by Ada Milenkovic Brown
When Dahlia got out of Junior's truck in front of the three story house, the first
thing she noticed was the face in the leaves. The stone carving jutted out from the
center of a rock terrace, a carving of a man's face with a leaf beard, his eyes
peeking out from more leaves all round them, as if the leaves had wound together
as they grew and that had somehow made a man. For just a minute, she tried to
make it out that it was Garner's face. But of course it wasn't.
A mess of flowers, mostly red and yellow, surrounded the terrace along with a
rock garden, with here and there a weed in amongst the rocks. Garner could have
told her the names of the flowers. But Garner had been gone five years now.
Junior waved and drove off, his riding mower rattling a little on top of the flatbed.
Dahlia straightened her tote bag and looked again at the garden with the face
watching her cross up toward the house. If Garner or even Junior had care of it,
they'd have made sure the yard was better weeded.
A lady with wispy silver hair and a bright yellow sun dress stood nervously beside
the front door. She cleared her throat, so Dahlia looked at her.
"Are you Mrs. Meeks?" the lady said to Dahlia. She talked like she came from up
"Most folks call me Dahlia." Which was true about white folks anyway, at least
the older ones. The younger ones had been calling her Miz Dahlia, just like
everyone else, ever since Civil Rights had made its way east of Wilson. But she
felt it wasn't her place to tell anyone to call her Miz.
"The kitchen's this way." The lady smiled like she was having her picture made.
It often seemed to make Northern ladies a little nervous to have hired Dahlia to
cook. But they didn't really have no choice about that. Dahlia was the best cook
in the county.
The lady said, "I did tell you, didn't I, my tea is at one p.m. tomorrow?"
"That's fine. I'll be baking the cakes today, and then tomorrow morning I'll come
back to fix the sandwiches and the shrimp." Dahlia followed the lady through the
living room, winding past two over-stuffed sofas decorated with vines and big
flowers. The pattern was echoed in a border that ran just below the ceiling. It was
funny about the white folks Dahlia worked for, how a lot of their houses looked
alike. The rooms were too big and the furniture too far apart -- like they never
wanted to sit close and be friendly. No way to even sit outside at all except fenced
in by a swimming pool. Swimming pools didn't set with Dahlia. Drown you if
you weren't careful.