From her back porch Maureen surveys the acres of orchards in the valley to the east. The trees, garbed in leaf-green gowns featuring polka dots of orange, emit their signature fragrance. She breathes deeply and it pleases her.
At the valley’s far edge the red, yellow and orange tapestry of autumn foliage, flickering like fire, spreads across the rolling foothills. Higher and rockier promontories loom just beyond the clattering stream, barring the way to the giant Sequoias.
A vibrant orange cloud hovering over a corner of the orchard catches Maureen’s attention. It shape-shifts and flutters raggedly surfing the breeze. Tiny fragments split off and then rejoin the whole.
“Monarchs,” Maureen whispers. It’s migration time for the regal orange and black winged butterflies. They’ve come en mass from the north and will hibernate in southern climes for several months before returning north to lay eggs and perish.
Under the temporary canopy of carroty butterfly gauze, Charles emerges from the embrace of citrus-laden branches. He pauses, turns back for a moment and plucks a rounded plump jewel. Pivoting, he lifts the fruit aloft in both hands as though offering a sacrifice. Charles’ eyes seek out Maureen’s and their smiles reach each other across the sloping backyard.
“Happy anniversary, darling,” Charles calls to her. He picks two more oranges and juggling all three saunters up the slope.
“Do you remember our first?” he asks mounting the porch steps.
“How could I forget?” She catches the orbs he tosses to her. “It’s only been twenty years!”
An errant Monarch rests for a moment, a fluttering ribbon bow, on Maureen’s brown haired ponytail. Charles is transfixed. Then as the butterfly moves on, he sits next to her on the porch swing. “I thought you’d be disappointed with what I brought you that day.”
“Little did you know how acquainted I was with the symbolism!” Maureen peels an orange. “It was quite accurate, wouldn’t you say?”
They share segments of orange along with their memories.
In spare hours that first summer as they established their orange orchards, Maureen had occupied herself with a backyard-landscaping project. A huge cherry tree, ruined by lightning and chopped down, had left its stump as a gardening challenge. Maureen trundled wheelbarrow loads of rocks and pebbles up from the streambed and along with rich soil, using the stump as a base, fashioned a rock garden. Mischievous-faced pansies in purple, yellow and orange nodded with puffy orange and yellow pompom chrysanthemums on the miniature terraces Maureen had built.
Touring repeatedly round her little rock and flower realm in the following days, Maureen had felt there was something missing. Then it struck her. On the side facing the valley was a flat area. “How’d I miss that spot?” she murmured. Settling on her haunches she contemplated what was needed.
“Ah ha!” She clapped her hands. “I’ve always wanted a little pond.”
Consulting her landscape crafting books Maureen soon had a small pool with a tiny trickling waterfall that recycled the water keeping it fresh. Monkey-faces and mums cheerfully reflected themselves in the endless ripples.
On the day of their first anniversary Maureen spread a picnic supper at the pool’s edge waiting excitedly for Charles to join her. He’d hinted that her gift was something that shimmered and flashed. This initial year as husband and wife had been a frugal one as they struggled to get their orange tree farm on its way. She hoped he hadn’t been too extravagant.
Pink and orange streaked the sky behind Charles as he approached. In his cupped hands he carefully carried a clear plastic bag. Kneeling beside her he offered her the floppy container. Her breath caught; a feathery orange tail fluttered and flashed and tiny scales shimmered.
“A goldfish! Charles! It’s gorgeous! Just what my rock garden pool needed too!”
Untying the knot in the bag they released the little fish. Scales glistening, it darted freely over the pebbled pool bottom and amongst the ferns.
“Did you know…?” Charles began.
“That in the seventeenth century husbands gave their wives a goldfish on their first wedding anniversary?” Maureen grinned like one of her pansies.
“Yes!” He kissed her. “But do you know why?”
“As a symbol of the good fortune the husband pledged to bring her in the years to come,” she giggled.
“How fortunate I am to have married such a smart wife.”
“Indeed you are, dear.” Maureen snuggled close. “And you, my smart husband, will make gems grow on trees!”
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