Nora was the type of woman who liked to admire a job well done, especially when it was her own work. She stood, crossing her arms, in the front yard of her 70's orange brick two-story Texas home, happily surveying the neat row of little bushes she and her husband had painstakingly planted. Painfully, also, particularly for her husband, Gary, who had completed the task of digging the original thirty-seven-year-old hedges' tree-sized roots out from the bedrock they had clung to just below the soil.
He did, however, get a new tool out of the job--a seven-foot long, heavy black metal pole, with a sharp point at one end, and a wedge shaped chisel at the other. This type of tool had been unknown to the Millers before they moved to San Antonio, where the "digging bar," as it was called, was pretty much indispensable.
"Gary!" Nora called across the scrubby lawn to her husband, a nearly six-and-a-half-foot tall, thin, tanned, but aging fifty-something-year-old.
"What?" He turned his head in her direction, wiping dirt from his brow with his work-gloved hand.
"It looks great, doesn't it?" she beamed, walking toward him. Nora was a foot shorter than her husband, not as thin, not as tan, also aging. It was, in fact, the most difficult age of her life so far. Losing her 'looks,' whatever they had been, was the insult added to the injurious trial she was going through. She hated that part almost as much as the anxiety, or maybe more, depending on the moment.
"Yeah," agreed Gary. "Much better."
"And the door--what do you think?" Nora asked cautiously.
"I love it."
"You're just saying that so I won't paint it again."
"No, I really do. It looks good. Cooler." She had painted the front door a fairly bright grayish-blue. Neither one of them had cared for the previous pumpkin color, which had matched the trim, painted by the previous owners.
"It does look better, doesn't it--less orange," she stated truthfully.
"Oh yeah," smiled Gary, and they hugged a brief sweaty hug.
Barreling out the newly painted door came Millie, the dog, along with Frankie, the youngest son--age 10, and his brother Joe, age 14. Frankie was juggling a basketball and the dog's leash, while Joe scrambled after them, babbling something that Frankie was doing his best to ignore.
"What are you guys up to?" asked Nora.
"We're gonna shoot some hoops with Millie,"declared Frankie.
"Well, I was going to take her for a walk," protested Joe, "but then Frankie stole the leash."
"All right guys," Gary interjected, "Frankie, you can't play ball and hold the dog. Give the leash to Joe."
"But he always gets her!" Frankie complained.
"Well you can go for a walk with us," offered Joe, but Frankie stormed off toward the hoop, bouncing the ball, once again ignoring his brother.
"See what I mean?" Nora looked up at her husband. "They fight all the time. I'm so tired of it."
"I'll deal with it," Gary asserted.
"Yeah, right," Nora rolled her eyes and stomped across the driveway toward the back yard. Gary threw his gloves down and jogged over to the cul-de-sac where Frankie was dribbling the ball.
"Pass it!" Gary called, and Frankie tossed the ball to his dad, who took a shot and missed. Frankie got the rebound and went in for an easy layup.
"Wanna play 'horse'?" he asked.
In the backyard, Nora gazed into the large, blue, kidney-bean shaped pool. They had recently had the pool re-plastered, and the work crew had destroyed at least half of the already struggling lawn. Fences of string staked off geometric shaped areas where Gary had planted grass seed. The pool water shimmered crystal clear and cool, veins of sunlight gently rocking in the soft breeze.
Nora thought about how she had often dreamed of having her own in-ground swimming pool, thinking it an impossibility. But then again, living in Texas was not something she'd ever considered as being possible, or desirable. So here she was, once again, finding her life turning out to be nothing like she had expected.
House projects did not stop with the grass and bushes. There were presently several more in process, as had been the case ever since the family had moved in, just one year before. Currently the couple was working on a stone pathway from the back patio, around the house, through the fence gate, and into the front yard. Previously it had been mostly mud and some ugly pre-cast shifting stepping stones.
Plantings were going in here and there, in pots or along the foundation, around the pool and "the bean," a kidney-shaped pebblecrete patio, stuck strangely in the center of the sprawling, muddy, weedy, quarter-acre yard. Several large trees had already been trimmed or removed, but it was still "woodsy." Clumps of stumps protruded out of the ground in small groupings which were made into little islands with small shrubs, flowers, and boulders.
In the far back corner of the wedge-shaped lot stood a large white shed that looked like a little house--with a pitched roof, windows, and a door. It was nice, almost adorable, except that it was tipping pretty noticeably. Whoever had gone to all the trouble of building it had not bothered to level the foundation. "They couldn't do anything right," thought Nora, looking at it. But it did provide needed storage for pool supplies and yard maintenance equipment.
A six-foot high wooden privacy fence enclosed the entire backyard, as was the case for every house in the neighborhood. However, three other backyards bordered the Millers', some with fence-boards facing in, some facing out, each somewhat different in age, construction, or color. So it was a bit of a fractured fairy-tale backyard, which didn't surprise Nora. "We always seem to end up in quirky situations," she reasoned, though not knowing why.