Humidity sinks down the back of my neck and presses my shirt to damp skin, but some things are more important than air conditioning, like making nice with my mother-in-law.
Which is a trial.
So I take a shallow breath of fetid air, toss two pair of navy blue polyester pull-on pants into the red Texas clay at the side of our clapboard house, and grind my heel into the fabric.
“Ya got the laundry?” Asks Bubba, shuffling onto the porch and scratching his belly. “Mom’s making dinner.”
Oh, Joy. I remember the last time Anne cooked. Canned chili, which is fine, but I watched her add eggs and lard to the pot and my tolerance for new and interesting food shot to an all-time low. I wonder if I should pack an orange.
“Hey,” Bubba watches me lift the pants and shake the excess dirt into the drive. “You don’t like Mom’s gift?”
I study the sturdy elastic waist and shake my head. “Not exactly.”
He snickers and I laugh. For six months we’ve gone to Anne’s house for Sunday dinner and for six months I’ve tried to wear out the knees of these pants but polyester is impervious to damage. Annoyed, I toss them into the laundry and load the basket into the back seat of the pickup. “I’ll drive.”
“I don’t think so,” Bubba grips the keys and climbs into the cab, “you’ll just run over the curbs and ruin the tires. Besides, this is a man’s truck.”
I set my chin and ignore him, which is easy because bluebonnets, poppies and buffalo grass undulate along the side of the road. Sun blazes across my cheeks as I prop bare feet on the dash and drift asleep.
Jarred awake when the pickup bumps down a familiar dirt road, I glare at a line of loblolly trees. Before I can hop down. Before Bubba can set the break, Anne lowers the tailgate and hauls out the laundry. “Like the pants?”
“They’re perfect for work,” I say, but instead of calling me on a lie she grins and jerks her chin toward the house. “We’ve been painting. Think you can climb up there and finish that bit below the eaves?”
I peer at the house. An eight by four is suspended across a pair of ten penny nails. “Not exactly,” I say.
“Well, maybe after dinner. We’re having chili.” She plants her hands on ample hips and studies me out of the corner of her eye. “Hungry?”
Honeysuckle blooms against the split rail fence as I listen to the lazy drone of bumble bees and study my options. Neither are great. Another glance at the hillbilly scaffolding and I decide death is preferable to dinner. “Tell you what,” I say, “You save me an extra yeast roll and some of those beefsteak tomatoes from the garden and I’ll finish painting.”
“Well, that’s nice.” She says but when she turns to Bubba and gives him a broad wink, I know I’ve been played.