Staring out across the expanse of dried, sad brown grass, it occurred to Lin for the first time how terrible the garden looked. The house – a big, modern two-storey with huge glass windows – was immaculate. Lin was immensely proud of her house. The garden – well, it had always been an afterthought. She had a demanding job, a thirteen-year-old to look after, and a house to keep tidy. Who had time to bother with mowing the grass or weeding?
But looking at it now, in a new light, it was pitiful.
“What’cha looking at?”
Lin jumped, turning from the window like she had been caught doing something wrong. She was holding a mug of coffee, but it had gone cold. “Nothing much,” she answered with a shrug, “just thinking about our poor garden. Couldn’t it use some TLC?”
Tai, her daughter, simply shrugged. Her chocolate brown braids bounced, and she flicked one away with a sigh. “We never go out there anyway.”
“Because it looks nasty.“
“Yeah, I guess.” Tai’s big brown eyes flickered to the window. “It would be nice to have somewhere to relax,” she admitted, “the weather is so nice and I can’t go anywhere.”
Humming in reply, Lin set down her cold coffee. “I’m all caught up with work for once,” she said with a quick grin, “and school is done too, right?” Schoolwork from home was perhaps the best and worst part of the lockdown. On one hand, Tai was more productive than ever in the comfort of her bedroom – on the other hand, she always found new ways to distract Lin from her own work.
Blinking, Tai simply nodded. Her interest was piqued it seemed, brows scrunched in that cute way she did when deep in thought.
“You know, I used to love gardening when I was young. Why don’t we give it a try?”
“Do you have anything better to do?”
Tai decided she didn’t – not when the sun was beaming and she was itching for fresh air after a day locked up in her room. She bounded on ahead of Lin, grabbing the keys to the back door on her way, and all but sprinted into the garden.
Lin followed, fighting back laughter as she watched Tai sprawl out on the dried up grass.
Up close, it was even more work than she realised.
“So what do we do first?” Tai sat up, hair tangled with dead leaves and twigs, and beamed. “Water the grass? Plant vegetables? Oh, can we-“
“Slow down kiddo,” Lin laughed. The ground was hard beneath her as she sat across from Tai – and absently she wondered where she could buy deck chairs if all the shops were closed. “We don’t have any vegetables to plant, hon. Let’s start with salvaging what plants we can, and go from there.”
Nodding like the wisest sage in the world, Tai folded her arms across her chest and grinned. “Let’s get started!”
As it turned out, Tai liked to be the one in charge. Usually, Lin went along with it – it was healthy to let a kid have some amount of control, especially in circumstances that were otherwise out of their reach. The only problem was, Tai had no clue what she was doing. At all.
An hour in and Lin was already regretting the choice to give her a trowel.
Wiping sweat from her forehead, Lin sat back on her heels to glare at the geraniums she had tried – and failed to save. They had never been her favourite, but it was still a shame to see them so wilted and sad. Scowling, Lin dug them up and tossed them in the wheelbarrow of discarded greenery.
“There are so many weeds,” Tai huffed from across the grass. She knelt by the farthest flowerbed, the one that had once been designed to look like a cottage garden. Now it was mostly barren earth. Digging in the trowel, Tai scooped up an enormous lump of earth and tossed it onto the grass, for lack of a better place to put it.
Except, it wasn’t weeding she had just dug up. Thin green stalks peeked out from the mud, tiny leaves crushed by carelessness.
“Tai!” Lin hissed – and then she hauled herself to her feet and marched over with a dark scowl. “Those aren’t weeds. They’re geraniums.“
“But they’re all gross, and there are no flowers-“
Frustration bubbled under Lin’s skin. “They’re not in bloom yet,” she snapped, “and I’m pretty sure you just ruined them by pulling them up like that.”
If there was one trait that ran in the Yu family tree, it was stubbornness. Lin’s mother had it, she had it, and Tai definitely had it. Instead of apologising, Tai jumped to her own defence with a huff. “How was I supposed to know? They look like weeds to me!”
“You could have asked-“
“This garden is gross! It all looks the same – dead. What does it matter if I killed a few flowers anyway?”
Pursing her lips, Lin ran a hand through her pitch black hair. Even her scalp was getting sweaty, and she cringed. “That’s why we’re trying to make it better,” she replied – and it was physical effort to keep her voice calm, “but you can’t go digging up anything you feel like.”
“It’s not like we’re going to save it anyway,” Tai snapped, “you let it rot, so you should fix it.” Climbing to her feet, Tai wiped muddy hands on her jeans – new jeans no less – and stalked back to the patio door. Turning around she barked, “I’ve been stuck with you for six weeks and I’m going insane. Did you really think this was going to work as mother-daughter bonding?”
Then she threw open the door, scowling across the garden at Lin’s frozen form, and stalked inside.
Kids. They were a nightmare, and watching Tai storm off left Lin feeling the last remnants of frustration fizzle out.
Lin finished up in the garden alone, throwing away the dead geraniums with a sigh. The garden needed so much work, more work than she had a hope of achieving alone. Maybe trying to spend time with Tai was a mistake – maybe, after being in lockdown together so long, what they needed was time apart.
Massaging her temples, Lin wandered inside.
Only for the rich, salty scent of Chinese hotpot to drift through the house. Stepping into the kitchen, the first thing she noticed was the dishes piled high in the sink; it was as if every bowl in the house was there, some leaning dangerously close to collapsing. Then she saw the hotpot simmering away on the cooker, the fresh vegetables waiting to be added.
Lin jumped, spinning to face the door that led to the winding hallway – Tai stood grinning, wooden spoon in hand. “I’m making dinner.”
“I… can see that.”
Tai bit her lip – a habit she had picked up from her Grandmother, and probably Lin too – her eyes darting to the hotpot. “I’m sorry I snapped earlier,” she admitted quietly. Although her lips twisted into a frown, the apology clearly taking effort, it was genuine. “I just got really excited to do stuff with you, and then you got all mad.”
She had, hadn’t she? A frown twisted at Lin’s own lips as she exhaled – but a smile tried to find its way onto her narrow features. “Well, you might be a pain in my butt sometimes, but I might have overreacted. So I’m sorry too.”
Tai grinned, sliding past Lin to peer into the hotpot with a satisfied nod. “Apology accepted! Now, come taste this? I can’t decide if it needs more sesame oil…”
Rolling her eyes, Lin complied – if for no other reason than to keep the peace. Brushing hair from her eyes, she lifted a spoon to take a taste of the broth. It was salty, maybe too salty, but she could taste the chilli and chicken broth. Not bad for a first try.
“So,” Tai murmured as she peeked over Lin’s shoulder. “Suppose tomorrow, we try the garden again? I really would like somewhere to hang out that isn’t inside.”
Unable to stop herself, Lin stifled a laugh behind her palm. It was as if earlier had never happened – they always had bounced back from arguments with ease. And, well, Lin enjoyed the idea of spending quality time with her daughter, of making something good come of this lockdown. So, with a smile and a nod she said, “sure, I’d love that.”
Maybe nothing would come of their new project – but, if they were lucky, maybe it would be the open door for something even better.