Thirty-One and a Half Regrets

By: Denise Grover Swank


“Why are you calling and not Bruce Wayne?”

“Uh.” He paused. “He’s been up all night coughing and he finally got to sleep.”

“What are you doing up so early?”

“Who could sleep with all that coughing?”

Something didn’t feel right. “Has he gone to the doctor yet? He really needs to see one, David. I know he doesn’t have insurance, so tell him the nursery will pay for it.”

“Okay … I will.”

“He’s still not going to go, is he?”

He didn’t answer.

“Is he running a fever?”

“Well, yeah.”

“He could have bronchitis or pneumonia. He probably needs antibiotics.”

“Okay!” David sounded annoyed. “I’ll tell him.”

“David, you really need—”

“I said I’d tell him! I gotta go.” He hung up before I could say anything else.

I threw on a fluffy robe and a pair of flip-flops and took Muffy outside. My next door neighbor, Heidi Joy, waddled out her front door while I watched Muffy relieve herself on her favorite bush.

“Oh, hi, Rose.” She said, tucking her hair behind her ear self-consciously then cinching the belt of her robe over her protruding belly.

“How are you feeling?”

“Oh, you know. Tired. Same as always.” She came around the side of her house toward her trash cans. “Andy’s been picking up a lot more hours to help cover expenses, which is great, but it means he hasn’t been around as much to help me.” She spread her feet apart and leaned over to pick up a metal trash can.

I hurried over to her. “Heidi Joy, let help you with that.” I gently pushed her to the side and picked up the heavy can. “What were you thinking, trying to pick this up? You’re going to hurt yourself.”

Tears filled her eyes. “Andy already left and forgot to carry the cans out. I can’t let all these dirty diapers sit outside another week.”

I put the can down and pulled her into an awkward hug. “Then let me help you. We’re friends, right? Friends help each other. You’ve helped me plenty of times with Muffy.”

“I guess.”

I smiled. “Then ask me, okay?”

“Okay.”

But I knew she wouldn’t. She was too stubborn. I just needed to remember to offer my help more.

I carted her cans out to the curb and Miss Mildred, my eighty-two-year-old neighbor across the street, came out her front door wearing a housedress and curlers in her hair.

“Good morning, Miss Mildred.”

“There ain’t nothing good about a morning when women are strutting around in skimpy clothes only hours after the sun has risen.”

I sighed. My robe hit mid-thigh. “Would you rather I wait until lunch time to prance around in my skimpy clothes?”

A scowl puckered her face. “Don’t you get fresh with me, young lady. Your mother’s probably rolling over in her grave right now.”

I shook my head. I had no doubts about that, but I was sure some much bigger grievances were causing all that rolling around.

As I suspected, the job site was too muddy for more work, which was just as well. Our next task was to build a three-foot-tall retaining wall. And while I could have done it on my own, it would save time if Bruce Wayne was around to help me cart the stones.

I spent the rest of the morning at two other houses, creating landscaping plans and promising estimates within the next couple of days. The last house belonged to Mary Louise Milligan, one of Violet’s friends from high school. “I saw what you did at the Murphy’s. I loved the fountain, but I really have my heart set on a water garden. A little pond in the back with some of those big-eyed fish. You know the ones. What are they called?” She tilted her head to the side, a perplexed look on her face.

“Koi?”

“Yeah, them.”

We’d never made a water garden before, but I was thinking about putting one in my own backyard and had been studying the logistics of building one. It didn’t seem difficult. “Sure, we can definitely do that.”

Her face lit up with happiness and she started listing what else she wanted, ticking off each item with a finger. “I want those flowers that float on the water and a waterfall. And also some rocks stacked around to make it look artsy like Betsy’s pond.” Her hands made a somewhat pornographic shape. “Only nicer.” Her eyes widened as she nodded to stress this point.

I watched her as she continued to mime phallic shapes that were nicer than Betsy’s. “Okay,” I finally said, jotting down notes.

My head felt cloudy and my vision got fuzzy. I cringed at the familiar sensation, preparing for the awkwardness that would hit within a few seconds.