FLAMING ESCARGOT

Crispy ant bodies boiled up to the surface. 

Around the hole, their burnt remains floated in the hot pool like dried pepper flakes in soup.  Wanda emptied the last of the water from the steel pot over the dry ground, which sucked it all in.  She stared down at the steam rising from the earth, its hot breath licking at her toes, unprotected in orange rubber flip-flops.  All summer, Wanda looked for things to kill in her garden.  She’d planted nothing in the spring, not having the heart to watch anything new grow.

On Sunday, Emily came over with a banana loaf and a container of stew.

“You have to eat,” she told Wanda.  “Your wasting away isn’t going to bring him back.”

“Maybe it will,” said Wanda.  “Maybe if I get sick he’ll love me again.”

Emily scowled.  “Don’t be stupid.”  She placed a small bowl of stew on the table.  “It’s not your fault,” she said, cupping Wanda’s face.  “He’s never deserved you.”
Wanda smiled.  It didn’t seem to matter how many times she screwed up.  Emily stayed devoted.  But love always comes with a price.

“What are you going to tell the boys when they come home?”

Theo was measuring trees in Manitoba; Mark was backpacking through Europe.  For now, Colin had promised to say nothing.  As far as the boys knew, he was away on one of his extended business trips. 

It began to rain after Emily left.  By mid-morning the next day, the beds were dry again.  Wanda went out to the yard with a tall mason jar laced with vinegar and dug up the snails from the ground.  Just that week alone, she’d emptied six of them outside the back fence in the laneway.  Heaps of pickled escargot.

From the bottom step of the porch, Wanda sat nibbling at a slice of Emily’s banana loaf. A black squirrel was raiding one of the barrels.  Last summer, they were filled with fuchsia coloured Impatiens.  It had been a hot season...yet another mistake.

The squirrel climbed onto the roof of the shed and scurried along the fence.  It stopped and faced her with a stolen bulb in its grip.  A hot breeze caressed Wanda’s face.  Leaning down, she picked up a rock, and aimed.  The squirrel dropped like a disappearing act from the top of the fence.  Wanda jumped up, her heart pounding.  She hadn’t meant to hurt it.  But when the squirrel reappeared, unharmed, with the bulb in its teeth, she felt oddly cheated. 

“Colin...it’s me,” said Wanda, encouraged when he didn’t hang up.  “I’m sorry.  I made a mistake.  I promise…it won’t happen again.”

“That’s what you said last time.”

Wanda heard him sigh.

“And Emily?” he asked. “How long has she been a mistake?” 

When he hung up, Wanda stood still for a long time, gazing out the bedroom window, thinking how she should really water the garden before everything perished. Through the sheers, she spied the dark outline of the neighbour’s cat, sniffing in-between the Rhododendrons.

 

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