"Willow's Tail" 11
The potted orchid bulb had the tiniest of sprouts peaking through the soil but Perfidia wasn’t encouraged. “This isn’t going to win any contest."
"Give it time Perfidia, that soil is the best in my garden, the deepest and richest; I’ve no doubt the orchid will grow.”
“I’m glad you’re hopeful, but we only have 10 more days,” Perfidia reminded her.
Willow jumped up on the potting table and daintily placed her paw into the soil, making a perfect paw print.
Martha smiled. "You have Willow’s seal of approval.”
“What good is that?” Perfidia scoffed.
Willow grumbled at the insult then deftly coughed up a fur ball landing it with intent on Perfidia's shoe.
"Lovely," she said in disgust shaking the nasty thing off her pretty pumps.
"That isn't 'good luck'," Martha chuckled.
“Very funny and how many letters have you read through Martha?” Perfidia taunted.
Martha’s eyes darkened at the question. “I’ve only read the first one.”
“Find any clues to whose pulling our marionette strings?” She asked with interest.
“No, it didn’t have any coded words.”
“So they’ve cleverly buried it, to keep you reading further.”
Before either could expound on that theory, the front doorbell rang.
"Were you expecting anyone?"
"Another surprise, oh joy," Perfidia groused.
They stepped into the front hallway just as the doorbell rang again, long and loud.
“Whoever it is, they’re impatient.”
Martha exchanged a quick look of resignation with Perfidia as she opened the door.
“Gloria?” Martha’s surprise at finding Gloria Hipswell on her doorstep was evident.
Gloria’s tone was unfriendly and suspicious. “You cannot be shocked to see me Martha; you must have expected me.”
“I must have?”
“Yes, after what you’d sent me you had to expect I’d bring it back. What have I ever done to you Martha for you to send me this awful thing?” Her words were punctuated by her shoving a brown papered box towards Martha. It had been ripped open at the top.
“What’s in it?” Perfidia asked, stepping next to Martha.
Gloria gave Perfidia an unfriendly look, “I should have guessed you’d have something to do with this thing that made my house unlivable. But thanks for including the return address on the package Martha, at least I knew where to bring it back.”
“Well she’s luckier than us,” Perfidia mumbled under her breath but Martha didn’t respond.
Gloria pushed the box closer to Martha asking, “How could you send this awful thing to anyone and why to me?”
Martha didn’t want to know what was in that box and she hadn’t sent it but someone had made it appear that she had.
She gave Gloria a sympathetic smile. “Gloria, what am I being accused of sending to you?”
“As if you didn’t know,” Gloria accused and lifted the lid on the box.
Everyone took a quick step back.
"Oh my," Martha placed her hand over her nose to block the repugnant odor that escaped from the open lid.
Perfidia and Willow had both scurried farther away from the offending thing.
“Whoa!” Perfidia squealed covering her nose with both hands and taking several more steps backward as she asked, “What is that?”
Martha’s eyes watered but she defended herself with as few breaths as she could take. "I didn’t send that to you Gloria.”
“What is that?” Perfidia demanded again, nearly choking on the stench.
“Stink weeds,” Martha told her flatly, “A highly effective blend of several species I might guess,” she offered her knowledge on the subject then turned back to their unhappy visitor and pleaded. “Please Gloria, close the lid on that box and leave it out there. Then come inside so we can figure out what’s going on and who might be responsible.”
“So you’re honestly saying you didn’t send this to me?” Gloria searched her expression for any sign of subterfuge.
“That’s what I’m telling you, I didn’t send it.”
Gloria looked past Martha and gave Perfidia a jaundiced look. “Was it you; did you send it?”
Perfidia shook her head and affirmed. “I couldn't touch or smell that thing long enough to box it up.”
Gloria closed the lid on the box, she had to agree with her. She couldn't have touched this thing either. She grudgingly believed Perfidia was telling her the truth but she still didn’t trust her.
“Please come inside Gloria,’ Martha coaxed again, “I’ll make us some tea.”
Gloria put the box down with a heavy sigh and let the anger she'd been harboring release its hold. “That does sound nice;” she admitted then added a gracious, “Thank you.”
Martha brought the teapot to the table that had already been set with three dainty tea cups and a plate of blueberry scones. She poured a liberal amount of a pleasingly, aromatic brew into Gloria's cup.
"Thank you Martha, I needed this," Gloria said breathing in the mellow scent and allowing a restorative smile to form.
“You’re welcome and I’m truly sorry someone sent you so vile a plant in my name.”
Gloria frowned over her teacup.
“I wish I knew who'd do that Martha. I admit, when I saw the return address, I was shocked because I couldn’t think of a reason why it would be you and honestly, other than Perfidia, I have no other suspects.”
Perfidia lowered her teacup into its saucer with a not so gentle clink as she pithily clarified. “Well you don’t have any suspects Gloria, because it wasn’t me!”
“I already said I believed you,” Gloria conceded but with the un-friendliest of tones.
The dueling gazes were fraught with condemnation and Martha scolded them both.
“Arguing isn’t going to help us figure out who did this.”
Their gazes didn’t completely comply but they nodded and returned to their respective tea cups.
“Good, so let’s consider who’d have cause to send this and why they’d want to use my name,” Martha posed the question openly, bewildered herself by the audacity of the culprit.
"I don’t know who but we’d better figure it out soon before any other stink weeds turn up.” Perfidia offered the tidings of misgiving and earned a sour look from Martha which she ignored.
“Thank you for that comforting image,” Martha said with a raised brow.
“What, it’s the truth,” Perfidia defended her prediction and took a long satisfying sip of the marvelous, lavender and chamomile tea.
“Maybe Perfidia’s right; maybe we should examine that box for clues,” Gloria suggested but then quickly realized she had little desire to actually do that.
Martha pondered her words. There could be a clue in the box, or the plant.
"You’re right Gloria; we need to examine it.”
Perfidia gave her a harsh look. “Well I’m not volunteering, not unless we can neutralize it.”
“Again, odd as it is," Gloria spoke up, "I’m agreeing with Perfidia. I don’t want another whiff of it.” Then she shivered with olfaction memory.
“Maybe we can neutralize it,” Martha said, giving Willow a slight nod.
The feline purred her understanding and ran from the kitchen.
“Where’s that cat going in such a hurry?” Perfidia asked with interested eyes.
Martha shrugged and picked up her teacup ready for her first sip, then assessed the blend. “I do believe this is one of my better combinations, don’t you think so?”
“It’s simply the best I’ve tasted,” Gloria complimented her talent by taking another satisfying sip of the warm, calming tea.
Perfidia gave Martha a curious look as she agreed, “Yes, one of your best and its aroma is very effective too.”
Martha smiled but didn’t take the bait.
Willow ran from the kitchen and leaped out her cat door not breaking stride as she leaped into the garden and continued in a burst of speed. She didn’t slow down until she approached the special plant that thrived in the deepest part, in the darkest corner.
Minutes later, Willow sauntered back into the kitchen with a long reed hanging out both ends of her feline mouth. She jumped up on the chair next to her human and offered it to her.
“Thank you Willow,” Martha said, taking the long pliant plant.
“Is that…?” Perfidia didn’t finish her thought seeing Martha’s eyes shift to her and demand secrecy.
“Why did your cat bring you a tall stalk of grass?” Gloria asked but without any interest, the tea was so relaxing she didn’t focus on concerns anymore.
“It’s a special grass with a particular quality that might take the bite out of that plant’s pungency.”
“Really, that skinny thing can do that? That’d be amazing,” Gloria admired the long grass but was truly unconcerned if the grass thing worked or not, because it wasn’t her problem anymore. She wasn’t taking that thing back.
"Gloria, will you go and bring the box inside so I can place this in the soil.”
Gloria was immediately dropped from her happy place and back in the day’s awful reality.
“Martha, if that smell gets in your home I promise, it will not leave,” Gloria warned her darkly, remembering how her home had become saturated with it.
“I promise this will work,” Martha assured her.
“I hope you’re right, Gloria said putting down her teacup, “I’ll be right back," she said walking slowly out of the kitchen, not thrilled with having to be near that noxious plant again.
As soon as Gloria left the kitchen, Perfidia took a closer look at the reed in Martha’s hand.
“I’d heard of that plant Martha but I thought it was just a tall tale. Where did you find it?”
Martha’s eyes drifted to her furry companion.
“The places Willow travels are better left uncharted,” her words both informed and cautioned Perfidia.
“Willow found it?” Perfidia looked at the feline with new respect.
Willow sat up straighter and tilted her furry head regally accepting the kudos.
“Yes,” Martha affirmed walking to the kitchen’s pantry to get Willow a well deserved treat.
She’d just placed the delicate bowl filled to brim with treats in front of Willow when Gloria returned with the boxed plant.
“Here it is,” she said offering the box to Martha while her hand pressed down on the closed lid firmly keeping that fragrance locked inside.
Martha picked up the reed then nodded to Gloria as she held it above the box ready to plant it in the soil, “All right, open it quickly."
“Me? Oh no, let Perfidia open it. I brought it in here,” Gloria protested turning away and placing the box on the table. Then she walked back to her chair to finish her tea.
Perfidia gave her a nasty look, not wanting the dubious honor either, but Martha implored her.
“Please Perfidia, will you open the box?”
“Fine, I will!” She said ungraciously putting down the scone she’d just picked up.
Perfidia gingerly lifted the lid of the box but had to balance it in one hand as she held her nose with the other trying to block the offensive smell that escaped it.
"Hurry up Martha I'm dying!”
The smell was sharp and rank and through eyes watering with pain, Martha managed to stick the reed deep into the soil and blessedly, within seconds, the air began to clear of the foul smelling plant.
They all took a deep, welcome breath of the refreshed air.
“Thank you,” Perfidia said, letting go of her nose and allowing herself to breathe.
“Wow that was amazing,” Gloria said in awe, “And it worked so quickly.”
“Yes it did, nature has some amazing tricks,” Martha mumbled then deftly changed the subject, “and now let's see if there's anything that can tell us who sent this to you.”
Martha picked up the package looking over it and the plant inside.
Perfidia stood next to her and examined them as well.
“Look, there’s something sticking out of the soil,” Perfidia pointed to the tiniest tip of something peeking through the dirt.
“I see it,” Martha nodded and picked up a wooden toothpick from a glass holder on the table and used it to disturb the soil around the something. What she saw when it was revealed only deepened the mystery.
Perfidia saw it at the same time and they locked eyes.
What they’d discovered wouldn’t be passed on to Gloria because it incriminated Martha. The something uncovered was a mixture of tea leaves, tea leaves from Martha’s own special blends.
“So what is it? Does it tell you who did it?” Gloria asked with interest seeing their surprised faces and rightfully assuming they’d seen a clue.
“It tells me whoever it was had definitely wanted to lead you here,” Martha said thoughtfully as she considered who’d had access to her tea blends and her garden and who'd want to bring Gloria here? The name that filtered through those considerations had her looking at Perfidia.
Perfidia’s eyes lit with intrigue just as the same thought of motive and means struck her and she looked at Martha.
“You think it was Mr. Appleton, don’t you?” Perfidia questioned quietly before realizing she shouldn’t have spoken the accusation out loud.
And before Martha could deflect her accusation, Gloria’s attention had been captured by the name.
“Roger? You think Roger would send this to me from the Amazon? Why would he do that and why would he want me to come here?”
Martha frowned at Perfidia, wishing she’d have kept silent. Then she turned kind eyes towards Gloria.
“Please don't be upset by this but I have to tell you, Mr. Appleton isn’t in the Amazon anymore.”
“No, he's here,” Martha said softly.
“Here?” Gloria felt like she'd choked on the word.
Martha again frowned at Perfidia.
Perfidia gave the disappointed frown right back to her. She had no intention of confessing to Gloria or asking for forgiveness as Martha had once suggested she do, but maybe she did need to ease the tension she’d created.
Perfidia turned and smiled insincerely at Gloria. “Yes Roger’s here and at the moment he’s resting upstairs. He gets tired after his rehab and believe me so do I," Perfidia offered the last part with a fatigued shudder thinking of how she had to lift him up after every workout and chauffer him back and forth for every class, "Anyway,” she continued, “he naps most of the afternoon but he’ll be waking soon.”
Martha rolled her eyes at her, it was not the information Martha had wanted to impart and now Perfidia had opened a whole other uncomfortable reaction.
“You’re telling me he’s upstairs right now?" Gloria’s voice lifted in octaves as her eyes glinted with fury. She never wanted to see him again and stood up to leave but Martha stopped her.
"Gloria you may not have all the facts yet, so please sit down, " Martha requested with a calm comforting tone, knowing Gloria’s anger was misplaced she looked to Perfidia. Was there any remorse for what she’d wrought? Apparently not.
Perfidia shrugged off Martha’s judgment and took a dainty bite of her blueberry scone.
“These are so good Martha, I’d love to get your recipe,” she said with a guilt free smile.
“I have to go,” Gloria stated, losing the calming effect of Martha’s tone by way of Perfidia's abrasive one.
“Please don't, at least not before you've spoken to him," Martha reasoned.
"Speak to him?” Gloria’s eyes widened in disbelief, “He didn’t speak to me when he left without goodbye and now he’s returned without a hello. He didn’t intend to even tell me he was back, so…why...,” her words drifted off and her eyes grew confused. She looked at Martha remembering Perfidia’s words and asked, “Why is he going to rehab?”
"I think Perfidia should be the one to tell you why. Don't you agree Perfidia?" Martha questioned.
Perfidia thought she would rather smell the stink weeds then tell the truth to Gloria but she was saved from either lying, or confessing, when the subject of their discussion hobbled into the kitchen.
“Gloria?” Roger said it as if he thought he was dreaming.
Gloria saw the crutch under his arm, the booted foot he put no weight on, the right hand held at an odd angle and felt a pang of worry but he’d left her without concern for her feelings.
“Hello Roger and goodbye.” Gloria turned away from his crumpled form, grabbed up her purse and walked out the kitchen’s backdoor.
Roger couldn’t chase after her even if he’d wanted to; the enlightened looks from Martha and Perfidia kept him standing there.
“Roger, would you care to explain this little package?” Perfidia asked, none too sweetly.
“Not really,” he murmured.
“I think you'd better," Martha affirmed.
Roger sighed with resignation but asked quietly, “May I have some tea?"