Perhaps it was a dream, she thought. Perhaps if she pinched herself, she would wake up. But she didn’t want to wake up. She wanted to stay in this dream world where pain didn’t exist. Where she could soar and fly with the rest of the flock. Where her wings never tired. She could do whatever her heart desired. Sure, she overlooked her random encounter with an overly chatty walrus named Wallace over a bowl of sea salted peanuts at a Tiki Bar. She knows this is a dream, but she’d rather stay here forever if she could. She felt an urgent pressure all of a sudden, which woke her up from her pleasant yet odd slumber. The pressure was a.. full bladder. Nature calls. Her body decided it was time to get up. Mhmm.. there’s the pain she didn’t miss. Living with chronic widespread pain is something she wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy.. if she had any.
Mildred was well liked and respected in her small retirement community, however she felt disconnected since she recently became a widow. She’s always been a homebody. She frequently seeks refuge in her colorful, wild garden and quaint in-ground pool. The warm weather does wonders for her mood and productivity. She smiled with her eyes still closed as the Florida sun crept through the fuchsia curtains upon her tan face. As she stretched and rolled over, her smile widened because her emotional support Goldendoodle, Rover, greeted her with a slobbery kiss and zoomed around the bedroom.
“Guess it’s officially time to get up outta bed and start the day, huh?” Mildred finally opened her eyes and giggled as Rover whined at her. She opened the floor length curtains to a picturesque view of her backyard that was littered with nature: squirrels, birds, insects, daisies, carnations, rhododendrons, Big Beef tomato plants, and orange citrus trees. She sighed with pride and opened the sliding door. She walked outside with Rover, who chased the critters about and hiked against a stone bird bath under a Weeping Willow. She took a deep breath in and out, closed her eyes, and quietly counted: “One. Two. Three. F- – -.”
“Good morning Milly! How ya doing?” Rosalee cheerfully announced with a wave from the other side of the white picket fence. Her enthusiastic motion almost knocked her large sun hat off her petite head.
“Morning Rose! Oh, ya know.. I’m.. living the dream,” Mildred fibbed. “How about you? Your petunias sure do look beautiful!”
“Ain’t we all,” Rosalee gleefully gestured with both arms wide holding pruning shears in one hand and a batch of plucked weeds in the other. “I woke up this morning so I’m doing grand,” she chuckled lightly. “Thank you! Just trying to keep up with your green thumb!”
“Aw, Rose! You’re doing great! Keep it up. How are your lemons coming along this year?”
“Thanks Milly! I learned from the best,” Rosalee brushed aside some gray strands of hair from her freckled face and winked. “Ya know if Spike would leave the dang tree alone, there’d be a couple shoots by now and we could share a glass of lemonade!” They both cackled. Her three-year-old gray Great Dane galloped along with Rover and they gave each other an Eskimo kiss between the fence panels. Ya know how they say dogs and their owners look alike? That’s Rosalee and Spike. Gray haired, gentle, and practically the same height!
Mildred’s wavy golden gray hair did happen to resemble Rover’s. They recently celebrated his ninth birthday with all the cul-de-sac doggies, which makes him sixty-three in dog years so they’re more alike than she originally thought! She descended the wooden deck stairs to join Rover, Spike, and Rosalee. A ladybug landed on her fluffy floral fleece robe sleeve.
“Wow, look here, Rose! A ladybug!” Mildred lifted her arm to get a better look at the spotted insect.
“Milly, did you know that when a ladybug lands on you.. it’ll bring you luck?!”
“I have heard that before.. Jeepers.. I’m overdue for some luck!”
“Me and you both,” Rosalee teased, “Mind sharing that lucky ladybug? I hope some of its good juju will rub off on me too.” Rosalee reached out her wrinkly hand over the white picket fence to retrieve the insect. Mildred carefully stepped into her garden’s mulched area, in between a couple plants, and noticed another little garden critter, a snail; it seemed perfectly content in the middle of the chaotic garden as it took it’s morning stroll. As quickly as the ladybug crawled off Mildred’s arm onto Rosalee’s delicate hand; it fluttered away just as swiftly. They both watched the ladybug fly off until it disappeared into the distance.
“Goodness gracious, look at that,” Mildred pointed up, “Not a cloud in the sky, but you can bet your bottom dollar we’re going to get a Floridian rain shower sometime this afternoon!”
“But of course! Sure saves me having to water my garden every day. Saves me money on the water bill too. I’m glad and grateful that Mother Nature steps in and picks up the slack for me!”
“You said it, Rose,” Mildred sighed and then flinched because a nearby bird splashed her on the ankle from the stone bird bath. “Well, there’s Mother Nature again.. Guess I don’t need a shower! Now, I’m saving money on my water bill!”
“Aw, that little Brown Thrasher is having a good ol’ time over there,” Rosalee excitedly stated.
“What d’ya call it?”
“A Brown Thrasher.”
“What an odd name! It sure is.. thrashing about,” Mildred snorted at her own joke.
“Haha, it sure is! Felix and I used to go Birdwatching. It was something we really enjoyed doing together,” Rosalee solemnly admitted.
“I’m sure,” Mildred paused. “Hey! Ya know, I’d love to learn more about wildlife. Maybe we can go birdwatching together sometime. I’ve been- -” she paused again. “I’ve been itching to get out more. I’m sure you are too, eh?”
“Why Milly, that’s a swell idea! I’ve been wanting to see the Herons before they migrate North for the winter!”
“Sounds like a plan, Rose. I’m looking forward to it,” Mildred promised and pivoted, “Rover! Come. Rover,” she called. “Where are you?” She noticed some dirt scattering up into the air near an overgrown aloe plant, she peered past the stone bird bath, and there she found her curly rascal digging a hole. “Whatcha doin’ pup? Whatcha got there? You little troublemaker..” Mildred strategically snatched a hard object out of Rover’s dirty, slobbery mouth. It was a gold pendant with black, white, and yellow gems. She dusted off the dirt and unveiled a brooch. A bumblebee brooch.
“What’d Rover dig up now, Milly?”
“Did you happen to lose a bumblebee brooch, Rose?”
“No, I sold all my jewelry when.. Felix died.. so, I wouldn’t lose the house,” Rosalee dropped her head and frowned.
“Think the previous owner misplaced it years ago?” Mildred asked while closely inspecting the brooch and counting each gem.
“No, I don’t think so. The previous owner was the original owner. He was a lifelong bachelor. Yeah, Bachelor Bennett. He was a strange bird. Lived here for twenty-five years. How long have you lived here now, Milly? Ten years?”
“It’ll be eleven in October.”
“Think one of your visitors misplaced it?” Rosalee asked as she tilted her head.
“No, I don’t think so. We always visited inside.. where the air conditioning is,” Mildred smiled at the thought of enjoying a cup o’ joe in her cool kitchenette. Her stomach growled, Spike heard it, and growled back through the white picket fence.
“Maybe Magnus next door can help ya out.. See how much that baby is worth. He used to be a.. ya know.. a whatchamacallit.. ya know.. someone who looks at jewelry and quotes a price of what it’s worth..” Rosalee trailed off with frustration.
“A jeweler? An appraiser?”
“That’s it! He’s been retired for a decade or so, but he was the best in town. I’m sure he can help ya out.”
“Good to know, thanks. I’ll pop over to his place after breakfast and see if he’s in.”
“Let me know what ya find out! Now, I’m curious!”
“I’ll make lunch for us and we can chat about it.”
“Sounds lovely. See ya then, Rose!”
Rosalee whipped up some bologna ‘n butter sandwiches with cottage cheese, sliced tomatoes from the garden, and poured some prune juice for lunch. Mildred rang the door bell with her canine companion in tow. Spike squeezed past Rosalee to greet Rover when she opened the door. They went gallivanting down the hallway side by side.
“Hey there! Uhhh,” Rosalee stammered. “W-what’s with the metal d-detector, M-Milly?” She gestured for Mildred to enter and they sat down at her wicker dining room table and chairs under the skylight.
“Oh! I ran into our other neighbor, Leon, when I left Magnus’ place,” Mildred said while putting her sunglasses back on. “I told him about finding a piece jewelry in the backyard and he insisted that I borrow his metal detector. We could check your yard after lunch!”
“Oh, yes, lets,” Rosalee blurted, she hurriedly chewed her food and continued with her mouth full, “So, tell me.. what did Magnus have to say?”
“Rose, I felt like I was on Antique Roadshow! Get ready for this,” Mildred paused for dramatic effect, cracked a sly smile, lowered her sunglasses to look directly into Rosalee’s eager eyes. “Quarter of a million dollars!”
Rosalee’s eyes widened as big an owl’s. “I do declare! My, my, my.. Oh, Milly! What ever will you do with kinda money?!” she squealed and fanned herself.
“I think I wanna open a senior citizen center.. for widows.. to help women like us.. who feel.. alone.. and lonely. Where we can have a support group to talk to and get the financial assistance we need. What d’ya think?” Mildred inquired.
“Milly, I think that is a superb idea! Can I be your Vice President?”
“Rose, I wouldn’t have it any other way! You’ve been such a Godsend to me ever since.. Mortimer passed,” Mildred’s voice trembled. “Us.. widows.. gotta stick together,” Mildred sniffled. She reached for and held Rosalee’s petite hand. They gazed into one another’s teary eyes.
“Aw, Milly, you’ve done the same for me since.. Felix died,” Rosalee whispered. “I’d be honored to help you with this.”
They wept in each other’s arms for what seemed like a long time. The cuckoo clock chirped above their heads and it startled them back to reality. Mildred helped Rosalee clear the table, they freshened up their faces, and relocated outside to the picnic table for dessert: tapioca pudding. Mildred noticed a little black spider on the edge of the wooden picnic table and gave it have some room. “Table for three,” she thought in an Italian accent and stifled a laugh. Rover slowly approached to sniff the arachnid and tried to lick it, but was simultaneously distracted by Spike’s booming bark at a grasshopper that sprung onto the brick house. The doggos were running all over the place exploring the yard, chasing each other, and getting to know all the little garden creatures. One creature in particular remained undetected by the curious canines: the Praying Mantis. It became one with the foliage and slowly traveled from leaf to leaf, branch to branch, and then vanished.
“Boy, I’m stuffed!” Rosalee announced while patting her stomach.
“Rose, you eat like a bird,” Mildred teased while sipping the last bit of prune juice. “What d’ya say we give that metal detector a try?”
Rosalee sarcastically snickered while standing up, “I say, what are we waiting for?! There could be another fortune back here! After all, ’tis our lucky day!” She gave Mildred a wink.
“Alright, so, Leon said to press this button and wait for the green light to turn on. There it goes. Well, that was easy peasy lemon squeezy.”
“Hear that Spike?! I may be able to afford bottled lemonade after all so you can use my lemon tree as your own personal peeing post!” Rosalee and Mildred giggled. They walked to and fro with the metal detector over Rosalee’s backyard. Spike and Rover followed closely behind. They barked, whined, and tilted their heads when the machine began to beep. The beeping began to rapidly increase.
“Milly, I think we got something!” They carefully placed the metal detector against the white picket fence and started digging with trowels. Spike and Rover joined in on the fun and dug alongside their owners. “Whatcha got boy?! Gimme that,” Rosalee pleaded with Spike as he started to swallow it. “Spike. Out. Now!” He froze, gave her the biggest puppy dog eyes and dropped it onto the grass. “Cripes! It’s a little lizard,” Rosalee shrieked in disgust and tossed it to Mildred, “Ugh, is its guts hanging out, Milly? I can’t look.”
Mildred wiped the debris off the large dark chocolate gems and the shiny gold sparkled across the green lawn. Rover tried to catch the reflecting light like a cat would with a laser pointer. “Rose, it’s not alive.”
“Aw, I was ‘fraid of that.. Should we bury it? We already dug a hole,” Rosalee suggested quietly with a light laugh. She uncovered her eyes and finally examined the item.
“It’s a lizard pendant,” Mildred stated. Their eyes met, Rosalee excitedly tackled her with a strong hug, which knocked them both over into the infamous puny lemon tree. Rover and Spike jumped on top of them and licked their faces in celebration. The foursome became an official dogpile.
Eighteen months later
Mildred and Rosalee were on their way to the ribbon cutting ceremony at the grand opening of their senior citizen center for widows they decided to call: Treasure Gardens. They were also due to receive the key to the city from none other than.. the Mayor! They were tickled pink! They decided to take a detour first.
“I still can’t believe Felix and Mortimer are only a couple plots away from one another,” Mildred told Rosalee while putting the car in park. “These bouquets you put together are gorgeous, Rose. Flowers are something we should incorporate around the office. It’ll help liven up the place. It’ll feel more inviting and homey. What d’ya think?”
“Absolutely. I think that’s a grand idea, Milly! I did pick ’em from your garden, so you did half the work.. Partner,” Rosalee winked at Mildred. They awkwardly hugged over the car’s center gear shift. Spike and Rover both barked out the car window at a squirrel climbing up a nearby tree. The ladies laughed in unison at their playful pups. “Can’t take ’em anywhere without causing mischief,” Rosalee teased and rolled her eyes. Rosalee and Mildred parted ways with their dogs as they exited the vehicle.
Mildred placed the bright botanical bouquet onto a knee high headstone. “Hi honey,” she whispered. “I miss you. Today.. is a good day. It will be a good day, I’ve decided. Today will be.. The. Best. Day. Next to our wedding day, of course,” she pursed her lips together and made a smooching sound. “Oh, honey.. I’m.. living the dream!” She pinched herself and smiled.
Normally, I have an idea and/or photo(s) first and let that inspire the piece I write. This week, I decided to reverse my creative process: write first and let it inspire the photo(s) because I recently purchased a journal called Complete the Story. I admit, it was initially difficult to do, but I’m proud of myself for sticking with it and creating.. differently!
I’m glad I took an alternate path because I think variety is important for a creative person. Keeps you on your toes and keeps your work fresh. I admire those who think outside the box and stray from their comfort zones. I hope the next time you find yourself in a creative funk and can’t seem to feel inspired; that you’ll take the time to explore alternative methods to help you create and achieve your goal(s). Don’t give up! Please share your dreams, fantasies, inspirations, muses, and/or creative processes in the comments. I’m eager to hear about them!