A Pot of Begonias

A Story by La Mouche
The potted begonias sitting under the front room window had been left to die. It happened that week we were too busy at work to care about the house. The mountain of worn clothes on the armchair piled up so high it eventually collapsed onto the floorboards. In the fridge, there were only two half-opened take-away boxes, their lids damp and rimmed with icicles. Lucky the cat had fled to find himself food elsewhere. Watering plants was definitely the last thing on our minds.
I thought you had done it that Wednesday, though, when you leaned on the windowpane to take a closer look at grandma’s yellowed picture. You were saying what an amazing gardener she was, and I added begonias were her favourite flowers, hoping you would pick up the hint and water them. It was your turn after all. But you kept insisting it wasn’t, and that it should be my responsibility since it was MY grandma who had given the plant to me before she died. Your dad had left you the car, you argued, but I never took turns with you to wash it, even though I was perfectly happy to make you take me places in it all the time.
The truth is we forgot; we had so much on. I’m still hurt you didn’t do it, though. I have always cared about your stuff. Fair enough I’ve never cleaned the car but that’s kind of a man thing. I would never expect you to mop under the bed, for example. At least I pay for some fuel. You don’t even acknowledge that the begonias are there. But I do admit that week was like no other. We were exhausted. We couldn't think. Anyway, the begonias had dried up. It was a fact. I worried for days about what mother would say when she came over; that we are terrible housekeepers that we cannot be entrusted with anything, not even a tiny pot of the flowers that meant so much to my grandma. Worst, we wouldn’t be able to avoid the lecture on Feng Shui and the importance of having good ‘chi’ rightly positioned around the house to positively condition the family environment.

Eventually, mother came to visit. She threw herself on the sofa with poise, as only mother does. I offered to make a pot - silly me using that word. I just didn't want to be there when she noticed the dead begonias. She was bound to spot them sooner than later. Mother has eyes in the back of her head for things like that. You dashed to the kitchen after me, said there was no chance you’d be alone with her when she saw them. You busied yourself arranging cups, saucers and teaspoons on a tray. Inside the kettle, the water started to bubble and rise in little waves. It gurgled increasingly louder, over our heads, above the mute whiteness of the kitchen, prickling at its own rising, steamy self. We could picture mother in the front room looking around; her mind taking it all in avidly, working out changes to suggest; how to better ionise the room, soften the sharp angles of walls. The kettle switched itself off with a loud click and there was silence. We heard her sighing. Then we heard a different noise.
‘She is sniffing? What is she sniffing at?’ You eyes were wide open.
‘Go check on her,’ I said, trying to sound casual, and tilted the kettle filled with boiling water over the mouth of the pot.
‘No way, Jose!’
‘Mum!’ I called from the kitchen. ‘What is it? You all right?’ Mother shouted something we didn't understand.
‘Wait, we are coming!’ I shouted back, eyeing you, ‘c'mon!’
You nodded, ‘she’s bound to have picked on something anyway. She always does.’ Sluggishly, I carried the tray with pot, cups and saucers into the front room. You walked behind me; the little milk jug held tightly between your hands.
‘Ugh, this stinks of cat wee!’ mother exclaimed, pulling her nose away from the flowers. ‘Haven’t you two notice? Your silly old cat has ruined grandma’s begonias!’
‘No!’ We cried in unison. She got up, picking the pot between her thumb and index, and walked to the kitchen. We heard her open the back door, step into the garden. We couldn't see her, or hear her, through the brick walls and the double-glazing, but we knew what was happening. Like many other times before, when she used to have a key to the house and stuff we liked kept disappearing or breaking accidentally. We couldn’t see her, but there she was: lifting the lid of the garden bin and dropping the begonias inside without a care in the world.
‘Well, it wasn’t a big deal after all!’ I said, looking at you and half smiling. But then, of all the things to say you chose, ‘you must be fucking joking.’ It really hurt, you know. I mean she’s my mum after all. I kept my mouth shut there and then, but I haven’t forgotten you said that.

Funny how things can happen in your life over and over again without you doing anything to change them, and, all of a sudden, one little incident causes a spark to turn into an open fire. You called it a wake-up call; exaggerating, I thought. Truth is after the day mother chucked out the begonias, you took Lucky away to an animal shelter and started mopping the floors, even under the bed, on weekends. I, in turn, cooked more homemade meals; put clothes to wash more often. I even helped you wash the car once. Eventually we grew bored of it all, of course, and our usual routines crawled back, as they do, except there were no more begonias to water ever again. As for mother, reluctant as I was at first, I’ve got to admit you worked that one out well signing her up for eharmony. Mother and her new found partner moved in together three months later. For their house warming party, you suggested we bought them a pot of begonias. At first, I thought it was such a nice gesture. But then, when you gave them to mother, you added, ‘an apology from our cat Lucky, for ruining grandma’s begonias.’ And you smiled that cunning little smile; the one I have seen you use every time you have managed to get your own way.

The End