Sally smiled as she removed the tray of freshly baked eggshells from the oven. She carried them to a table in a sheltered position on the stoep, where she had already placed a lidded bucket, deep plastic container and old potato masher. Tossing a handful of the still warm shells into the container she picked up the masher and struck the first satisfying, crushing blow.
Ah, sweet victory! Methodically she worked through the large tray of shells, from time to time adding the finely crushed results to the precious level in the bucket, until both tray and container were empty. Bucket in hand she hurried to a long, narrow garden bed, dampened by an earlier shower.
Here Reggie found her kneeling on the path, her nose a scant six inches from the soil. Along the row behind her were small mounds of eggshell grit, in the center of each a tiny green spike.
“Coming up, are they, Toots?”
She squinted up, brushing back an unruly lock of hair. “I think the rain must have brought them through. I do hope it doesn’t rain tonight or I won’t have enough grit. I didn’t realize how much it would take!”
Reggie shifted his weight, chewing a sprig of mint picked from the other side of the path.
“If it works you’ll have to let me have some for my marrows.”
Sally sat back, her face serious. “Do you mean that field you planted the other day?”
He nodded. “Of course.”
“No.” It was a flat refusal. “I wouldn’t have enough for that.”
“Guess I’ll just have to use snail bait.” He kept his face averted, kicking at the surface of the path.
This brought her to her feet in indignant protest. “You can’t! You can’t do that, Daddy. What about the angels?”
“What about the angels? They’ll just have to take their chances, I guess.” He shrugged, keeping his eyelids lowered, hiding his twitching lips with a cough.
Aware of Sally’s private world, he recognized her allusion to the small birds that visited her beds, scratching for insects and slugs. They were the reason for her present activity. His energetic ‘tween-ager had mounted quite a campaign collecting eggshells from their neighbors and the Takeaway on her way to school for the sole purpose of protecting her seedlings from the slugs and snails without endangering the small birds and local cats and dogs.
Saturday again. Reggie laid aside the newspaper and pushed his coffee cup back. “Has Sally had her breakfast?”
“The child,” The housekeeper, employed during his wife’s fatal illness, always called Sally ‘the child.’ “The child went out very early.”
She disapproved of Sally’s freedom, perhaps resented a perceived lack of discipline.
Reggie strolled into the garden. Movement in the lower-lying field of marrows caught his eye. Hurrying down he watched in astonishment the small figure pushing the final stakes into the soil along the lower edge of the field, now sparkling with the twisting, curling, flashing coils of Christmas decorations tied or taped to tomato stakes.
Seeing her father, Sally ran to meet him, calling as she approached, “It’s all right now, Daddy. The angels will be safe now.”
“What …? Where …?” His questions were as confused as his mind.
“Mr. Nethercote told me this is how he stops the angels from stealing his strawberries, and everybody had something to spare. The angels won’t land where the streamers and sparklers are. So they are safe from the snail baits. Isn’t that good?” She looked for his approval.
Nodding, he swallowed the tears in his throat. The shining, sparkling field of marrows demonstrated the love of the neighborhood for his motherless daughter. Yes, he thought, the angels are safe.
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