He staggered in, carrying an old cardboard box. “I made this for you, Granny.” Carefully he placed it on the table.
“That looks interesting, Travis.” I put out a hand while winking at Suzanne. “Come and tell me about it.”
“I made it so you can see what summer looks like.”
The ever-present guilt pulled at my heart. What kind of a grandmother have I been to him?
“Come and look properly.”
I lifted the box and peered inside. A patch of real lawn lay across the bottom and summer flowers were tucked around the edges; carnations, roses, marigolds and petunias. The sides of the box were papered with blue card and a lopsided sun hung in one corner.
He squirmed impatiently. “Do you like it, Gran? Does it look like summer?”
I took a deep breath and inhaled a thousand memories; the earthy smell of a garden after rain, wet grass between my toes, the fragrance of rose bushes, hibiscus hedges studded with brilliant red stars.
“It’s beautiful, Travis. Just how I remember summer.”
“Why can’t you come outside, Granny?”
I cast a helpless look at my daughter but she shrugged and looked away. I couldn’t blame her. She’d done her best to help me over the last five years.
“I used to go outside.” I started. “But something bad happened ...” I stared into the box as another set of memories filled my mind. The attack had taken place on a hot summer’s night. I was strolling down the street when a gang of youths jumped me and dragged me into the park. After an hour of abuse and torment, they sauntered off, laughing. In spite of a thorough investigation, they were never caught.
The physical scars faded but internal ones lingered. Fears hovered like ever-present vultures, ravaging my mind and soul. What if they come back for me? What if they know where I live? What if they’re waiting in my garden? Soon I was afraid to leave the house.
“Tell me, Gran.”
“I got scared, Travis. I only feel safe in here now.”
After a year of half-hearted therapy, I put my house on the market and moved into an apartment. I’d hardly left it since. In fact the mere thought made my heart race and mouth go dry. Suzanne shopped for me and I kept in touch through the phone and internet.
“But it’s so nice outside.” Travis looked up at me, worry etched in childish features. “We went to the beach yesterday and Daddy bought us ice creams.” He stretched his hands into a circle. “They were this big and had chocolate sprinkles all over them. Then we had a picnic on the sand and made a giant castle with seaweed and shells.”
“That’s wonderful, honey. I wish I could have been there.”
“But you could’ve come.” He turned to Suzanne. “Gran could’ve come, couldn’t she, Mommy?”
She nodded as I lifted the box again and touched the rose petals. They were satin-smooth and folded gently at the tips. I missed my garden, missed the shimmering heat and rainbows that danced through whirling sprinklers ... and yet the fear was so strong; a metal brace that crushed and cowed my spirit.
“Maybe next time, Granny?”
I looked into earnest blue eyes and saw the promise of years to come. Of long summers filled with picnics, ice cream and nature walks. Of sand castles, bees and sun-block. Of swimming pools, salads and sandals. “Yes, Travis, maybe next time.”
Satisfied, he ran off to play. I felt Suzanne’s eyes on me and looked across at her. It was as though I was seeing her for the first time; the sorrow that lurked in dark eyes and the concerned frustration. She had paid a heavy price for my seclusion – and yet I had taken her for granted.
I pulled the box onto my lap and breathed in the warm fragrance, ran my hands across the patch of lawn. “I haven’t touched grass in two years you know?”
Hands shaking, I plucked a rose from the box. “I don’t want to spend another summer cooped up here. I need professional help, Suzanne.”
It took a couple of minutes, but finally forgiveness and hope washed disbelief from her face. Smiling gently, she came across the room and knelt next to me. “Next summer.” she said, “The flowers you pick will be from a real garden.”
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