“What’s the matter with you?”
Fred winced at the familiar query. Crouched, he held the paintbrush tight. He knew what came next. It never failed. Dipping the brush into the can, he sloshed white paint onto the fence.
Leaning on her walker, Mother Dove stood on the porch glaring across the yard. “Have a hole in your head?
Paint slapped on wood turning mottled gray white. Bristles splattered paint on Fred’s face. Frowning, he continued on pretending the old woman was dead
“After Labor Day,” said Mother Dove. “The yard can’t wear white.”
“Yes, Mother Dove,” said Fred. The old woman was never quite right, but it seemed the accident had stolen more than her hip. “But the fence is a blight.”
“Fred, my boy, paint the fence red.” she said. “It will go with the leaves. Might as well, you’ll not rake them anyhow.” Mother Dove turned, moved her walker clunking across the boards. She leaned on the handles, and her feet waddled a rump-rump sound. Clunk-rump-rump she went back inside.
Snatching the pail, Fred stood wondering how he put up with her. “Love,” he said, “it’s all that matters now.”
After finishing the fence, painted burgundy, Fred looked over the yard. The lawn needed mowing, the flowers demanded water, and rot threatened the eaves. He mowed the grass, even raked up stray blades from the flower garden. The yard appeared neat even without white.
Ladder leaned against the house, Fred climbed, a trowel in hand. Digging into moss and murk, he cleared the eaves, scratching away years of neglect. He heard the door open, and he paused.
Then it came, a clunk-rump-rump. “Fred?” said Mother Dove, moving her walker, a clunk-rump-rump. At the edge of the porch, she looked up. “What’s the matter with you? Have a hole in your head?”
Oh, Fred thought, how I wish her dead. He peered down. “The eaves,” he said.
“No leaves in them eaves!” Mother Dove stomped her walker on the boards. “It’s nap time as you’re well aware! Boy, let the eaves be. I have a new birdbath, didn’t you see?” A clunk-rump-rump, Mother Dove dragged her bad hip back into the house.
Fred climbed down the ladder and headed into the garage. He stood staring at the birdbath. The stone structure stood half his own height. “The birdbath will look great beside the oak tree.”
Grabbing the wide basin, he swung the pedestal out landing with a thud. His shoulders ached, but his love for Mother Dove carried him on. As quiet as he could, he walked the birdbath thudding between his soft steps across the lawn.
Positioned between the oak tree and rose bushes, the birdbath was a sight. All it needed was a splash of water. Turning around, he spotted the old woman on the porch leaning over her walker.
“Fred, have a hole in your head? That’s the north end!” Mother Dove shook her head. “Everybody knows birds bathe south for winter. You’re as dull as the dead!” A clunk-rump-rump she went into the house again.
Hands clenched, Fred stormed across the lawn, stomped onto the porch, and through the open doorway. He loved Mother Dove, but the wreck had stolen more than her hip. Reaching behind the door, he grabbed the baseball bat and swung. The sound meeting his ears was not the expected crack, more like a thunk of a melon. No more rumping and clunking, she slept in her own blood for more than an hour.
The sun down, town asleep, Fred turned off the porch light and crept, shovel in hand, into the garden. He scooped the petunias and begonias aside. He dug a hole. Twice he paused to listen, but not a sound met his ears. Finished digging, he returned to the house. Hefting the portly woman over-shoulder, he took the walker in hand, and stomped outside. He dumped the old bag, walker and all, into her grave.
“See what I did? No hole in my head.”
Petunias and begonias back in place, there was only one more thing to set everything right. Fred carried the birdbath, thumping across the lawn between his steps, and plopped the stone monument among the flowers.
“South side it is. Just like Mother Dove said.”
Returning to the house, Fred threw the door shut and took to the sofa. Arms sore, legs weary, he leaned back for a well deserved doze. Hands folded over belly, he closed his eyes.
A clunk sound broke his repose.
Sitting up, Fred gazed at the closed front door. It came again, a clunk on the porch. What could it be at this late hour? He already knew, and a rump-rump confirmed it. Another clunk-rump-rump, and the door flew open. Mother Dove, covered in dirt, leaned over her walker.
“Fred my boy,” said Mother Dove. “You never been right since the smash-up.” Clunk-rump-rump, she walked into the house spilling a cloud of dust. “A hole in your head, isn’t that what I said?”
Fred scrambled to the mirror, and there he saw it within his mess of hair, a circle of red. “I have a hole in my head,” he said. “All along since the car accident, we’ve been dead.”