He tried to focus away from the old clock ticking in the otherwise noiseless parlor. But each click was like a push pin tapping against him: one moment piercing his temple, the next poking the knot at the back of his neck.

He stared at his feet, regarding the uncomfortable “church shoes” he was wearing for the first time in, what, two, three years? He had them at the girl’s request: “My mom won’t let me out the door with a guy in Jordans,” she had said. Now his toes felt pinched and crowded, like five people trying to share a room.

Said mother stood in the entry to the parlor alternating her gaze between disapproving appraisal of the young man sitting on her couch and anxious apprehension that her daughter was taking so long. She wished her husband was here to help with this; he always handled the dating business as if he had been born to it. Now he was buried and these things were up to her.

Would her husband, she wondered, notice that this boy was not slouching like the last one? Would he see that he sat up straight and addressed her politely, even asking about her day and remarking that she had lovely flowers in the garden just off the front porch? Or that he had the scent of aftershave, though his face was too smooth to have felt a razor?

The boy seemed nice, smiling up at her from his supplicant position on the couch. It appeared he was uncomfortable and wanted to make small talk, but didn’t know how.

“Do you,” he inhaled before asking tentatively, “spend a lot of time in your garden?”

She caught herself staring back at him, struck by the question. “Oh, I don’t know,” she finally said. “It was more my husband’s thing, though I helped him. Mostly I water and take out the weeds.”

“Oh,” the young man said, not sure what came next.

“I just pray I don’t kill them off before they die,” the mother said with a nervous chuckle. Then realizing what she said, added, “She must like you to take so long getting ready.”

The mother was trying to decide whether she should call out from her post or march down the hall to the room when the girl bounded through her door and toward her.

“Ah, here she is,” the mother said as if being saved.

The boy stood as the daughter reached her mother. He started toward them, but stopped himself.

The mother clasped her daughter’s hands and looked her up and down. “You look very nice,” she said, then added under her breath, “And smell nice too.”

“Shh, Mama,” the girl said. Then to the boy, “Ready?”

“He has been patiently waiting,” the mother said. “He was on time,” the mother said with a mock critical frown.

The girl glared at her mother and pursed her lips, the first sign of a fight she’d learned from her father.

“Have a good time,” the mother said. Then, “It was nice to meet you.” She stepped aside to allow the couple to move past her.

The mother stood with her back against the door, resisting the urge to watch them walk to the young man’s car. Did he open her door? Did he blast incomprehensible music as they drove away? Would he take advantage of her daughter’s clear attraction to him?

When she was sure they were gone, she stepped onto the porch and looked over the bright flowers lining the side of the house. Before he died, her husband had planted zinnias and petunias that now seemed like warm flames smoldering. He had often said, “the heart is deceitful.” She said aloud, “I don’t know about all this, Hector.”

The sun was descending and she realized, as if suddenly, that the light was waning from the yellow and purple petals. This was the best time, her husband said, for watering. So she went to the side of the house, turned on the hose, and adjusted the spray nozzle.

“Alright,” she said and began.

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