The garden was overgrown now. It had used to be so neat, all the flowers lined up and the herbs huddling in little circles in the middle. Once, Liz remembered, she had accidentally ripped up a flower – something like a rose – when she was helping her mother weed. She’d stared, horrified, and her mother had looked over to see why she was so still. As she held up the plant mutely, her mother sighed. It was a long, gusty breath that said more than her mother ever would. Her mother’s sighs were very expressive. They said things like, “I just don’t know what to do with you” or “I’m so disappointed. I expected more of you.” Sometimes they said, “I can’t believe you just did that,” or, more likely, “I can’t believe I have to deal with you.” Her mother had exhaled disappointment and plucked the dangling plant from her hand. Liz sat with tears blurring her eyes and thorn-marks blushing red on her hand as her mother turned to walk back inside.
Nobody had been weeding here for a while, it seemed. Liz was standing looking at it, remembering how hard her mother had worked grooming that garden into perfect rows. It must have been twenty years ago, that memory of pulling up a flower. Looking at the garden made her almost feel again the burn in her throat and the sting in her hand.
It looked like there were still a few flowers in there. She couldn’t tell. There were patches of color but they were hard to see through the forest of weeds that shot up around them. It looked like a garden of bushy green fronds, except that they were scattered carelessly and weeds weren’t nearly as pleasing to look at as the pansies and marigolds she remembered. Her mother would probably be disappointed in the scrambled decline of her garden. For a moment, Liz reached for her phone, spitefully wishing to take a picture. She let go, feeling ashamed. Her mother probably didn’t remember that she’d once helped to weed in the garden. Tried to help, anyway. Her mother wasn’t so old – turning, what, 60 this year? But she often didn’t remember the things that had clung to Liz. She remembered the things she griped about, accurately enough, but Liz didn’t try anymore to explain her own complaints. Sometimes, when she tried, her mother had sighed. Her sighs were still expressive. They said the same things, but now they also said, “Why must you accuse me of being a bad mother?” and “You’re just never happy with anything I do, are you.” Liz thought it was almost funny sometimes, how her mother took what she was trying to say and echoed it back at her. The sighs that said, “Well, I’m just sorry I’m not good enough for you” were usually the only response she got when she tried to say that it seemed her mother thought she was inadequate somehow.
The garden was overgrown now. Liz realized she’d been staring at it for minutes, frozen on the sidewalk. Her purse was heavy and her car was still two blocks away. With one last glance at the tangle of weeds, Liz sighed and began to walk away.