“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HOLLY! OR SHOULD I say happy belated birthday?” Richard laughed nervously. Holly’s mouth dropped open in shock at the sight of her older brother standing on her doorstep. This was a rare occurrence; in fact, it may have been a first. She opened and closed her mouth like a goldfish, completely unsure of what to say. “I brought you a potted mini Phalaenopsis orchid,” he said, handing her a potted plant. “They have been shipped fresh, budding, and are ready to bloom.” He sounded like an advertisement. Holly was even more stunned as she fingered the tiny pink buds. “Gosh, Richard, orchids are my favorite!”
“Well, you have a nice big garden here anyway, nice and” – he cleared his throat – “green. Bit overgrown, though. . .” He trailed off and began that annoying rocking thing he did with his feet.
“Would you like to come in or are you just passing through?”
Please say no, please say no. Despite the thoughtful gift, Holly was in no mood for Richard’s company.
“Well yes, I’ll come in for a little while so.” He wiped his feet for a good two minutes at the door before stepping into the house. He reminded Holly of her old math teacher at school, dressed in a brown knitted cardigan with brown trousers that stopped just at the top of his neat little brown loafers. He hadn’t a hair on his head out of place and his fingernails were clean and perfectly manicured. Holly could imagine him measuring them with a little ruler every night to see that they didn’t outgrow the required European standard length for fingernails, if such a thing existed.
Richard never seemed comfortable in his own skin. He looked like he was being choked to death by his tightly knotted (brown) tie, and he always walked as if he had a barge pole shoved up his backside. On the rare occasions that he smiled, the smile never managed to reach his eyes. He was the drill sergeant of his own body, screaming at and punishing himself every time he lapsed into human mode. But he did it to himself, and the sad thing was that he thought he was better off than everyone else for it. Holly led him into the living room and placed the ceramic pot on top of the TV for the time being.
“No, no, Holly,” he said, wagging a finger at her as though she were a naughty child. “You shouldn’t put it there, it needs to be in a cool, draft-free location away from harsh sunlight and heat vents.”
“Oh, of course.” Holly picked the pot back up and searched around the room in panic for a suitable place. What had he said? A draft-free, warm location? How did he always manage to make her feel like an incompetent little girl?
“How about that little table in the center, it should be safe there.”
Holly did as she was told and placed the pot on the table, half expecting him to say “good girl.” Thankfully he didn’t.
Richard took his favorite position at the fireplace and surveyed the room. “Your house is very clean,” he commented.
“Thank you, I just, eh. . . cleaned it.”
He nodded as if he already knew.
“Can I get you a tea or coffee?” she asked, expecting him to say no.
“Yes, great,” he said, clapping his hands together, “tea would be splendid. Just milk, no sugar.”
Holly returned from the kitchen with two mugs of tea and placed them down on the coffee table. She hoped the steam rising from the mugs wouldn’t murder the poor plant.
“You just need to water it regularly and feed it during the months of spring.” He was still talking about the plant.