Julia Alvarez, agreeing to disagree? Absurd, Liddy thought. When the Alvarez sisters fought there was never agreement, only silent acknowledgement. A suppression of arms. They fought, and then it was done: no resolution, no apologies. The perpetual, tangled state of their relationship demanded nothing less. After all, they were mere clippings of their mother, who before dementia was a robust, dense woman, as deceptive as the hemlock she grew for medicine, and her daughters sprouted in her shadow, poisonous and wild.
“You heard what I said, Liddy. Let’s drop it,” Julia wiped her forehead and tried to angle herself under the table canopy, away from the Texan sun. “It’s not worth it. If you say you haven’t seen it, I believe you.”
A retreat. Liddy enjoyed her advantage in the shade. Her sister’s desperation was as subtle as the lime in her fresca. She signaled a waiter and ordered another for herself and Mama, who gave polite thanks. It was a normal gesture, but seemingly childlike coming from the former behemoth of a woman.
“Thank you. It’s just that Mama left the house a mess. Moving in, getting situated, it’s like a second job. I haven’t had time to look for her diary.” Liddy made sure to emphasize the casual freedom of it, of being busy with one’s own life.
Julia inflated her cheeks, infuriated but resigned, and exhaled through pursed lips. She took a napkin and wiped at Mama’s already clean lips, causing her face to tense and furrow, to momentarily show signs of fire at the indignity. Like a spent match, though, the instant came and went, leaving an afterimage in red.
“Dammit, I just wish I knew where Mama hid that thing.” Julia said, now cupping Mama’s fattened cheeks and looking her squarely in the eyes. It was a new habit of Julia’s Liddy had noticed, along with the mild profanity, of looking directly at Mama while discussing her. “I’ve tried taking her to her friends every week, even to people she used to treat. Remember the Rubio kid, the manic, the one Mama spent whole winters growing root for?”
Liddy nodded, casually sipping on the melting ice from her cup, as if her memory had any bearing whatsoever.
“She can’t even remember him, and she hated the little jerk. I need something to help her remember.”
Of course you do, Liddy thought. That was Julia to a tee: Mama’s sapling, the frustrated healer, a little copycat, thriving in the muck around her. Mama had despised her. But it was such an apparent, translucent form of jealousy, recognizable to everyone, that it was obvious she was the woman’s pride. Liddy, however, no matter how pretty or smart she tried to be, was plastic foliage on the periphery, there just to complete the scene.
“Hear me, Mama? Where’s your damn diary?” Julia was saying now, still holding the raw, uncultivated flesh of Mama’s face.
There was a pause, then a deliberate movement of Mama’s mouth that could’ve been caused by a crank. Slowly, full of sincerity, the words came out. “Oh, just give me a moment and I’ll find it,” she said, her fingers scratching the table while digging through her memory.
Julia slapped the hand in disapproval. Mama withdrew obediently, unafraid but aware of some line she’d crossed.
“Nothing good grows from idle hands. Remember that saying?” Julia said with emphasis, glaring at Mama again.
As they prepared to leave, Liddy thought about that particular lesson . Growing up, the plants had been their livelihood, and any sort of neglect of them had been punishable by pops from a quick hand, barbs from a quicker mind.
She fingered her mother’s scalp where nothing longer grew.
Despite her own best efforts, Mama’s hands had also been idle, growing Liddy seedless, apathetic, boring as hostas, leaving Julia, the good daughter, a wilted rose, strangled by the tangles of Mama’s weeds.
As they went their separate ways, Liddy reached into her purse. She gripped the diary, a seed waiting to be planted. Without wondering why, she knew she’d never let it grow.