The door creaks loudly when she pushes it open. It startles her but she steps out onto the warm patio. The pale concrete and white fences doubles the voltages on the already bright sunlight, blinding her momentarily. She slips on her glasses as she walks pass Tommy's ultra zen patio just steps beyond Andrea's, decorated with a single tasteful tea blooming tea tree.
She walks on to see Sally's the one already out with her husband Kent, firing up the grill. A minor miracle it seems, as they stand in a patch of hardly visible open space among two prized roses, snow white cup shaped lilies against tall dark leaves that is as much art as plants, and several hanging pots of pink and white blooms. A line of topiary hedges stand in attention towards the back wall, turning out that new generation of spring green leaves rebelling against the neat dark lines drawn by their ancestors. On a tall stool, a plate of tender cut steaks lounge in a spa of marinates and exotic spices. She waits, for that first sizzle, when all prep work completes and a piece lands onto the grill.
"Sss.... crack!" The coal explodes at the excitement of fragrant fat drippings splashing down onto its hot surface. A firework of flavors flew up all around the patio, so palpable she almost reaches out with her tongue to catch a morsel. "Ah...", she hears the collective inhale of the neighborhood including her own, a valiant attempt at drinking in the taste molecules, quenching the thirst of their parched palettes.
"Hello Marianne, how are you this evening?" Sally finally looks up and her round face blossom into greeting itself. Kent nods stoically yet convey no less welcome at the sight of Marianne stepping out.
"I am fine, thank you." Pulled from her world of silent thoughts and imaginations at light speed, she nearly stumbles and falls from motion sickness and disorientation. She casts her eyes quickly to the ground, not realizing the residual frown between her brows escaped no one. "Your dinner smells wonderful..." she adds after a pause and some thought, as she moves to leave. She can't manage her social masks with her observing neighbors somehow. Perhaps it is like a neglected grill crusted in frozen icicles, a significant warm up time is needed before it can get properly lit up again.
"Thank you, we like to use the grill". Sally replied as Kent bends down to wipe off the bit of sweat forming on her forehead, a gesture too intimate in its thoughtful consideration and everyday familiarity. She flees with a quick: "Thanks but I've got to head out...."
"Have a good evening Marianne!" Sally chants cheerful behind her, waving with her spatula over the top of the fences. Marianne waves back with a half smile on her way out to a painfully slow escape.
Her own patio just a few low walls apart from Sally's is not without life. A few pots of Aloe Vera, split from the one mum had given her a year ago, are thriving under her mindful negligence and nature's seasonal rainfall designed for its survival. She likes to think of them as babies, of the original plant except she can no longer tell which is which. They are equally green, pointy and sharp against the otherwise deserted concrete slab that is her patio.
She tried but couldn't push away memories of lush growth from the past, plants that won competitions. Prized roses, artful lilies covering the colors of the rainbow, thirsty but bountiful hydrangeas and her favorite, fragrant blooming tea trees. Children, from those who coo and giggle in the snuggles of her embrace, to those who ran and hop and investigate snails, lizards and toads, used to crawl, stroll or run happily in her expansive garden, lined with soaring spruce, maple and pines.