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"Waiting for Spring" by Hermine Robinson
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"Waiting for Spring" by Hermine Robinson

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Waiting for Spring

by Hermine Robinson

When Lloyd Greenway headed for the shed after his morning walk
instead of coming in for his  coffee and a stab at the daily word
search, his wife knew he was up to no good. Unlike the women who
lament husbands who never do anything around the house, Margaret
was one of those disquieted few, a woman afflicted with a husband
who could not leave well enough alone. She grabbed her sweater and
set out after him.

The spring day promised warmth, but not yet, not while dew hung
heavy on the grass, its silver sheen marred only by Lloyd's shuffle
step across the lawn. Margaret tucked her fingers into her sleeves
and waited outside the shed, the better to catch him red-handed. The
sharp scrape of whetstone drawn in long strokes against steel blades
sent shivers up her spine worse than the chill, damp air. She heard the
clatter of an aluminum ladder lifted off its hooks, but it was the
tuneless whistle of Lloyd's busy work that confirmed Margaret's worst
fear. The whistling stopped abruptly when her husband stepped out of
the shed carrying the ladder and a set of hedge shears.

“Oh, hello dear,” he said cheerfully.

Margaret resisted the faded charms of a boy caught with his hand in
the cookie jar. It was too early in the season for this nonsense and it
suited her purpose to have Lloyd squirm a bit under her disapproving

“You didn’t come in for coffee,” she said tersely.

“Um, well, no,” he said. “I noticed that the lilac hedge along the
driveway could use a little pruning and I wanted to take care of it
before I forgot.”

“No, Lloyd. How many times do I have to tell you? You are not going
to prune the lilacs.”

“I’m not?” He glanced at the ladder and shears, perplexed. “Are you
sure? Because the hedge is looking a bit unkempt and I think the
gardeners must have missed pruning it when they were here last

Mike and his garden crew had worked in the yard for years, ever since
Margaret’s knee surgery. They knew better than to prune lilacs before
they bloomed in early spring but Mike had humored her and gone over
every detail of spring cleanup, including her very specific instructions
concerning the lilac hedge.

“No problem, Mrs. Greenway.” Mike had said. “We won’t prune the
lilacs until later because if we do it too soon they won’t flower. Isn’t
that right, sir?” He added, making sure to include Lloyd in the
conversation according to Margaret's wishes. The entire conversation
was intended for Lloyd’s benefit, to forestall his incessant desire to
control nature with the same efficiency as he organized his tool shed.
Mike spoke slowly and loudly, although Lloyd’s problem was not
related to hearing.

“Yes, of course, pruning the hedge can wait,” Lloyd had agreed at the
time. “Margaret loves her lilacs.”

Margaret’s love of lilacs dated back to childhood memories of the
family farm. In the spring it was always her job to gather fresh
bouquets in the morning and help Mother fill the vases with abundant
heads of purple and white. The sweet fragrance wafted through every
room to chase away the lingering staleness of a long prairie winter and
proclaim the arrival of spring.

Lloyd and Margaret bought their home in the city with an eye to the
lilac hedge along the driveway and Margaret was thrilled to discover it
included double whites, dark purples, and even pink blooming varieties.
The springtime tradition of filling their house with fresh lilacs lasted
until Lloyd’s retirement eight years ago.

A husband with extra time to work on projects around the house
seemed like a wonderful thing until that first horrible spring when he
pruned back the lilac hedge so hard, Margaret feared it would never
recover. But lilacs are hardy, so she bought lilac-scented air freshener
to make up for the missing fragrance and consoled herself with the
thought that a good pruning would help rejuvenate the hedge. Then,
the following springs, Lloyd pruned the lilacs again. Margaret cajoled,
she threatened, she hid the shears, but it was no use. A trip to the
grocery store or beauty salon, a late lunch or early matinee with the
ladies – it did not matter – whenever she left the house Margaret
risked coming home to find branches full of half formed buds neatly
bundled and stacked beside the garbage cans.

Last spring, Margaret cried after Lloyd sheared the hedge back to the
old cuts yet again, leaving nothing but a perfectly shaped skeleton of
branches and blunt sticks. He had apologized profusely afterward,
genuinely contrite, but also confused by her tears. And here he stood,
ready to do it again, while Margaret blocked his way. She searched
her husband’s gray eyes for a glimmer of understanding, for some
recollection of all her reminders, of their conversation with Mike. Lloyd
glanced away, looking to the pale blue sky for answers to her
unspoken questions.  

“You don’t need to worry about the hedge,” Margaret said gently.
“You’re getting too old to climb ladders and Mike said he would do
the job next month. Remember?”

Lloyd smiled. “Yes, that's right. What was I thinking?” He stood a
moment, chuckling at his own absent-mindedness. Margaret nodded
toward the shed when Lloyd stared down at the tools as if seeing
them for the first time. “So, I guess I’ll be putting these away.”
Margaret listened for the reassuring thunk of the shears against the
outline painted on the pegboard and the rattle of the ladder returned to
its hooks. She turned to head back to the warmth of the house when a
tuneless whistle and the hollow pop of a paint can lid being pried open
gave her pause. Lloyd emerged with a can of black enamel and a
small brush wrapped in plastic.

“Oh, hello dear.”

“I thought you were coming in for coffee.”

“Right after I touch up some rust I saw on the mailbox,” said Lloyd. “It
won’t take but a minute.”

The mailbox was fine, and Margaret knew that by the time Lloyd was
finished painting, not only it but the wrought iron railing and a
decorative antique water pump at the front of their house would all
sport a shiny new coat of jet black. She stepped aside and let him

Margaret sat on the front step and warmed her hands on a fresh mug
of coffee, careful not to touch the wet railing as she watched her
husband work. Lloyd’s painting was not what it used to be, but the
drips and blobs were a small price to pay for keeping him occupied
and away from the lilacs. Lloyd waved his brush at her from where he
dabbed at the water pump.

“Almost done,” he called out.

“I’ll go in and make you a sandwich,” she answered.

“Thanks dear,” he said. “And by the way, don’t let me forget – after
lunch I should grab the ladder and shears. It looks like the gardeners
forgot to prune the lilac hedge last week.”

Margaret sat on the step and sipped her coffee. It had been a very
long winter.

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