Problem Solving

“Lemonade,” Ginny, my younger sister says, standing over me. Her wild, red curls block the sun. But just barely. I lean back on my heels, and look up at her round, cherubic face. I wonder how it is even possible that we are related. As opposite as day and night, Gran always says.

“Did you make it?”

“No, the Johnson’s down the street did,” she replies sarcastically. Her hand extended towards me, I watch the cubes of ice clank against the glass. I am thirsty, but not enough to drink Ginny’s lemonade.

“I’ll pass,” I say. Ginny’s lemonade is just a bit too sweet for my liking.

“Suit yourself,” she says as she turns around and back towards the house.

“Hey!” I call after her. She stops, but doesn’t turn around to face me. She knows what’s coming. “Why don’t you stay out her and help me?”

“You want me to help you?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“Because you never want my help.”

It’s true. Since mom and dad took on a second jobs, and Gran’s health has taken a turn for the worse, I’ve slid into the adult role around the house. It’s not a role I ever wanted, but it’s a role I have dutifully taken on. And admittedly, I’m a bit of a control freak. Ginny is always offering to help – with the dishes, with the grocery shopping – but I always refuse.  Believe me, it’s not because I don’t want her help, it’s because I want her to enjoy the remainder of her childhood.  But Ginny doesn’t see that.

“Here,” I say handing her a hand shovel. “You were always better than digging holes than I was,” I say.

She willingly takes the shovel from me, and kneels beside me. We work in silence, her shoveling and me weeding the pesky sprouts and shoots of grass and dandelions.

“Remember that summer we spent at the beach?”

“Yeah. Remember how every morning mom had to coax you in just to eat breakfast?”

“I was trying to build Cinderella’s castle!”

“It looked more like a cave,” I say and we both laugh in unison.

“It did not!” she says bitterly, throwing a handful of dirt in my direction.

We don’t talk, but I know we are both silently reminiscing about that long-lost summer. The summer that was perfect. Mom and dad actually had quality time to spend with us. Money wasn’t free-flowing, but it wasn’t as tight as it is now. And Gran was a  vibrant woman who was more active than my sister and I combined.

We spent those summer days lounging on the beach, jumping waves, and eating dad’s famous tuna salad sandwiches. Nights we spent around the table playing Uno.

It’s cliché to even think it, but those were the days.  The days when life wasn’t perfect, but it was damn near close.

I weed silently lost in thoughts of the past.

“Ka-tie! Earth to Katie!”

“Huh, what were you saying?”

“What planet were you visiting?”

“What?”

“You were spacing out. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. Keep digging. That hole isn’t big enough.”

“How deep does it have to be?”

“Deep enough to plant that tomato plant,” I say pointing to the row of pots I have lined up and waiting to be planted. “Why are you planting so much this year?”

“No reason,” I lie, and Ginny knows it. She always knows when I’m lying.

“Spill it,” she demands.

“It’s nothing really. It’s just … ” I hesitate, not wanting her shoulders to be weighed down by the burden.

“It’s just what?”

Ginny is a lot stronger than she looks – both physically and emotionally. Stronger than I can and ever will be.

“Money is tight Gin, tighter than it usually is. We’re barely making the bills and rent. And food for a family of five is getting more and more difficult,” I say and linger off. I don’t want her to see the full picture. I don’t want her to know that  I overheard mom and dad talking about how they can’t afford groceries this month.  “This is my way of contributing, Gin. It’s the least I could do.”

“You do a lot, though.”

“It’s not nearly enough. And at least this way I actually feel like I’m doing something … anything, you know?”

“Yeah, I know.”

I lean back on my heels, and stretch my aching shoulders.  I reach over and grab Ginny’s glass that is stationed between us on the hot concrete slab.  I take a sip of her lemonade. It’s as terrible as I expect it to be. But I’m so thirsty I don’t really care. I’m guzzling the sweet liquid when I hear a clink and a clank.

“What’s that?” I ask looking over Ginny’s hunched shoulders.

“Some sort of metal box,” she says uprooting the dirt covered, rusted box.  Ginny turns the box over in her hands. When she’s done, she tries to pry it open. “It’s stuck!”

“It’s not stuck, it’s locked.”

“Same difference,” she says knowing all to well that I hate that saying. “Here.”

She passes me the box. I inspect it, turning it several times over in my hands. I shake it to try to determine what’s on the inside.  “Something’s in there,” I announce, quite obviously.

“Really, Sherlock?”

I swat at Ginny teasingly. “Do you have a hair pin?”

“A what?”

“A hair pin?”

“Do you mean a bobby pin?”

“Don’t get technical.”

“What do I look like, a walking beauty salon?”

“With that hair of yours … who know what’s hiding in there?!”

“Gran has a ton of them,” she says picking herself off the ground. “Come on,” she says walking away towards the house.

The quiet consumes us as we walk in. I remember the days when life and laughter greeted us at the door. Gran is a sleep in her rocker in front of the ancient television set. Mom and Dad are both at work, due home at any moment. I follow Ginny into Gran’s stark white room. So white, in the late day sun, it’s almost blinding.

I walk over to her dresser, and take a good, long look at my dirt streaked face.  I’m tired, and the dark circles around my eyes show it. Wisps of hair have escaped the bun at the top of my head. My lips are chapped.   Not wanting to face myself in the mirror, I start looking at the many photos Gran has circling the mirror. There are pictures of Gran as a young bride, Gramps, now long gone, in his Air Force uniform. There are pictures of my mom at ripe age of five, dressed in her Sunday’s best and her strawberry blonde curls glistening in the sun. Then there are pictures of me and Ginny.

“Forget the bobby pin,” Ginny says. I spin around and in between her fingers dangles a small, gold key.  I snatch it out of her hands and sink down into the plush mauve carpeting. Ginny sits across from me.

I work the key into the rust lock. It takes some work, but after a long, hard moment I slip the key in. With a good twist, I hear the lock pop. Victory! I lift the lid and my jaw hits the ground .. audibly.

“What is it? What’s in the box?!”

“The solution to all of our problems!”

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