When my dad said we needed a fresh start after my mom died I didn’t realize he meant literally. Fresh tomatoes dotted the field with clouds of basil and parsley. Stalks of corn towered over the pumpkin patch and the smell of fertilizer burned my nose. The sun crept over the rolling hills as dawn slunk over the morning sky. My dad called me down for breakfast. I groaned, threw off my covers, and pulled on my slippers before dragging myself downstairs.
“Why, good morning, sleepyhead! I made pancakes!” my dad chimed.
I pulled a comb through my ratty hair. “Dad, it’s five-thirty in the morning, why do we have to get up so early?”
“Because there is a lot of work to be done around here and we don’t have enough money to hire help for the time being,” he responded, flipping the pancakes.
“I miss Mom,” I moaned.
He froze, the pancake sizzled in the pan, he lowered his head. “I know, but life moves on and we must too, no matter how much we miss her,” he replied quietly. “By the way, Mia, I need you to water the crops, put down fresh fertilizer, do the laundry, and start dinner. I need to head to town to gather some supplies, but I’ll be back by three.” He tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear. “Think you can handle that?”
I nodded without looking up.
“That’s my girl!” He dumped a stack of pancakes onto my plate. “Dig in!”
Once we were done with breakfast, my dad pulled out of the driveway in the rusty old pickup truck, leaving me all alone. I sighed and pulled my knees to my chest as I sat on the front stoop. When my mom was here I was never alone. When I was scared she’d pull me close and tell me that she was there, right there for me. She said she would protect me, she said I would never be alone. I took three deep breaths and composed myself. I forced myself to stand and go over the list of my chores.
* * *
Watering all the plants took a couple hours; I pushed the big cart of fertilizer down the long path towards the fields. I soon approached the bean patch. An old lady was there, just sitting and staring. She hung out there a lot. I didn’t know who she was though. My dad said to leave her be, that she was probably without a home and needed someplace to stay. It was still uncomfortable having her around though. I sped up my pace. I didn’t want to be near her any longer than necessary. It was hard to maneuver the cart on the bumpy ground. I struggled to keep it in line, but it hit a rock and went swerving to the side. Fertilizer was everywhere, and all over the old woman. Dirt colored her bleached hair and stained her weathered yellow dress. She didn’t say a word; she just stared, her eyes drilling holes into mine. I stood there like a deer in the headlights, then ran, leaving the cart as I sprinted back to the house.
* * *
My dad and I were enjoying our meal of mashed potatoes, biscuits, peas, and lamb chops when the bell rang. My dad set his napkin on the table and went to answer the door. Standing stiffly in the doorway was the old lady; she was still filthy from the fertilizer.
“My clothes are dirty,” she stated blandly.
“I can see that,” my dad answered, a little thrown.
“My clothes are dirty,” she repeated, more insistently this time.
“How may I help you?” he asked.
“She knows,” she pointed at me. “She knows why my clothes are dirty.”
“Mia?” He waited for an explanation.
I shifted awkwardly in my seat as my dad looked at me expectantly. “It was an accident!” I blurted. “I couldn’t steer the cart and the fertilizer spilled!”
“Mia!” My dad shook his head. “You didn’t help her clean up?”
“Look at her, Dad, she’s scary!”
“Mia!” he scolded. He shook his head. “I’m so sorry about this,” he apologized to the lady. “Mia, go upstairs and get my overalls and your big fleece. She needs new clothes.”
“But Dad, I like that fleece!”
“Mia!” He stared at me.
“Fine!” I stomped up the stairs, pulled the clothing out of the closet roughly, trudged downstairs, and threw the clothing in the lady’s face.
“Mia!” my dad exclaimed. “Go to your room!”
I gave the woman a look of pure hatred and did as my dad told me to.
I lay awake for most of the night, thinking about what happened downstairs. I wasn’t sure why I got so upset. The jacket didn’t mean that much to me. I guess it was the fact that that lady just barged in and ruined the peaceful evening I was having with my dad. My mom would have stuck up for me. She wouldn’t have let me get pushed around by some stranger.
* * *
The next day I went on with my chores as usual after apologizing to my dad about making a scene the night before. I walked down the long path to get the hose and sponges I needed to clean the truck. Unfortunately, it was the same path I took when I spilled the fertilizer the day before. I prayed that the lady wouldn’t be there, but to my dismay there she was. I tried to avoid her gaze as I sped up my pace.
“You like my here bean plant, child?” the lady croaked.
I stopped and stared.
“I said, you like my here bean plant?”
I waited a few seconds and stiffly nodded, not knowing what else to do.
“My husband left it to me, just this here bean plant, that’s it. We were behind on our payments on this here barn, you see.” She nodded to herself. “Yup, I don’t get nothin’ but a bean plant. My husband said, ‘You take care of this here plant now. As long as you have it you have me.’” She nodded to herself some more. “He gone now. He gone and I don’t got nothin’ but a bean plant.”
“I lost my mother,” I murmur, not being able to hold it in any longer.
She shook her head. “It ain’t fair, life takes away the things you love most and keeps goin’ on, leavin’ you to try and figure out how to go on with it.”
I nodded, biting my lip. Tears rose.
“Now don’t you cry, girl,” the lady scolded me. “You start cryin’ and you ain’t never gonna stop.”
I nodded, blinking furiously, pushing down the tears and trying to hide my quivering lip.
“Good girl,” she patted my shoulder.
We stayed there in silence for a while.
“Do you have a place to stay for the night?” I ask.
“I’m sittin’ in this here pile of dirt, what do you think?” she smirks.
“Well then… would you like to join us for dinner?” I offer. “I’m cooking and I could use some help.”
“Well, only since you need help.” She tried to hide a grin but couldn’t quite manage to do it.
I smiled, took her hand, and started towards the house. Leaving the little bean plant behind us.