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The Flower Doesn't Wilt Far From the Root

by Mary Haynes about a year ago in Short Story · updated about a year ago
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Family Lost and Found

Mari rolled out of bed. Exhausted after moving into her new home, she couldn’t remember crawling into bed. She put a pod in the coffee maker. The aroma of coffee helped clear the fuzzies. She opened the living room blinds.

“Ugh!” She mumbled. “Great, my neighbor is a flower freak. Geez, that’s a bright garden! And of course, it’s full of marigolds.”

She looked at the riotous colors in her neighbor’s yard and shuddered. Mari loathed marigolds. She knew little about her mother, other than before she gave her up for adoption, she named her Marigold. Her adoptive parents always called her Mari, but her birth certificate and legal documentation listed her as Marigold. Mari assumed her birth mother must have been a complete flake.

As she stared out the window the woman next door smiled and waved. She waved back weakly, then turned away from the window. Minutes later the doorbell rang. Mari threw on a robe and answered it.

“Hi! Welcome to the neighborhood! I know what it's like to just move in. I baked blueberry muffins and some fresh bread. It goes great with my homemade strawberry jam. Oh, where are my manners? I’m Sheila, Sheila Janzen. It’s so nice to meet you.” She extended her hand.

Mari stared; it took a minute for her to recover from the unexpected exuberant encounter. She shook hands with Sheila. “I’m sorry, I just woke up. Yesterday was a long one. Thank you for the hospitality. I’m sure I will enjoy them." She reached for the basket, but Sheila brushed past her and headed to the kitchen. Mari was stunned. ‘Who does that?’ She wondered.

She followed Sheila into the kitchen. Sheila was busy opening boxes. “Where do you think you have a plate? We can’t have you getting muffin crumbs all over your clean house. Oh, never mind, I found them.” She put a muffin on a plate and handed it to Mari. “There you go! I promise you’ve never had a better blueberry muffin!”

Mari didn’t know what to do. This hurricane of a woman who had wandered into her home was overwhelming. She looked at Sheila’s eager eyes and took a small bite of muffin. It was surprisingly good. She took another bite.

Sheila beamed with pride. “See? I knew you’d love them, everybody does. Well, I know you have lots to do, so I’ll toddle off now. Let me know if you need anything. I’m so happy we’re neighbors.” Sheila let herself out leaving a confused Mari standing wondering what just happened.

Mari sat down with her coffee and wondered how anyone went through life like that, constantly on overdrive. Another bite of the muffin confirmed it was the best she’d ever had. Still, she’d have to make sure she put boundaries up for her new neighbor. She looked out the window and saw Sheila doing jumping jacks and high knees in her flower-filled yard.

Mari decided to explore her new neighborhood. She walked the main strip to the beach. It’s what drew her to this small town. The chance to live close to the beach was everything. There was magic by the water and walking the beach is where she found peace. She unlocked the door and was about to step inside when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She jumped back and screamed.

Sheila’s voice shook. "I’m so sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking. I should have known better than to sneak up on you at night! Of course, you were frightened. I’m such an idiot! I don’t think sometimes. I’ll go now!”

Mari tried to compose herself, breathing heavily she said, “No, it’s fine, really. What did you want?”

“Want? Oh, nothing. I brought you this marigold planter for your front porch. They’re just so cheery, they were my mother’s favorite flower. She planted them everywhere, she went on and on about how special they were to her. Before she died of course.” Sheila’s smile faded briefly. “Anyway, I just wanted to offer my help tomorrow to help you finish unpacking and organizing your things. I love to organize, I’m good at it. I always wanted to be a professional organizer, but Ty prefers I don’t work. You know the old school type.”

“Ty?” Asked Mari.

“Oh, yes, my husband, Ty. You’ll meet him someday. When he’s home. He travels frequently, all over the world. He’s on a trip to South America right now. He’s in Cartagena, I think. It’s hard to keep track.” Sheila was about to go on, but Mari cut her off.

“That must be difficult for you.” Mari feigned a yawn. “I’m so tired. My walk to the beach took the last of my energy. We’ll catch up tomorrow. Thanks for your offer to help.”

“Sure, I understand.” Sheila threw her arms around Mari and hugged her. “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite! I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

Mari closed and locked the door behind her. She searched the boxes in the living room and found a box labeled ‘booze’. After rinsing out her coffee mug, she filled it with Merlot. Relocating from the city to the quiet beach town was supposed to be relaxing. She was going to have to figure out how to shake her hyper neighbor if she wanted some peace.

The next morning Mari drank her coffee with the curtains closed. She finally opened them at eleven and was surprised to see all was quiet behind the bright gardens. There were no signs of anyone up and about.

She spent the day unpacking and trying to figure out life in her new house. She glanced over at her neighbor’s house a few times, and all was quiet. Mari was relieved to have a normal afternoon.

About six o’clock the doorbell rang, then the door swung open, and Sheila rushed in. “Oh, hot! Sorry, I have to put this casserole down quickly, it’s burning my hands right through these oven mitts!” She placed the dish on top of the stove.

Mari stared. No one in her entire life had ever let themselves in her front door. People knew she had boundaries. “What the hell Sheila? You can’t just waltz into someone’s home like this! What’s wrong with you?”

Sheila’s face distorted. She started to cry and ran out of the kitchen and out the open front door.

Still stunned by the event, Mari went to the door and slammed it shut. ‘Good,’ she thought. ‘Now she’ll leave me the hell alone.’

She couldn’t help herself and kept glancing over at the house across the street. She started feeling guilty, realizing that she’d over-reacted. There were no lights on in the house and she started to worry. Mari decided to check on her neighbor.

Mari knocked on Sheila’s door. There was no answer, no sounds of movement. The door was unlocked so she went inside. She flicked on the light in the foyer. “Sheila? Are you here somewhere? It’s Mari. I’m sorry. I’m checking to see if you’re okay.”

There was no answer. Mari flicked on more lights. She walked through the kitchen and into the large family room. Someone was laying on the couch wrapped in a furry blanket. “Sheila?” She called out. “Are you okay? I’m sorry, I over-reacted. I’m not used to having friendly neighbors.”

Sheila didn’t respond.

Mari said, “Okay, I understand, I wouldn’t talk to me either, I was rude, please forgive me.”

There was nothing but silence from the blanketed lump on the couch.

Stepping closer, Mari noticed an empty bottle of vodka on the glass coffee table and some white powder next to it.

“Oh shit! Sheila, what have you done?” Mari tried to get Sheila to sit up, but she was unresponsive. She pulled her cell out of her back pocket and dialed 911.

The paramedics arrived and felt a weak pulse, they loaded Sheila onto the gurney. They asked Mari to come with them and give them any information she could. She tried to explain she'd just met the woman, but they insisted. She grabbed Sheila’s purse and hopped into the front seat of the ambulance with the driver. She filled him in on the day’s events and Sheila’s hyper personality, which obviously was chemically induced. Sheila’s wallet had her driver’s license, health insurance information, and a great deal of money. At the bottom of the purse were more vials of white powder.

After Sheila was checked in, Mari wanted to go home. She had no reason to be there. She’d given all the information she knew to the paramedics. They’d called Sheila’s husband and he was on his way back from Columbia. She wished she had thought to borrow some cash from Sheila’s purse before handing it over. She hoped she could talk a cabbie into driving her home so she could get her purse and pay them.

She was just about to leave when a nurse called her name. “Mari? Sheila would like to speak with you. She’s stable now and asking for you.”

Mari hesitated, but the nurse was already walking toward the door. She followed.

Sheila was connected to an IV and had an oxygen tube in her nose, but seemed alert. She smiled weakly. “I’m so sorry for the fuss. It seems I’ve got a bit of a problem. I told myself it was okay; I wasn’t like my mother. This was the expensive stuff, not the cheap crap that she overdosed on.”

Mari stammered, “Oh, I’m sorry, that must have been difficult for you.”

Sheila shrugged. “Yes, but then my whole life was difficult. My mother always told me that it was a good job I was born beautiful. She encouraged me to use it to get ahead in life. She wanted more for me in life than she had. She said she wanted her daughters to have easier lives."

“Oh, you have a sister? Should I call her?” Mari asked.

“Yes, I have an older sister, although I’ve never met her. My mother gave her up for adoption. She never got over that. Mom spoke of her almost daily and how she regretted being pressured into giving her up. That’s why she loved Marigolds. She planted them because it was a connection to her. Her name was Marigold.”

Sheila saw that Mari looked distressed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to babble. I had the nurse call you so I could thank you for saving my life. I promise it won’t happen again. I’ve checked myself into rehab. I don’t care if Ty approves or not. This is for me! Thank you once again.”

She motioned for her purse, “Please take whatever you need to get a safe ride home. I can’t believe I got you into all this drama. You, a perfect stranger. The stranger who became my guardian angel.”

Mari swallowed hard. “I’m glad I could help you. Keep in touch. I promise I’ll be there for you.” Mari took the pad of paper and the pen off the bedside table and wrote down her cell number. “Call me any time, I will answer. I promise.”

Sheila cocked her head, trying to understand the sudden shift in her neighbor. “Why are you being so nice to me? I’ve been over the top drama since we met. I’m grateful but I don’t understand.”

Mari smiled. “It’s been my pleasure getting to know you better. I’m sorry I was so impatient; I had a bad day. You are always welcome in my home. We’ll chat soon. You work on getting better.”

She patted Sheila on the hand, then leaned down and hugged her. At the door, she paused and added, “Don’t worry about your garden. All the marigolds you planted will be looked after with love. Just get well!”

Short Story

About the author

Mary Haynes

Mary Haynes splits her time between a romantic old sailboat in tropical waters and a beach home in Ontario. A wanderer, by fate, she embraces wherever she roams! Mary recently completed her first children’s book, “Who Ate My Peppers?”

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