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Chapter Seventeen

     The ground is soft and smells like redwood and compost, a mixture my nose has claimed as its own since I was a little kid running around the backyard in my diaper while Mom gardened. Kara hands me another pony pack, those six little plants waiting for their new bed. I was      right . . . she ditched school to join us on our planting day.

“These are tomatoes,” Kara says, peering at the hard printed label that pokes up through the plastic tray.

“You need to cage those,” Mom advises. “Grab one of those cages from over there, will you, Kara?”

Kara hands me a wire frame to set around the plants after I put them into the hole I dug for them. Her black fingernails and smeared dark eye makeup look out of place in this wild corner of our backyard, and I smile at the sight of her. Kara, my tattooed and pierced goth friend, is now the Martha Stewart of continuation school. Who knew.

The day wears on and we become dirtier, more part of the earth than when we started.

“Let’s get some lunch,” Mom says. We clean up as best we can and hop into her minivan to run to Mooshu You on Hollywood Boulevard. Over noodles and beef we listen to Mom.

“When we first moved here I had big plans for the garden. It’s good to see it coming around, some twenty years later.”

“Mom always says ‘projects that don’t get started sit in the corner and pout like a child,’” I quote.

Kara nods. She seems uncomfortable and shifts in her seat, looking paler than usual. I can tell she’s holding back tears but Mom doesn’t seem to notice as she tells us more about our house when my brother and I were babies. I want to ask Kara why she’s sad but now isn’t the time.

By three o’clock in the garden it’s only me and Kara, finishing up the shade bulbs and pony pack planting. The trees above are filtering a soft golden light that makes the plants glow with a happy kind of peace. We move to the sunny site where we have already planted beans on a big teepee-shaped pole that’s been in our garage since I can remember, and now we’re building something for potatoes Mom calls “berms.” We mound the hay and compost and dirt into piles and shape them.

“You okay?” I ask Kara.

“Me? Fine.”

“You sure? Seemed like you were sad at the restaurant.”

Kara looks at me, and she does look sad, not her usual defiant self. “I miss my mom.”

I don’t know what to say. The one thing Kara and I have always had in common was that our mothers were the enemy. Suddenly I’ve switched sides. I get it, how bizarre it must be for her to see me and my mom palling around after nearly a year of parental bitchfest.

“I told you I was seeing a new therapist . . .” I venture, and she nods. “Well, this is part of that therapy. Don’t ask me how it happened, it just did.” I feel as if I should say I’m sorry, like somehow I’ve betrayed her by befriending my own mother.

“It’s just a trip,” Kara says. “I mean, how you think you have something all hard-wired and figured out, and then suddenly, bam. . .you show up and it’s just different.” Kara cries, something she’s never done in front of me, not even in the shrink ward. She covers her head in her hands and sobs. I put my hand on her shoulder, again not knowing what to say. After a minute she looks up.

“You have this new therapist’s number?” she asks with a smile and a sniffle.

I smile, wondering if there’s any way to get The Granddaughter to pay a visit to my friend.

“She’s not from around here,” I say as Kara wipes her eyes carefully to avoid unsmearing her carefully smeared make-up. “And she’s pretty hard to get hold of. But I’ll mention you to her next time I see her.”

“Tell her I could really use her services,” Kara says, wiping her nose on her dirty sleeve. Now she has dirt on her nose. I try not to stare at it as she talks. “I mean, we’ve talked about how messed up life can be, how unfair and all that, but it’s so true! My mom just can’t handle being around me anymore. I told you she got remarried and moved back east somewhere. She told me she would come get me, you know, after everything settled down and she could find me a therapist and all that, but she hasn’t even called me and it’s been more than four months. And Dad is never around. I haven’t even seen him since last Thursday, when I had my appointment and he drove me. I’ve gotten rides to the last two, because he never showed up and no one knows where he is. His neighbor thinks he’s in Vegas on a gambling spree. It’s just so mega . . . here my parents were the biggest problem in my life and now they don’t even exist.”

Everything Kara says rings a familiar tune in my head. It’s exactly where I was heading, I think. This is where I was just a couple of weeks ago . . . Dad was gone at work, and Mom had emotionally checked out and seemed to make a point of working overtime or else being with Keith every chance she got. I feel as if I have been tottering on the edge of a long fall into the abyss and it was The Granddaughter who pulled me away and pointed out my stupidity. I pat the mounded dirt berm and mold the sides into a rounded shape.

“I know what you mean, Kara. I have had that same relationship with my mom, you know. But she’s back, I’m back. And we can share her. You can have part of her, too. She really likes you, you know.”

Kara smiles up at me. “No one has ever offered to share their mom before, Jess, that’s cool. And kind of weird.”

“Yeah,” I say, and the berm is finally ready to the receive ruddy potato eyes from the brown paper sack.