For 28 years Dolly paid more interest than mortgage each month, dutifully, dutifully, to keep her house.
Her son was no good to anyone after his overdose. He was wheeled into an ambulance in the early spring of the summer we arrived, my mother freshly divorced and me ready to start kindergarten. He was left with impeccable style and a skill at chemistry, now seemingly distasteful to him. Instead, it manifested itself as a green thumb. Dolly’s garden was rich and lush because of this. The crowning glory of the season were a row of royal purple bearded iris that bloomed like a slow motion fireworks display in the month of May. It was by far the most beautiful garden in the neighbourhood and a testament of one son’s devotion to his mother.
Dolly belonged to the Everlasting Love and Peace Church of the Redeemer, a christian revivalist sect that housed itself in unit 8A of the plaza at the edge of the suburban development. As the years passed, we would see her and her young granddaughter in the parking lot on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. They would be dressed entirely in long white dresses with big white hats complete with veils, reminding us of flowers ourselves.
Dutifully, Dutifully she would wait for the van (and Jesus) to pick them up. When Dolly got sick she went back to Jamaica to be cured through a faithhealer. Everything was fine for a few years more.
Dolly began to call us to drive her to church. Not us, really, but my mother; calling to her from the darkness of the answering machine in a slow gravelly voice. It struck us strange she should ask since it had only been the previous spring when the van, having driven all night from Ohio for a spiritual revival, crashed into the back of my mother’s car. It was like Dolly hadn’t realized my mother had a car, hadn’t noticed us at all until God drove that van right into us. There was something in that recorded voice that made my mother listen and she got up and she drove. Once I answered the phone and she asked in her low resonant voice, “Is this Susan-daughter?” Despite her failing health, the irises were tended and bloomed year after year, Glorious! Glorious!
One evening Dolly’s son came to our door and told us that we could have the iris bulbs next season and we took that to mean for Dolly, Jesus was finally coming. She called once and asked that I start picking up her cheques at the bank, that is how I came to know about her mortgage. I entered her home and realized that her son had brought down her bed from the first floor. Dolly could no longer climb the stairs. Her bed was covered in a rich red satin comforter and pillows with frills, carefully made. Dolly sat primly on the edge of the bed in fresh pajamas while I gathered her documents. I spoke to her but was interrupted by the telephone. The answering machine blasted on only to be met with another recorded voice, that of the highschool informing us that her granddaughter had yet more unexplained absences. I was ashamed to know this. Ashamed and sad because I did not blame the poor child a bit. School would seem very small if one lives and breathes with the dense flowery scent of Death.
Dolly died and we attended the funeral. We were the only white people there. Suddenly Dolly had many children! She had so many family and friends! Of course, she had also owned her own home. The family fought about money. The burial was delayed so that they could fight longer about it until the undertaker stepped in and went ahead and buried Dolly.
Nikiesha was a month shy of her 17th birthday with love bites on her neck when her grandmother died. She described her family as odd but being Irish Catholics ourselves, we weren’t surprised a bit. Nikiesha was awarded a social worker and a lawyer because her mother couldn’t return to this country due to the crime she had committed and no one knew her father anymore, but even then she didn’t last long. Soon enough, a boy known to police was coming around and he brought his friends. Suddenly she was very popular with her friends. There was a lot of activity, a flashy car with loud speakers would pull up late at night. A young family with a stroller quietly moved in and then quickly moved out. Nikiesha gained weight and started bouncing cheques. She became surly to my mother.
Toward the end, they did strange things. They took the handles off all the doors in the house, including the front door. Beautiful brass knobs, probably pawned. They cracked the same window in the same way, 3 separate times. There was a pair of kittens in a basket outside when it was still too cold. One morning we secretly fed them a tin of salmon. Then suddenly the kittens were gone. But the strangest thing of all was the faucet, broken and running full blast for God knows (but Jesus may!) how long. All for the want of a sealing washer, they never asked for help. There was always pounds and pounds of garbage on the boulevard, left on the wrong day until the property was cited.
My mother, as property manager, had to lien on the property for the garbage, the water , the window, the door knobs. After taxes and the rest of the mortgage there was surely nothing left.
Quietly and quietly, slowly and slowly Dolly’s hard-earned money was being re-distributed throughout the community. We found out the house had sold through a private sale too late. The real estate agent and buyer had got it for $30,000 less than it was worth. My mother tried to explain to Nikiesha that she had been fooled, to keep the agent’s card and come after him when she had figured out what he had done to her. Nikiesha looked straight into my mother’s eye and asked pertly, “What has he done to me?” then turned on her heel and marched away. Venomous! Venomous!
Nikiesha moved out just before the iris bloomed. The groundsman for the common area must have been hard at work last fall because there were fields of them. And the lushest blooms of all were in the parking lot, facing the spot where Dolly and her little granddaughter used to stand, the same spot where the flashy car used to pull up and where the moving van parked and eventually drove away.