by Kim Ellis
Petunia Pig sighed as she sat down in a kitchen chair. She had swept and mopped the floor. She’d even the scrubbed out the oven. The kitchen was clean and quiet. In fact, the whole house was clean and quiet. For the first time in twenty-two years, she heard nothing but the ticking of the teapot clock on the kitchen wall. Another sound came to Petunia’s ears. A puzzled frown creased her brow, and then she smiled.
“The wind,” she murmured. “I’ve never heard it over the hurricane in here every morning.”
The kitchen counter reflected rays of sunlight coming through the pink-checked curtains. No plates of congealing fried egg and beans sat in the sink. No crumbs of toast or strings of shredded wheat littered the floor.
The whole house echoed and hummed in silence around her. She had sent all three of them away, Oscar, Coreopsis, and Hardy. “You are all adults,” she told them, “and it’s time for you to make your own way in the world.” When they stared at her in shock, she added, “My retirement pension won’t support all of us.”
She gave them a date, September 1st, and, just to be sure, she changed the locks on August 31st. She’d felt determined and strong at the time, but now, in the silence, she wondered if she’d made the right decision.
Oscar, the least ambitious of her brood, was couch-surfing among his party-prone friends and working at MacDonald’s. Coreopsis was going to massage school and living with two roommates in a seedy apartment building in a questionable part of town. Hardy, the practical one, had apprenticed himself to a building contractor and was going to night school for a degree in business administration.
Before they left, Petunia warned them once again. “There’s more than one wolf in the world,” she told them. “Don’t be out alone after dark, and always lock your doors.”
She knew she couldn’t protect her children forever. She had been so focused on getting them out of the nest that she hadn’t thought about her own future. Now here she sat, on a bright September morning, with no one to clean up after. There was nothing she had to do, nowhere she had to go. The day was as blank as a piece of paper. What would she do now?
Petunia heaved herself up off the chair and shuffled into her bedroom in her fuzzy pink slippers. She stopped in front of the full-length mirror and stared. “I’m fat,” she said. “Too fat. Dr. Jowls told me I had to lost weight. Maybe I should join the gym.”
A half-hour later, Petunia was listening a to lean, muscular otter named Bethany as she explained the features at the Fitness Center. “With a six-month membership, you get, like, one half-hour with a personal trainer, like, you know, once a week,” said Bethany in a high, nasal voice.
Petunia signed up for six months. That afternoon, she returned to the gym wearing her new workout clothes. She was relieved to find that Frank, not Bethany, would be her personal trainer. Frank was also lean and muscular, but, as he was a woodchuck, his body shape was less daunting to a fat pig like Petunia.
After her first half-hour with Frank, Petunia was drenched in sweat and discouraged. “Give it a month,” Frank said, “and you won’t believe how you look and feel. I know. I used to be carrying an extra 50 pounds.”
For dinner, Petunia ate a whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream. She savored every spoonful, but when the carton was empty, she burst into tears.
“This won’t do,” she said. She picked up her cell phone and called her friend Rosemary.
“Why don’t you come to my Mahjong game this evening? The girls are coming to my house. “
Petunia had always told Rosemary that she didn’t have time to play Mahjong, but now her excuse was gone. “Oh, all right,” she agreed.
That evening at Rosemary’s house, the girls (all Petunia’s age or older, and not girls at all) patiently taught Petunia the rules of the game. Petunia enjoyed learning something new and liked the feeling of focus and exercise happening in her brain, which, she feared, was beginning to lapse into dullness. She also enjoyed the pretty tiles with their Chinese characters and graceful pictures. The conversation, however, gave Petunia the urge to run screaming from Rosemary’s house back to the empty quiet of her own kitchen.
“Did you see Marigold? She must have put on twenty-five pounds in Paris! Her double chins had double chins!”
“Larkspur had triple by-pass surgery. No wonder she had a heart attack with a husband like Otto.”
“You would not have believed the hat Zinnia wore to Bluebell’s daughter’s wedding! Two feet wide, and draped in sunflowers. Quite absurd!”
As Petunia got ready for bed that night, she caught sight of her face in the mirror. “If this is all there is, I will either offer myself to the abattoir or tell the kids to move back in,” she said to her drooping face.
The next morning Petunia finished her workout at the gym early. Then she called her friend Calendula.
“Volunteer!” Calendula suggested. “You would not believe how many retirees help out at the hospital. Why, we practically keep the place running!” said Calendula. They arranged to meet at the Resources office in an hour.
Petunia put on a conservative navy skirt and a white blouse. It looked a bit parochial school, but she wanted to appear sincere and responsible. The hospital’s volunteer coordinator was delighted to enroll Petunia for two afternoons a week.
“Why don’t you do rounds with our precious Calendula today, so you can learn the ropes?” she suggested.
After two hours of plumping pillows, rearranging flowers, and pretending not to be dismayed at the illness and despair of the patients, Petunia knew this type of volunteering was not for her.
“I don’t think I’m cut out for candy striping,” she told Calendula.
Calendula sniffed, “Well, what are you going to do?”
Petunia shrugged. ‘I don’t know.”
When she got home that night, Petunia opened the refrigerator and peered into the freezer. There were two more pints of ice cream, and a box of Oscar’s favorite Sara Lee cake.
Petunia shut the fridge door. “No!” she said, “I’m not going to give in!” She ate celery sticks and low fat yogurt dip instead.
As she chewed, Petunia looked around her kitchen. Yes, it was clean, and the house was deliciously quiet. But it wasn’t enough.
“What do I really want?” she murmured.
The next morning she called Hardy. “Would you come and live here for a while?” she asked her one reliable child.
Three days later, Hardy hugged Petunia at the airport check-in.
“I’ll email you,” she said.
“And we can Skype,” he added.
She kissed his cheek and boarded the plane.