Mary shifted her weight in the porch swing, trying to find a comfortable position. Ever since she had broken her hip, sitting for too long caused her pain. She scanned the road that ran past her house, but saw no sign of the mailman. During the week, she knew exactly what time to expect him to deliver her mail, but Saturdays were a different story. He showed up anytime between one and two thirty, so Mary had to keep watch to make sure she didn’t miss him.
For the second time that afternoon, Mary thought she heard something behind her. She turned and looked over her shoulder, but didn’t see anyone. Again she scanned the street, but there was no one coming. She suppressed a shudder, partially due to the chill in the air that the weak sunlight did nothing to combat and partially due to feeling like she was being watched.
As she started to lose herself in her thoughts again, a noise startled her for the third time. This time, Mary recognized it as the unmistakable sound of laughter.
“Who’s there?” Mary demanded, standing this time as she turned to look behind her.
A childish giggle reached her from the vicinity of the hedge at the side of her yard. She strained to see where it was coming from, and finally her old eyes spotted a bit of pink between the fence and the hedge.
“You, there,” Mary’s voice was friendlier now that she had figured out the noises, “little girl hiding in the bushes. Come out and talk to me.”
With a volley of giggles, two little girls crawled out from behind the bushes. The older one stood and brushed the dirt off the knees of her jeans. She had long, black hair that hung loose to her waist, and had a blue baseball cap pulled down low on her forehead. The smaller girl was the owner of the pink shirt Mary had spied in the hedge. She didn’t bother to brush the dirt from her clothes, and didn’t seem to mind the twigs stuck to her long, black braid. The girls were nearly identical in everything except size.
“Come on over here,” Mary prompted. “Might as well be neighborly and introduce yourselves instead of spying on me from the hedge.”
“You’ve been spying on us,” the older girl challenged. “We’ve seen you.”
Mary chuckled. “Fair enough,” she said as the girls made their way up the steps and took a seat on the concrete porch. “What’s your names?”
“I’m Taylor,” the older girl said, “and this is Sidney.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Mary Bailey.” She smiled at the girls. “You can call me Miss Mary. Most everyone does.”
“Nice to meet you,” Taylor replied.
“Does this one not talk?” Mary waved her hand in Sidney’s direction.
“Not much,” Taylor answered. “She’s shy.”
“So you do the talking, then?”
Taylor nodded, and then asked, “Why have you been watching us?”
“Because I’m a bored and lonely old woman,” Mary answered honestly. “I’m excited to have new neighbors.”
Taylor grinned. She was unaccustomed to such frankness from adults. “There aren’t any kids in this neighborhood.”
“No,” Mary agreed, “there’s not. But there used to be. When my kids were little, they had friends that lived in every house on this street.”
“That was a long time ago,” Taylor stated.
Mary nodded. “Where did you move here from?”
“Across town,” Taylor answered. “We lived with our Grandma, but she died.”
“I’m so sorry.” Mary’s brow was knit with concern. “You moved here with your mama?”
“No,” Taylor shook her head, “with our Aunt Lexi.”
“Our mama left us with Grandma a long time ago,” Sidney spoke for the first time.
“Hush, Siddie,” Taylor reprimanded her younger sister. “Aunt Lexi told us not to tell everybody our business.”
Sidney scowled, but remained silent.
Mary ignored the tension between the two girls, and asked, “What does your aunt do?”
“She’s a teacher,” Taylor answered. “First grade.”
“My sister was a school teacher,” Mary informed them. “She taught school in Little River for forty years.”
“That’s a long time.” Taylor responded without interest. Changing the subject, she said, “You’ve got a lot of weeds in your flower bed.”
Mary blushed. Her yard and flower beds had been her pride and joy until she was unable to tend them due to her hip.
When Mary didn’t say anything, Taylor went on, “Sidney and I used to help Grandma with hers. We’re good at pulling weeds and mulching.”
Sidney piped up, “And planting flowers!”
Mary started to see where the girl was going. “It’s too cold for planting. You have to wait for Spring to do that.”
“It’s not too cold to pull all those old weeds and put mulch down in your beds,” Taylor replied.
“I guess you’re right about that.” Mary smiled. “How much would you charge for those services?”
“One dollar for me, and one dollar for Sidney,” Taylor answered. “And you’ll have to give us money for the mulch.”
“That sounds like a pretty good deal.”
“We can do other stuff, too.”
“Housework. We can dust, vacuum, do laundry, wash windows, do dishes,” Taylor shrugged, “whatever you need.”
“Where did you learn to do all of that?”
“Grandma taught us how to do everything,” Sidney answered.
“She worked us like dogs,” Taylor added.
Mary laughed so hard she choked and had to get a sip of water. Then she said, “Well, at least she taught you some marketable skills.”
“What does that mean?” Sidney asked.
“It means she taught you how to do something someone else will pay you to do,” Mary answered.
Taylor looked hopeful. “Someone like you?”
“I dare say we can work out a deal.” Mary was thoroughly enjoying the little girls. “I’ve got a bad hip and it’s not as easy for me to do all my chores as it used to be. It might be nice to have some helpers.”
“Awesome!” Taylor exclaimed as she gave her sister a high-five.
“What are you earning money for?” Mary asked. “Are you saving up for something?”
Taylor shrugged, but Sidney said, “It’s a secret.”
Taylor shot her sister a warning look and said, “We gotta go.” Grabbing the younger girl’s hand, she pulled her up and started walking away.
Mary smiled as she watched them walk around the fence to their own yard. She had completely forgotten about the mailman.
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and various other literary journals. She recently won an Honorable Mention for her short story “A Slow Burn” at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society’s annual convention. She also received the Springs of Helicon Award for Poetry, awarded by Tennessee Wesleyan University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.