thank you, I’ll open it later. I must see to lunch.”
As the years rolled by, his litany of sins against his mother steadily grew. One day she intimated that she had comforted a couple at her church by telling them that God wouldn’t have given them their newborn Down Syndrome child unless he knew they would cope. He’d enquired whether God had somehow been distracted when children with disabilities were born to people who couldn’t cope. His clumsy attempt at irony was greeted like a slap in the face.
The final straw was when his sister came home after being belted by her husband and his mother told her she’d made her bed and now she was just going to have to lie in it. His father leaned in conspiratorially to his sons and mumbled “Sometimes a woman needs a good back-hander to keep her in line, ay, boys?” He and his brother shared that look between them for the umpteenth time that they must be adopted because they didn’t want to be descended from such stock.
The grog and the smokes got his father before he could become even more vicious in his dotage and his mother now wandered a nursing home in a nappy, dementedly unaware of her family when they visited, which was ever less frequently. His wife had been through a similar experience with her father and they both bore the emotional scars.
He brought the past to a halt in his head to address the business at hand.
“The tomatoes are just about finished”, he said. “The birds can have what’s left.”
“I’ve taken the screen off the top of the fish pond”, she said. “The ibis can have a one-off banquet.”
“I’ve left a note on the table for Sarah to take the chooks and the mobile hutch. The kids will love taking care of them.” He snuffled with pleasure at the thought.
“Has Arfer gone to sleep now?”, she asked. He reached down into Arfer’s basket and there was no rise and fall from his belly. He nodded in his wife’s direction. She wished she’d never said that Arfer was a stupid name for a dog.
“Are you ready?”, she said, hoping it was time.
“Yes, I’ve been ready for years, my darling, you know that.”
“Are you sure we’ve got enough?”
He recalled bringing back the pentobarbital from his last business trip to the States and the feeling of being an international drug smuggler amused him greatly, especially when he wondered what the CIA would think.
“There’s enough here to take out two elephants.”
They raised their shot glasses to each other and swallowed.
“Before we go,” she said, “when did you decide that you loved me?”
“When I told you about the giraffe and my mother and you said, ‘Perhaps you could have given her a flute. It would have matched her pursed lips nicely’ ”
They closed their eyes, mirth playing on their aged, cracking lips, as the sun set over The Farm for the last time.