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Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. That’s what they call this shrub, no taller than I am, struggling in my old front yard. It seems as if it hasn’t grown at all in the twenty years since I saw it last.

A fragile bush, its flowers fade and change so at any one time it can display three different coloured blossoms. If it were more robust it would look beautiful.

My mother used to say that about me, when I was little.

You are not a strong girl, Kindra. Not like your sister. A strong girl like your sister is a beautiful one. And she will find the husband. But you, I am not so sure. Men want a woman who will work hard. Like I do. Not a girl who lies in bed all morning.

My younger sister was my father’s favourite too; he never had much time for me. And my sister never let me forget it. You are stupid and weak, she would say with the same look that my mother gave me. A slight turn up of the upper lip like she was smelling something disagreeable.

Mother thought that there was something wrong with my heart and that was why I was so fragile: Maybe it has the hole.

The only one with that deficiency, as far as I could see, was her. She never got over the loss of my father.

It happened when I was eleven, and my sister was nine, two years after we moved here. That was over twenty years ago.

Mother would say to me, No, Kindra I have never got over the losing of him, in the same voice and tone she used to tell me when it was time to go to bed: Brush teeth, wash face and go to the bed.

I had given up long ago trying to make her speak correctly. I guess it was a little like me with my punctuation. I could never get the full stops or commas in the right place.

Mrs Forest used to tell me, “Just put them in when you need a rest”.

But that never worked; maybe I rested at different times than the other kids. I don’t know. You take it slow when you don’t understand.

Perhaps it was my mother’s fault for bringing me here to another country. But then I was sure it was harder for her than me.


Today: two women in a kitchen

I can see the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow shrub through the front window of what used to be our parlour, and also the little path wending to the letterbox. Only it’s a different letterbox. And the path that used to be white gravel is asphalt, sticky as my sun-screened skin and steel grey like my thoughts.

This woman, Mrs Thomas, owns my old house now and when I told her I used to live here, she was kind enough to let me in to have a look. I had walked around the block three times, winding up my nerve enough to lend me the courage to knock on the door and face her.

Now the tension is loosening from the words tumbling over my tongue.

I’m sorry, Mrs Thomas, for talking so much. Mrs Forest always said I talked too much.”

I lean over and take a biscuit which, I see, is really two biscuits jammed together. The red oozes out and smells of strawberries and the past.

Mrs Forest was my teacher. She’d be dead now.”

I look into Mrs Thomas’s eyes, which have opened wide. She sits still, brows slightly raised but says nothing. Then she picks up the teapot.

No, no thanks. I don’t want anymore, thanks.” I brush crumbs from my black skirt, being careful not to snag it with my jewellery. “I should explain about my…”

Mrs Thomas holds up her hand, shakes her head and pours me more tea in a fresh cup.

She hasn’t spoken, apart from telling me her surname but then I haven’t given her much of a chance.

That bush out there, do you know what it’s called?”

She nods and smiles. Her hand is pale with freckles, dappled like the rocking horse given to me one Christmas.


Yesterday

I couldn’t believe my aunt had sent me the horse. Nothing I ever got was new. When my sister saw it, she narrowed her eyes and stamped her feet: You don’t deserve this rocking horse. I was the one who did well in the exams. You are so stupid you can’t even spell your own name. I’m going to go and tell Daddy that it isn’t fair.

I was surprised my mother had sided with me against my father. I wasn’t sure exactly what was said as by then I had forgotten much of the old language. But in the end it all turned out the same.

The rocking horse was moved to my sister’s room and I didn’t even get the doll my aunt had bought her in return.


Today

I stare at my cup, my hands encircling it, my long nails shining from their manicure, tiny stars sparkling over cuticle moons.

I gesture towards the window. “Its botanical name is Brunfelsia Americana. It’s not the common variety.”

Mrs Thomas lifts her eyebrows. “Brunfelsia Americana. I didn’t know that.” Her voice barely raises a whisper, a soft chord in a wind chime.

I take a bite of the biscuit and then cover my mouth as I speak. Mrs Thomas asks me to repeat my question. I swallow and reiterate, “How long have you lived in this house?”

My voice sounds as dry as my mother’s. And I am not sure why I’m asking this. I know when she moved here - six months ago.

I had known when the place went on the market, about eighteen months back. It took a year to sell.

I’d seen Mrs Thomas on open day. I hadn’t gone in the house to have a look but I’d noticed her getting out of her battered old car as I drove past in my Mercedes. No sign of a husband. For a while I wondered if she could afford the property. But something told me she would find the funds. She had that hungry set like a dog gets, narrow-eyeing off another dog’s dinner. It was a familiar look.


Yesterday

I can remember the morning when my mother planted the Brunfelsia. But then she had to dig it up that evening, as soon as my father got home.

You’ve put it too far in the earth, stupid woman. It will get collar rot and die just like the roses did.

That’s what killed my father, my mother said. Collar rot.

A blue collar worker, he went off to work one day and never came home. My mother told me he had to be put in the earth.

Because I never got to see the grave, I wondered, at the time, if they put him too far in as well.


My sister disappeared from my life soon after we lost our dad. She went off to summer camp and I didn’t see her again until a year later. On a TV news flash.

I was alone, we had moved from this house by then, living in a one-bedroom unit. Mother was away working, cleaning other people’s houses. We need the money to make hen’s meat, she used to say.

Ends meet, Mother, ends meet, fell on deaf protests.

I say it how I hear it, she would counter.

I gave up in the end and then, in a kind of solidarity, fell in with her. So it became: a walk in the dark, too many cooks spoil the child, can’t see the forest for the disease.


The news flash was about an airline strike. A panned-over waiting room showed my sister, among other yawning commuters, reading a magazine. She looked up, blinked briefly like a camera lens into the reporter’s one and quickly hid her face away behind the pages. But I had seen her. Then a man came up holding out a paper cup of something. Even with his back to the camera he was familiar to me. The black hair, the stride.

It did not seem possible but I was as sure as my youth that it was him. My father. Our father… who art not in heaven.


Today

Can I see my old bedroom?”

Once again Mrs Thomas doesn’t answer. But she gets up and takes her cup to the sink. Then, without looking back, heads over to the stairwell.

Everything appears smaller than I remember and the colours are all wrong. Perhaps there is more light now. I look up expecting to see a skylight but find only the ceiling, but even this has changed; the rose has gone from its centre.

There is one thing that is the same. A small crack in the corner of the landing. That was where, cartoon like, I pretended that my little friend lived.


Yesterday

The times I spent feeding him, protecting him from my mother’s traps and telling him all my childhood woes, comes back on yesterday’s memories like the sunbeams streaming though the side window. I recall saying how I would never end up like my mother, working so hard. And that one day I would have all the beautiful things like my sister had, even if I never got married.

There must be easier ways to make money, I had told him.


Today

Mrs Thomas waits; her hand pauses over the doorknob of the closed door. I am only mildly surprised that she seems to know which room was mine.

I nod and she opens the door slowly, as if unveiling a statue or great work of art.

It looks like any bedroom. Except there in the corner is the rocking horse. The rocking horse of my childhood standing there, as faded as a memory, in my old room.

Mrs Thomas looks at me, she smiles, our eyes meet like a truce and I see that she knows who I am. I already know who she is.

It seems that we have both been good at pretending. My sister and I.

Tomorrow there will be plenty of time for talking. Plenty of time for explanations. But at this moment all my words are as taken as my breath.

I walk over to the horse and gently push on its pale neck. What’s left of its mane tangles in my fingers, the rocker squeaks a rusty sound like a sad apology, dipping my arm forward with its movement. My sister starts to come towards me but I shake my head and she stops mid-step and sits down on the bed.

Going to the window I stare down at the Brunfelsia; it looks as sparse as a bad haircut. But on its crest, only viewable from this aspect, I can see the delicate blossoms of the three colours which give it its other name. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

And I remember how I used to open this window and breathe in its scent wafting up on the evening’s warming.

My mother was right, I never found a husband and I still lie in bed at all hours. But she was wrong about me being as fragile as this shrub.

It and I do have one thing in common though. High class.

Brunfelsia Americana is also known as Lady of the Night.

That’s when its fragrance is most powerful.





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Myra King is an Australian writer living on the coast of South Australia. She has written a number of prize winning short stories, which includes a first place in the UK-based Global Short Story Competition, and has a short story collection published by Ginninderra Press. In 2010 her short story, The Black Horse, was shortlisted for the US Glass Woman Prize. Among other publications her work has appeared in Little Episodes, Orbis Quarterly (UK) Melbourne University Press, Dark Prints Press (AUS) Battered Suitcase, Admit 2, Heron’s Nest and Fast Forward Press (US). She has upcoming work in Efiction and The Valley Review.



As is usually the case, with my stories, I had no idea where this one was going when I wrote the first line. But the common name of the bush, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, set the theme of past and present and my imagination wove the characters to fit. Then later,  when I googled its botanic name and read that it was also sometimes called The Lady of the Night, I knew how I was going to end it. 





 





  


Copyright 2009