Come on, Mum. It’s not as if you’re being put out to pasture.” Words by Dennis. Aimed at Daisy. Tipping the evening on its side.
Fifty- five-year-old Dennis, sitting on the taupe linen sofa, across from the mahogany cocktail table. His new wife, Amanda, beside him, not saying a word. Dennis, leaning forward, patiently waiting to hear all the things Daisy wasn’t saying. Then, hammering on. Forcing a smile.
“I hope you’re not thinking that.”
Actually, Daisy Phillips was thinking that.
Smelling the grass of the pasture.
Feeling the tickle of the blades under her nose.
Searching her son’s face for some scrap of infanthood, a glimpse of childhood, a shred of adolescence. Nothing. Silly to think there might be, but Daisy was groping, thoroughly shaken.
Dennis, “I think, we think”— gesturing to include Amanda—“you’d really like it there. It’s crazy to go on like you’ve been.” Meaning to continue living in the house she had been born in and had inherited from her parents. The house she had spent her whole life in. Dennis, going on: “Life would be a permanent holiday.”
Daisy, not replying. Too prim, too proper, with an elegance, a grace that never had to be taught, a perfectly straight back that did. Ironed into her by a mother who had spent a lifetime focused on the wrong things. Daisy, staring down at her hands clasped tightly in her lap. Adjusting her ring.
Dennis, thrusting the colorful glossy brochure into her eye line. Daisy, turning away. Dennis, holding it there for a moment, shaking it as though it needed shaking to get her attention. Not getting a response, Dennis, sighing. Putting it on the table next to him. Saying, “You can take the brochures home with you. Look through them when you’re ready. Amanda and I think The Carillion would be perfect for you. There’s a lot more to these se nior homes than you know. At least think about it, okay?”
Daisy, looking at him. Meeting his eye. “I’d like to go home now.” Standing up, smoothing her pleated beige skirt over her narrow hips. Dennis, hoisting himself off the sofa. “I can take you right away if you’d like.”
Daisy, “I’d like that.” Nodding.
Minutes later Dennis, the top of his head glistening with rain from the trip out the front door to the car, driving his silent mother home, leaving the dark splashing streets of Merseyside for the dark splashy streets of Saint Helens, northeast of Liverpool. His wiper blades lashing noisily back and forth, rerunning the conversation in his head.
He had not gotten nearly as far as he had hoped. Amanda would surely lay into him when he got home.
Pulling slowly into the driveway at 24 Rosemary Lane. Slipping the gear stick into neutral. Turning to his mother. “I hope you had a nice dinner.”
“Yes. It was very nice, thank you.” Stiffly.
“Look, Mum”— adjusting himself in the seat to face her—“I’m sorry, but it’s been hard on me having two houses to maintain— two lawns to mow, two networks of pipes and wires to worry about. I appreciate that you try not to call me, but things always do seem to come up, and I’m not so young myself anymore. And you know Amanda wants to move to Chessex, to be nearer her family. And now that Gabriel’s finishing school, there’s really nothing keeping us here. We’ve already started looking at houses. Chessex is beautiful. You could have a cozy little apartment at The Carillion, with me and Amanda close by. Think of it as an adventure, a new chapter in your life.”
Daisy, nodding her head. Slightly. Turmoil deep within.
Dennis, feeling a charge of relief. Maybe they were getting somewhere.
Her hand on the passenger side door catch. Leaning over. Kissing him. “Good night, Dennis.”
“Good night, Mum.” Dennis, watching her ease out of the car, before scurrying nimbly up the stone front walk, past the stone wall. Glimpsing her disappearing behind the cheerful yellow door, flanked by climbing red roses flush against white stucco, on her thatched- roof home half- timbered with exposed dark beams.
Not seeing what was on the other side of that cheerful yellow door: Daisy leaning heavily against it, her shaking frame pressing against its solid frame, surrendering to a fast- moving current of tears.
The following Saturday, Dennis, calling. Daisy had been dreading his weekly call all morning. She had spent the whole intervening week in a closed- circuit loop over his recent proposal— locked in a cycle of ignoring it, denying it, being annoyed by it, irate over it, despairing because of it, hungering back to ignoring it again.
And now a ringing phone.
Daisy, picking it up. She had to. It was a responsibility growing stronger every day, knowing that Dennis wouldn’t be thinking that she was busy in the kitchen, living room, or bath. He would be afraid that she was dead in the kitchen, living room, or bath. Sighing. Answering it.
An exchange of greetings. Brief pleasantries. Dennis, not getting to it right away. Saying first that he couldn’t mow her lawn yet again because of the rain. Further discussion about the ceaseless rain. Then finally, the main point: asking if she had had a chance to look through the brochures.
Daisy, assuring him that she had— and she had, as they flew through the air into the wastepaper basket.
Dennis, asking what her thoughts were. About an apartment at The Carillion. About moving to Chessex.
Daisy, saying, “Oh my, what’s that?” Saying sorry, she had to go. Someone was at the door. Pity they couldn’t talk longer. Partly true. Someone was at the door.
Daisy was at the door. Putting herself there, in the rain, with the portable phone. Saying their talk would have to wait until next Saturday, or until the rain finally let up and Dennis could come and mow the grass.
Hanging up, thin strands of guilt fl owing through her. Pushing them aside. Hurrying to get ready to go to the club. A train to catch. An early lunch with friends, followed by shopping in the afternoon, and stopping for tea.
Daisy, standing at the gilded mirror above the bathroom sink, putting on makeup. Running a wide- toothed comb through her light brown hair. Applying lipstick. Taking a good hard look at herself. Her face, especially her chin— long, always had been, not brought on by the duplicities of aging. Her features small, delicate on a perfectly shaped head. Her nose, narrow. Big light blue eyes behind oval wire- rimmed glasses. Her cheekbones, not too crinkled, her forehead, not too smooth. Wavy hair, parted on the left side, thick clumps of bangs swooping off in both directions, forming a series of Cs and Js across her forehead. Her hair long enough to reach her eyebrows, short enough to reveal her earlobes, curling under at the collar in the back. A tiny, slender woman of seventy-seven. Gifted with an ever-present smile, an easy laugh.
Taking a deep breath. Standing as tall as she got. Confident, defiant, upbeat.
Ignoring a slow, steady dripping from the shower head.
Her friends, gathered around her— Gladys, Marylin, Cate, Ellen, and her favorite, Dot. Umbrellas, drenched raincoats at the door.
Daisy liked these weekly luncheons. Taking the train into the city. Lunching, shopping at the rejuvenated Albert Dock. Feeling part of something with the city beating around her. Liverpool, recently voted Europe’s cultural capital. The Merseyside Waterfront regional park and the whole waterfront area drew millions of visitors every year. The Cavern Club, the Beatles Museum, and the childhood homes of the former Beatles still attracted fans from all over the world. The cafés, pubs, heart- stopping architecture, cutting- edge theaters— all of it contributing to the energy Daisy loved.
If only the skies weren’t consistently hosing the place down.
But that was Liverpool.
Daisy, feeling good. Wearing a new dress— navy with beige trim—that fell just below her knees. Sensible low- heeled navy shoes. Smiling during the conversation. Buttering her bread. Ordering the lamb. Ignoring nagging unpleasantries pecking away at her. Going over what she had lately been thinking about: hitting Dot up with a proposal.
Waiting for the appropriate lull in the conversation, then turning her attention to Dot, to get her idea out. Daisy, full of hope and slowly gathering excitement at spilling the words.
But then Dot blew her away, speaking first. Mentioning innocently that she was going on holiday for the summer. To Spain, where her daughter had a house. Shooting down Daisy’s idea before it even got out of her mouth. Not giving Daisy the chance to say that she’d been thinking the two of them should go on holiday together. To Ireland. Or Scotland. Even Wales.
When Paul was alive, he and Daisy had traveled several times a year. Both loved exploring; together they had covered much of the globe. But Daisy hadn’t been anywhere in the last four years— not since Paul died. She hadn’t even thought of it. Until recently. Startling herself, imagining traveling again— on a much smaller scale, of course. Places she could drive to. She just had to figure out with whom. Dot’s face had presenteditself, and after thinking it over for some time, Daisy had concluded that Dot would indeed be the ideal travel companion. They liked the same things, needed their tea at precisely the same time, craved the same schedule of bed at night and waking in the morning, were equally active— which was to say they were unusually energetic for their ages— and were both devoted to the same evening ritual: Cointreau with mixers. Dot was as good a stand- in for Paul as Daisy could imagine.
But no sooner were the words “Dot, I’ve been thinking” out of Daisy’s mouth than Dot dropped her bombshell. Daisy, nodding, smiling, wishing her well, her disappointed eyes sweeping around the table of faces to see if anyone else might be a candidate.
Dismissing each in turn. That creeping feeling again. Of walls closing in, of dreams swirling down drains, of possibilities not yet lived like dandelion seeds on wings of birds, launched, full of potential but never hitting the ground. Unable to shake the feeling that her best days were behind her. Paining her to find travel on that list, too— that great, sweeping list.
Sighing. When Paul went, everything went. Except her house, 24 Rosemary Lane. Still hers. It was not going to be stored away like short skirts, high heels, her passport— not if she could help it. Dennis and Amanda could go. Let them go to Chessex, but not with her.
She would hire someone to mow the lawn every week. Fix theshower head herself.
There. Problem solved.
From the Hardcover edition.