Home > Porch Lights(7)

Porch Lights(7)
Dorothea Benton Frank

Before I left the room, I smelled the inside of her closet. It was musty, like any closed area of a beach house can be. I opened the doors and hurried to my linen closet for a sachet of potpourri. Yes, I keep extra potpourri on hand because I make it myself from lavender that grows in a hedge of buzzing weeds in my yard. Besides, a sachet makes a wonderful hostess gift. And bumblebees love lavender.

Yes, I make lavender sachets. And yes, I am fast turning into, Heaven save me, my mother.

I pulled the cord of Jackie’s ceiling fan to get the air moving. I rolled the sachet between my palms to release the oils in the seeds and slipped the ribbon over the neck of a hanger, deciding to leave the door open. She would probably think the room was too fussy. I doubted they issued her lace-trimmed sheets in Afghanistan, but I wanted her to know that I cared about her so much that I’d use my very best everything for her. I put an assortment of new (well, okay, gently read) novels on her nightstand along with a bottle of some fancy Italian water and a pretty glass. On her dresser I left a waterproof canvas beach bag filled with an assortment of magazines, a tube of suntan lotion, new flip-flops, and a visor that said SULLIVANS ISLAND across the brim. I had done my best.

“Anybody home?”

“Yes, yes! I’ll be right there!”

It was the voice of Deb, my crazy wonderful neighbor. Deb ran the Edgar Allan Poe Library down the island and had for years. Until I took early retirement, I taught English and history for eons at the Sullivans Island Elementary School right next door, secretly specializing in South Carolina’s illustrious past, especially stories about the pirates and naturally, Edgar Allan Poe. Poe lived on Sullivans Island while he was stationed at Fort Moultrie right before the so-called Civil War. Anyway, Deb and I had known each other all our lives and she was the very best friend I’d ever had. And her husband, Vernon, well, he was another story. Let’s just say that Deb believed that once you got married, you stayed married. In fact, I bought her a needlepoint pillow that says A RETIRED HUSBAND IS A WIFE’S FULL-TIME JOB. True story.

She was standing on the top step of the stairs I descended every morning to walk the beach with her, wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat I hadn’t seen before. The crown was covered in a psychedelic bouquet of artificial flowers, and it was about the wildest thing I’d ever seen. But then Deb was my most flamboyant friend, the complete opposite of the stereotypical librarian. She made me seem conservative.

“Hey!” she called out our traditional island greeting.

“Hey!” I flipped the latch on the screen door and held it open for her. “Come on in and tell me this instant where you got that hat! It’s gorgeous!”

“I got it at Belk. Big sale. Want to try it on?” She handed it to me.

“Indeed I do,” I said, plopping it on my head and checking myself out in the hall mirror. “I look like an ass in hats.”

“No, you don’t!” She gave me a friendly hug. “Is Jackie here yet?”

“No, but almost. She called from Columbia a while ago.”

“Gosh, I can’t wait to see her, Annie. The poor thing. How’s she doing?”

“I guess she can’t be doing too well, or she wouldn’t be coming here.”

“Stop! She loves you! You’re her mother!”

“It’s complicated, and you know it. Glass of tea?”

“Lord, yes. I’m parched like the Sahara.”

Deb followed me into the kitchen, where I took two glasses from the cabinet and filled them with ice from the freezer of my Big Chill jadeite green refrigerator that looked exactly like my mother’s from the 1950s.

“Here we go,” I said and handed her a glass.

“I still can’t believe you spent that much money on a refrigerator.”

“Some women lust after hats and others lust after appliances.”

“You’re so crazy. Is this sweet?” She pointed to her glass.

“Aren’t you sweet enough?” I arched an eyebrow in her direction.

“You know it, girl.” She giggled and peeked inside my pots, her hundred enameled bangle bracelets tinkling like a wind chime as she lifted the top. “Smells divine.”

“Stay. Stay and have lunch with us.” It was a halfhearted invitation.

“No, darlin’, thanks, but I have to be at my Zumba class in less than an hour. But we can sit on the porch for a few, if you want. The breeze is heavenly.”

“Let’s do.”

Inside of a minute we were settled in the old weatherbeaten Kennedy rockers that ran the length of my front porch. There was a Pawleys Island hammock in the far corner, positioned there to catch the crosscurrents of air when the weather was stifling. But it was a lucky afternoon. The rising tide carried enough air to rustle the palmetto fronds and to blow our hair around.

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