“Hello.” Fiona answered the landline with the usual optimistic tone in her voice. The line was crackly, causing her to miss the first few words of the caller. Then she caught the name Don. “Oh Don! Hello, I’m afraid I can’t hear you all that well.”
“I’m sorry I’ve taken so long. We spoke about it ages ago, but if you wait at your gate I’ll bring those geranium slips round.”
Geranium slips? “I wonder,” Fiona’s voice took on a more thoughtful tone. This wasn’t Don from the Natural Sciences Department nor did the voice belong to the Don who had led the outdoor adventure for the Grade 8 girls two weeks earlier. “Who were you hoping to speak to?”
A chuckle echoed through the crackling line. “Why Nancy, to you of course. Remember we spoke about the geraniums growing in the pots outside my front door? You wanted some.”
Fiona smiled at her own folly. “I would love some geranium slips, but I’m not Nancy. Sadly, you must have dialled the wrong number.”
She returned to her cup of coffee and the three day old newspaper she had been reading in the only sunny spot in her sitting room. ‘Dialled the wrong number,’ she repeated to herself. Her love of words came to the fore. Dialled? We don’t dial numbers anymore: all landlines have number pads. Do we ‘key’ in wrong numbers now or ‘punch’ them? Her coffee was too cold to finish so she emptied the mug into the sink.
With the last of the summer drawing near, Fiona felt there ought to be some sort of celebration outside before the cold weather encouraged people to hibernate indoors. The late afternoon sun cast dappled shadows on the hills through the wispy clouds and picked out the red roof tops and white walls of many of the buildings in town.
I will host an end-of-summer feast, she thought happily as she wandered about her small garden. Most of her friends and close colleagues were either married or engaged and the few who weren’t enjoyed a good party anyway. Feeling inspired, she sat on the rickety wooden bench and began drawing up a mental list of people to invite, noting at the same time what needed to be done in the garden.
Food could be a problem; let guests bring their own. She could make some robust salads and provide a variety of breads. She noted that the brick wall of her rented cottage had changed from a warm brown to a deeply saturated ochre as the sun neared the horizon. This town has so many moods, depending on the light and the season, Fiona reflected. Her thoughts were interrupted by the persistent ring of the telephone indoors.
This time there was no introduction. “Do you still want some geranium slips?”
“You’ve got the wrong number again, I’m afraid.” Fiona shivered at the sense of longing she had experienced in her vibrant, colourful garden only moments before – a need to share its beauty and peace.
“Not at all.” Fiona could hear a tone of amusement through the crackle. “I have what you could call a ‘delirium of geraniums’ and I would enjoy sharing slips with someone who really wants them.”
“So, if I wait at my gate …”
“Exactly. Just tell me where to come and I’ll be there after five tomorrow.”
She let Don into her garden and showed him where to put the slips he had carefully wrapped in damp newspaper. She would deal with them when she got home from work the next day.
“These can go straight into the ground,” Don was already looking round for a trowel. “Show me where you would like them.” They worked together until all had been planted, then Don sat back on his heels. “Your garden must look breath-taking in spring,” he murmured.
“It’s a pity I don’t own it,” Fiona replied wistfully.
Thick grey clouds were swirling over the hill tops, blocking out the last of the sunshine. It seemed natural to invite him indoors for a warm drink. Fiona looked at the man sitting on the stool in the kitchen while she fiddled with the tea tray. His close-cropped dark hair offset the deep lines either side of his nose. She had already noticed the dimples creasing his cheeks whenever he smiled.
“Do you live near here?” she asked tentatively as she poured their tea.
“I farm at Oakhaven.” That explained the tanned face and strong fingers. “My house is a hundred and fifty years old; built of stone. I’ve added a wooden deck around the front and recently renovated the fireplace so that it’ll warm the house properly during the winter.”
“Nancy and her husband Jonathan were out there a couple of weeks ago to watch birds. People often come, for that and just to walk in the veld. She particularly liked these geraniums.” He turned to face her while she broke eggs into the already heated frying pan and popped slices of bread into the toaster.
“I think you would like to see my place at this time of the day. The setting sun turns the stone walls into gold.” He picked up the tea tray to move it to the sink. “I could take you on a walk up the kopje behind the house. There’s something magical about standing on the lichen covered rocks at the top and looking down on the trees and grass below.”
They ate their scrambled eggs on toast in a comfortable silence. Fiona opened a bottle of red wine and they moved to her tiny sitting room, still untidied by the newspaper she had been reading as a break from the pile of essays that needed to be marked. She moved them to a side table to make room for Don to sit down.
“This room gives me an interesting perspective of you,” Don remarked quietly. He picked up one of the essays she had been marking and perused it. “You clearly pay attention to the details. I like that.” He smiled as he replaced the essay on the table next to him.
“That’s why it takes me so long to get through everything.” And why I never seem to have the time to go out, she thought. I set my own scene for isolation. “However, I am thinking of hosting an end-of-summer party before the weather changes. Would you care to come?” She looked at him expectantly. He hates crowds, she thought, observing the brief furrowing of his brow.
“I don’t really enjoy crowds,” he began softly. “If it means seeing you again though, I would like to come.”
“Well, it’s going to be something like a picnic I think. Very casual anyway.” Fiona smiled at him. “I’m not very good at formalities, as you can see,” she waved her hand around the room.
“I’ll bring you eggs and tomatoes from my garden.” Don rose to take his leave. “Before your picnic though, I would like you to meet my dog, Sebastian, and let me show you over my farm.”
A shiver of delight coursed through Fiona as Don gave her a brief hug and stepped outdoors to make his way down the darkened stone-flagged path. She reached out to touch his hand. “Thank you for the geraniums,” she said to his retreating back.