A lone tear crept down her cheek thinking of having to leave this aging Victorian home. Sure she had to dig deep into the recesses of her mind to find the good times, but it was home. The silence, the loneliness, and the betrayal pulled everyone in different directions and no one talked of it. No one ever spoke of the painful abyss between Mother and Father that widened with every passing year. No one ever talked about what was going on with Mother. No one tried to get her to stop gardening and move on.
Paulina and her sisters ate meals in the great dining room by themselves, served by maids. Father was “away on business” they were always told. Mother barely ate and when she did she had trays brought to her room. Paulina wondered she and her sisters were only sordid reminders Father and his cold-hearted betrayals.
Being the oldest, Paulina always took it upon herself to make sure her sisters ate their meals. She helped the fix their hair and get dressed in the mornings. She walked them to school and back home. She consoled them when they received little or no affection from their mother.
Now Paulina spent nearly every waking moment caring for Mother’s gardens keeping them beautiful. Of course, Mother could afford a gardener to help. Truth be told, her old bones couldn’t stand the work anymore. Her knees ached constantly from getting up and down. She found it nearly impossible to keep ahead of the weeds. But she wouldn’t give in. She couldn’t. The lily garden was the one thing Mother truly cared about.
For three years, John had been insisting that they had to move into a smaller place, but she’d dug in her heels. She couldn’t fight him any longer. The inheritance was running out and their pensions were not enough to run this big old house and its grounds. Five generations of Livingston’s occupied this house. Her generation did just that: occupied. Was it ever really home or just a house they lived in. Paulina was the last. Mother, Father, and her two sisters were gone. Now it was her turn to leave.
Paulina carefully dug up the bulbs and placed them in her mother’s worn gardening basket. Wherever they moved, the property had to have at least a little garden. She had to keep the lilies, her mother’s lilies. She chose five of the healthiest bulbs to take with them.
At the new house, she carefully planted them in the little garden by the back fence. Then, to her utter display, spring floods washed her new garden into the river below. The bulbs uprooted and disappeared with the water leaving a hole as empty as her heart. She had nothing left of her family now. Ah, yes, she had some jewelry and photographs and a few other mementos, but these were living things. Immortal in a sense. Until now, coming back every year to bloom in the summer sunshine.
“Why did we have to move here? Did you know this area flooded?”
Paulina didn’t particularly believe him. John resented the time she spent with the lilies. He couldn’t stand the smell of them, especially the pink ones. He thought gardening was a waste of time when you could by silk ones that lasted forever and you only had to wash off the dust once in a while.
“We have to find another place. Somewhere where the gardens won’t flood. I’m going back to my house to see if the new owners will let me have more bulbs.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m mean, I’m sure they would, but we can’t afford to move again. This is home until we can’t manage on our own here any longer.”
“What am I going to do? Mother would be devastated to know that I lost her lilies.”
“It doesn’t make any difference now, does it? She’s gone. Find something else to focus on.”
“Seems to me you’d find something the nanny liked. She had more time for you than your mother did.”
“John! Stop that. Mother coped the only way she knew how, and you know that.”
“No thanks to your father. How many mistresses did he spend time and money on leaving her in that infernal garden?”
Paulina couldn’t answer. Mother slipped into a world of her own when she found out what was going on. Paulina never understood why Mother hadn’t left him. Probably couldn’t. Despite everything, she must have loved him.
Paulina didn’t. She’d come to despise him. In the last twenty years, she’d spoken to him only when it was absolutely necessary. Thankfully, since she and John lived in the east wing, she didn’t have to see much of him not that he was home much anyway. But she watched Mother in the garden. Day in and day out. If her hands weren’t buried in the dirt, she’d be sitting on the bench by the rose trellis crying. Paulina tried to console her. Tried to help, but Mother wouldn’t talk about it nor would she even acknowledge Father’s actions. The garden was her place of denial.
“You used to like to draw and paint. I’ll get you some supplies.”
“No. I don’t want to paint. What’s the point? I’d just end up with a pile of canvases in the corner that no one would ever want.”
Three days later, John came home with supplies.
“I’ll hire someone to build a raised bed in the back where the ground is higher. I’m sure those people would give me more bulbs.”
“Okay,” was all he said, shaking his head.
For two months, she wouldn’t use the painting materials, wouldn’t even look at them. Why couldn’t John understand? All she wanted was a family and roots to hold them together. He knew what things had been like for her growing up. Despite it all she loved the house, but wondered now why she never moved out. She supposed it would have been a betrayal to her mother.
One night after a tiff with John pushing her to learn to move on, she tripped over the rug in the living room and twisted her ankle. Yes, she had to admit to herself. She would have to let the garden go. It was too much.
In the morning, she hobbled into the back room and rummaged through the packages of paint, canvases, and brushes.
When John came to fetch late in the evening, she was still painting.
Lilies. Five of them.
Everyday afterward, she painted.
Families of lilies.
Together, but never quite touching.