Dandelion Dawson and Me

Since Charlie died, I’ve mostly spent my time in the garden pulling the weeds and trying to keep the roses healthy. Truth be told, I never was much good at it. Charlie used to say I had a black thumb. The only thing ever grew for me were hydrangeas. We have great pink hydrangeas in the front yard. Charlie didn’t like them near his roses.

Susan next door always said it didn’t matter because I made the best angel food cake in the county. I haven’t made any cakes since Charlie died—almost four months now. I guess my heart just isn’t in it.

I was out in the yard one day when Susan leaned over the fence. “Martha,” she called, “you’ll never believe it, but those nice Richardsons down the block are building a mother-in-law suite.”

“For his mother or hers?”

“I don’t know.”

As it turned out, it was for her mother. Dandy. I’d only ever known one female in my life named Dandy. Her real name was Dandelion Dawson, the meanest girl I’d ever met. She haunted me and hunted me in grade school, and she grew up to be a nightmare in high school: tall, blond, and perfect. She was a dandelion all right: impossible to miss or to destroy.

I’d heard she married some big shot and moved to New York. Now we were going to be living in the same neighborhood again. I planned to call the realtor as soon as I cleaned out my house a bit.

A few days later Amy Richardson came knocking at my door with her mother in tow. Dandy Dawson had aged well. I told myself it was plastic surgery and botox, but she was in great shape.

“Mom said she and you went to school together,” Amy said in a bright, desperate sort of voice. “I thought maybe you might like to have a reunion.”

She almost ran out the door.

I looked at Dandy. “So what’s the story?”

“That was short and sweet. No nice to see you?”

“Do you want me to lie?”

Dandy gave me a smile. “Oh, she gets tired of me hanging around all the time. I make her feel uncomfortable about her life choices.”

“What’s wrong with her life choices?”

“Do you see the way she dresses? Straight out of Goodwill. My God. She’s a teacher. She has all those grubby, little specimens climbing on her all day, which she says she loves. And that husband of hers isn’t much better. They live in this development with their child, which I’m sure they expect me to babysit when they start back to school. It’s absurd.”

I gazed at Dandy’s beautiful tan suit with its white silk blouse and her gold jewelry and wondered why she’d chosen to live here.“So why live with them?” I brushed off my dirty jeans, thankful that at least I didn’t get fat. I’m still short and small, though I colored my hair a light golden brown. Dandy used to call me the Mouse.

Dandy shrugged. “My late husband burned through most of our money. I’m not poverty stricken, but living in New York is out. All this is temporary until I figure my next move.”

“So what about you, Martha. I heard your husband died. What’s keeping you here?”

“This is my home.”

“You shouldn’t be so sentimental.” Dandy looked around the kitchen. “If it were me. I’d sell it all and travel.”

“Well, I’m not you, and I have children. Well, I have a son. In graduate school.”

Dandy slouched into a chair. “Well, the truth is, Martha, your son will graduate and get his own life. So should you.”

“I don’t know. I don’t think I’d want to travel alone.” Of course I had always dreamed of traveling to London and Paris and Rome, but Charlie had been a homebody. He always did worry so about the roses.

“Now that I’m living with my daughter, I have money to travel again,” Dandy said.

Good God. Travel with Dandy Dawson. What a horrible thought.

She smiled as if she could read my mind. “Oh, come on, Martha. I wasn’t that bad to you. You at least never teased me about my wretched name. Do you know what it’s like to be called Dandelion Daisy Dawson? It was hideous.”

“I suppose.”

“We’ll do an easy one. London first. If you have a bad time, I’ll never bother you again. Swear.” She glanced at my filthy jeans. “Really. No one can actually enjoy grubbing in the dirt, can they?”

“Of course.” I said it vehemently then sighed. “Maybe not so much.”

Her face lit up in a knowing smile. “Then we have things to do.”

Inertia is a strange thing indeed. A body at rest tends to stay at rest, but once it starts to move, it zooms. “We have a great many things to do indeed,” I said.