The bet was off. Nancy was going to lose, and she didn’t like losing.
‘I’m calling it off,’ she said to Bert, her neighbour. He was a spry 78-year-old man, who still attended his rose garden as if he were 50.
They’d made the bet days before. Whose garden was prettier, in preparation for the upcoming annual Tidy Town award. Their town, Bellaville, had last won the prize six years ago, and the CWA was making a push for all residents to up their game. Nancy and Bert were the stand-outs; their gardens always pristine and cared for, so the bet was a bit of fun between old friends.
He was leaning over the fence that separated his property from hers. The handle of shovel was still swaying from being forced into the soil. Bert’s Panama hat covered his bald head and enormous ears, and a shirt protected his papery skin from the sun’s glare, but nothing could dim the sparkle in the old guy’s eyes.
‘Oh Nance, I knew you’d call it off once you saw the folly of your ways.’
‘Bert, no! It’s nothing like that. I just can—‘
‘Nancy, you’ve had a misplaced sense of your own importance, ever since I’ve known you. Which is going on…’ Bert paused while he mentally calculated the years they’d been neighbours. ‘…thirty-nine years.’
‘Has it been that long?’
‘Don’t change the subject. Your flaws were under control, tempered by Harry for a good many years. But once he passed—God rest his soul—you’re going unchecked.’
‘Can’t be totally unchecked Bert. I’ve got you.’
‘True. Yes, that’s true.’ He nodded, scratched his unshaven chin. ‘But how are we going to fix this?’
Nancy stared at the ground. A ladybird crawled in the soil bed, towards Bert’s boot. It was a yellow and black one, rarer that its common sibling. She leaned forwards, placed her arm through the fence and held out a finger for it to crawl on.
‘Look, it’s a ladybird.’
Bert was unmoved. ‘Yes, seen them before.’ He cleared his throat. ‘Nance?’
‘Dinner. Tomorrow night? Will that square us?’
‘Sure. As long as you bake a sponge for dessert.’
‘Can do for you, my old friend.’
‘And make sure the icing contains a message. Something like, Nancy lost to Bert.’
Nancy laughed. It was a tinkle that danced and brought a brighter glow to Bert’s eyes. ‘I don’t know about that Bert. We’ve called off the bet, remember?’ She stood, the ladybird crawled along her finger and up her arm. Once it got to her elbow, she changed its route to her other hand. ‘OK, I’ll leave you to it, Bert. See you tomorrow, about six?’
‘Count on it, Nance.’
And, as she walked away, Nancy realised that she’d been played. The loser of the bet was to make dinner for their neighbour. She chuckled to herself, grateful for friendships.