Marlene kept a watchful eye on her grandchildren, Sibby and Amy, prancing ahead on the worn path. Brush lined the trail. The occasional weed flaunted flowers, but most of the colours were dull as if the sun had failed to provide enough warmth to stimulate their hues.
She didn’t want the kids to catch poison oak or poison ivy, so she continually warned them to not touch the plants. “You never know when one might be dangerous.” She hoped the kids didn’t hear the unspoken “and you might die,” but at seven and five, most words disappeared in one ear and immediately out the other.
Although they enjoyed their time on the trails, Marlene knew she yelled at them too much. But she had to. They couldn’t come down with a rash. Her daughter would kill her if they did, might even deny her access to them.
Sibby and Amy sang in unison while they skipped along. Oh, how she loved those girls, her only grandchildren. Would die for them if it were necessary. They kept her young and alive. Jennifer was her only daughter, and other than her and her son-in-law, who kept busy with their own lives, she had no one. Jack, her husband of forty-two years had passed on the previous year.
Marlene increased her pace. The girls were getting too far ahead and a bend lay ahead, which would put them out of view. She travelled the path often. It was only minutes down the road from her home, curved around the lake, and into the provincial park. Eventually, the trail reached Ridge Road, a gravel road leading to the public beach.
“Wait up,” she called.
She caught up with them and patted their heads. They looked adorable wearing wide-brimmed sunhats, tank tops, and shorts.
“Nana, can we go swimming?” Sibby asked.
Amy piped up, “Can we? Can we?”
“We’ll see, but I think it’s too late now. Besides, you don’t have your suits with you.”
“We can swim in our undies,” Amy said.
Marlene had no desire to take them swimming. Too much responsibility and neither had begun swimming lessons. A walk on the trail was much safer—if they kept their hands to themselves.
She allowed them to search for rocks and to pick them up as long as no greenery touched them. They relished the activity, but Marlene had to keep two eyes on them. They did have a habit of forgetting.
The girls had found some beautiful stones on previous walks. Small ones, large ones. Numerous shapes. Solid-coloured ones, with shades of whites, pinks, browns; or duller variegated ones.
“Nana, what about this rock?” Amy bent, straightened, and proudly held out an oblong stone. Several colours veined through it.
Sibby craned her head. “Let me see. Let me see.”
Amy closed her hand, hiding the rock. “It’s mine.”
“Nana, that isn’t fair. I want to see.”
“Amy, you don’t need to act like that. Let your sister see it.”
Amy reluctantly opened her fist.
“Can I touch it?” Sibby peered up at Marlene.
Amy frowned, shaking her head. “I don’t want her to touch it.” The stone disappeared into her fist again.
Marlene sighed. “Okay, let’s keep walking. Sibby, we’ll look for one for you. I think I remember a really nice pile of rocks ahead.” She didn’t but must keep the peace.
Her ruse worked. Both girls smiled, past disagreements forgotten, as usual. As distractible as doddering old grannies, Marlene thought.
The three walked in silence, her grandchildren more subdued than minutes previously.
“It’s getting late,” Marlene said, glancing at the sky. “Almost time to turn back.” At the horrified look on Sibby’s face, she added, “After we find you a stone, of course.”
Minutes later, Marlene stopped. “Here’s some. Let’s look, Sibby. Amy, you look, too. See if you can find your sister a nice stone. Not too big.”
“But, Nana, if I find one, it’s mine.” Amy pouted and flailed her thin arms.
“Nana, it’s okay,” Sibby said. “There are lots here. We can all find one, right?”
The girls searched for several moments, walking in circles in the small clearing, stopping only to examine stones scattered on the ground.
“How about this one?” Marlene pointed to a small brightly coloured pink stone, in an almost perfect heart shape.
“Oh, Nana, it’s so beautiful.” Sibby picked it up, her grin revealing perfect teeth. “I’m going to keep it forever and ever.”
Amy continued to search without success, discarding every one she selected.
“Okay, now, no more nonsense. You both have one. We should head home now.”
“But, Nana,” Sibby said, her forehead wrinkling, “you don’t have one. Don’t you want one?”
“Aw, sweety, that’s okay. There’s always next time.”
They walked in silence and had almost reached the paved road that led to home, when Marlene froze.
What kind of weed was this? No, couldn’t be a weed. Perfectly shaped lavender petals circled the round center of bright pink. Much more colourful than a garden flower. And only one stalk; one flower. Had to be a freak of nature despite its beauty.
“So beautiful,” she muttered. She stooped. She could break it off near the ground, put it into her tall, thin crystal vase. She reached out to touch the petal, yearning to feel its velvety softness—
“Nana, what are you doing?” Sibby yelled.
“Yeah, Nana,” Amy chimed. “Don’t touch. Weeds are full of poison, remember?”
Marlene looked up. “This isn’t a weed.”
“Yes, it is. Don’t touch. We don’t want you to die.”
Marlene ignored them. They were only kids. What did they know? They believed what they were told by foolish adults.
Sibby touched her shoulder. “Here, Nana. Take this.” She thrust out the pink, heart-shaped stone, the colour of which perfectly matched the flower’s centre.
Marlene rubbed the stone’s surface: smooth, velvety, warm. She waited for a genie to magically appear.
She glanced at her grandchildren. She didn’t need three wishes.
Catherine A. Mackenzie
Cathy’s writings can be found in numerous print and online publications. She has also published several short story collections, books of poetry, children’s picture books, and (thus far) two novels. She writes all genres bu invariably veers toward the dark—so much so that her late mother once asked her, “Can’t you write anything happy?”
She published her first novel, Wolves Don’t Knock, in 2018, and Mister Wolfe (the darkly dark second in the series) in 2020. My Brother, the Wolf, the final volume, will be available in 2023.
Cathy divides her time between West Porters Lake and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.