A fruitless exercise

peaches

Volleyball Grandpa let the screen door slam behind him as he left the house and headed across his lawn towards the court, giving me a one hand wave along the way.  He wears flip flips and jean cut-off shorts; his skin is brown to the point of being crispy from spending so much time tending and playing his beloved game.  It is unclear what came first, Volleyball Grandpa or the volleyball court.  The only certain thing is that he is the unofficially official ruler and overseer of the park and the volleyball court contained within it.

After four years of living in rather close proximity, I think he is starting to recognize me.  The pregnant waddle and belly certainly helps his ability to pick me out of a line-up.  When he waved, I felt like I was being recognized by royalty.  I have yet to be invited to a volleyball game, but there is still time for that particular honor.

From my observations, VG spends most of his time playing volleyball, prepping the court or chasing off prospective court infiltrators. He lovingly rakes the sand in the court and edges the grass around the perimeter, he picks up sticks and drags heavy fallen tree limbs towards the road for the street crew to pick up at the end of each week.  He goes so far as to put out bright, yellow cones between the stop sign and park entrance stating, “Slow Down.  Kids play here.”

What the sign might say to convey his personal message more clearly is, “Keep driving if you are looking for a volleyball court because this one is taken but do it slowly.”  VG is not above calling the police on vehicles that fail to heed his warning which occasionally prompts the presence of a cop car and a stake out of the area for rolling stops and speeders.  Absolute criminals, in VG’s mind.

Earlier this summer, a day came when maintenance and policing of the park was no longer enough to keep VG satisfied in his civic duty.  And perhaps out of an overgrown sense of ownership, VG decided to try his hand at horticulture.  (Why not? He had the undisputed space of the entire city park.)  It was then that a pathetic fruit tree appeared with a black, protective plastic around its base and a few branches barely strong enough to support the flock of three sparrows that took up immediate residency at the top.

Every day, VG watered the little tree and then put on his magnifier glasses to inspect the branches for pests which he pinched off with two fingers and shooed the birds off with his skinny arms.  People walked by the little tree in wonder of its sudden appearance and later with an even greater amazement when the little tree began to flower and produce peaches.  The little tree was a literal head turner. 

“After just a few months of being planted, how it that possible?” I asked my husband, somehow expecting an answer to the unknown. 

I suspect that Miracle Grow may have played a hand in the incredibly early and health growth but will give most of the credit where its due.  Mother Nature was at her finest, combining the elements to create little peaches that given time would have become juicy and delicious fruit.  Unfortunately, it is an opportunity that will have to wait until next Summer.  Between the birds and the people of the trail, it wasn’t long before the tree was stripped bare.

So VG is back to tending the volleyball court and I am back to watching him.  Not even with VG’s best efforts could he protect his tree from the forces of the world, a risk he knowingly took.  Yet, he still gained pleasure in caring for the tree, watching it grow and bear fruit.  He didn’t need to eat the fruit to know that it would have been good and he doesn’t need to get permission from the park to know that he will definitely try again next year.  

Maybe next year, he will add a cherry tree.

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Double Take

witch

A tall man with a hooked beak for a nose and heavy eyebrows stared over the wooden slats of the fence.  He wore grey sweat pants pulled up over his hips and a thin long sleeve t-shirt that outlined sharp shoulder blades and bony shoulders. Thin wrists and long, pale hands stuck out from the ends of the sleeves.  He was like a scarecrow hanging onto the fence, scaring off the birds and small rodents.

“Mike, what are you doing?” a woman asked from behind him, suddenly arriving, and seemingly appearing from out of thin air.   She had shiny, black hair and wore a pair of neon green tennis shoes and a matching athletic top.  

He gasped and tried to step back.  He stumbled, finding he was already against the fence without any additional room for his long legs to stretch.  Then he realized several things; it was just Lani and she must have walked over, she therefore did not appear from out of thin air and in conclusion, he decided that witchcraft was likely not involved.  He felt relieved and relaxed back into his original watch over the fence.  

“Hey…” he gave a sheepish greeting at his exaggerated reaction.

Lani narrowed her eyes as she tried to understand what he was doing staring over the fence.  It was not lost on her that his neighbor, Shelly, was young, single, and often sunbathed in a very itty, bitty polka dot bikini.  Lani’s heart rate increased as she felt an anger rise from her gut into her chest as she watched him continue to peer over the fence without shame or remorse.

The sound of a wail, presumably Shelly, broke her chain of thoughts. 

“Princess,” she cried out.

Mike waved her forward and motioned with his heavy eyebrows to look over the fence. 

Lani crept up to the fence and saw that Shelly was not the target of the man’s attention.  Rather, it was a lump of fur that lay on its side in the grass. 

“Something’s wrong with Princess,” Mike whispered in an astute observation.

“Help!” Shelly called, perhaps sensing a nearby audience, “someone help me with Princess.”

Shelly knelt down next to the dog as Mike and Lani made their way around the fence, leaving one yard to enter another. 

“She just got back from the groomer and I let her out and the next thing I know she’s on her side breathing like that.”

The dog was on the smallish size but not so small to fit in a purse.  Its fur was longish but not long enough to get knotted, and it wore a bedazzled pink collar, not bedazzled enough for Dolly Parton, but bedazzled enough to suit a dog named Princess.

Princess lay on her side, she drew in ragged gasps of air.  Her side rose and fell as she stared straight ahead with unseeing, dull brown eyes.  

“This is not good,” Lani surmised as she knelt next to Shelly and the animal.

“What happened? What’s wrong, Princess?” Shelly asked, not believing the scene as it unfolded in front of her. 

The dog slowly breathed in and out and then gave one last puff of air.  Its side did not rise again as Shelly and Lani kneeled next to the animal and Mike towered above the gathering.

“Princess, princess, can you hear me? Hang in there with me.  Princess?” Shelly ran her hand along the dog’s side and held her head in her hand.  

“She needs CPR. Chest compressions.  Step back, Shelly.”

Lani crossed her index and middle fingers on the dog’s chest and pumped to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive” by the BeeGees, just like she learned for an infant in Beginner’s CPR.

“This isn’t working, I have to get her to the vet,” Shelly whimpered. “I’m going to get the car. Will you bring her out to the drive way?”  

Lani exchanged glances with Mike.

A vet was not going to help Princess, there was nothing shy of a water-into-wine, roll away the stone type of a miracle that would bring that dog back to life.  It wouldn’t be long before she started to stiffen up with rigor mortis, hopefully, the vet could break the news about the miracle shortage before that happened. 

After the car peeled out with the dead dog stowed away into the backseat, Lani turned to Mike.

“What happened back there, really?”

“Princess was barking and I was picking up twigs in the yard.  She barked and barked and barked and wouldn’t stop and I stood up and looked at her.  That’s all I did, I swear, and she just sort of stopped and fell over onto her side,” he raised one hand and placed the other over his heart in a solemn oath of truth.

“You killed Princess?” Lani asked.

Her tone changed and she narrowed her eyes for the second time and started walking backwards towards the road, away from this yard and this man and this clear case of evil intent.  She repeated herself but this time, there was no question about it.  It was a fact and a statement, “You killed Princess.”

 

The Neighbors Get a Minivan

van

A sleek black minivan was parked between our houses after work.  It did not leave as expected, rather, it returned day after day.  A paper tag protected by a sleeve of plastic was attached on the back, stating the expiration date at the end of June.  The minivan was here to stay. 

We saw the neighbors boarding their new cruiser and all of the bags and baskets that are apparently required to take a baby anywhere.  The baby was strapped to his daddy’s chest, supervising the undertaking and keeping an eye on his mother who stood nearby in obvious discomfort.  She appeared to be 12 months pregnant.

Hipsters are trying to extend the average gestational period.  Or so I have heard.  It could be fake news.  In any case, our neighbor just had a baby and then was instantly pregnant with another one in a phenomenon that will make their offspring “Irish twins” when the second one is born.  The timeline is unclear but it definitely seems that they have been continuously pregnant for the past two years.

The neighbors started out like us, very cool and modern, engaged in work and exercise, friends, and family. We resolved to share a pizza and a few cold adult beverages but never got around to scheduling a date because all of a sudden, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, they were pregnant and went underground. They emerged this Spring, eyes weak and blinking under the bright sun, pushing a stroller with a round faced ooling, drooling baby boy and with a belly popping out like a snake that just ate Mousezilla. 

We walked up to the new van and B said, “Looks like you are just missing the decals on the back.” 

He was referring to the ever-popular cookie cutter stickers of each family member and pet, usually something like two parents next to a half-sized sticker of toddler or two, with the outline of a dog wagging its tail in familial bliss. 

The couple smiled together in a wholesome unity, clear that they were of one mind, and the man said, “That’s a great idea. We’re just glad we have room for everyone now, even the dog.”

They will leave the neighborhood soon, there isn’t enough room as it is for the current occupants of their home, let alone when the babies start to stretch out and grow.  Already, they are planting petunias and Hosta’s, laying mulch, trimming trees and power washing their siding.  It’s just a matter of time before the FOR SALE sign goes into their front yard and they pack their lives into a U-Haul truck.  When they move, it will be with a family double in size than when they moved next door to us.

Meanwhile, we remain in place, at the same address with the same number of residents, exactly three cats and two humans, as when we came to town two years ago.  We will be just as childless but still happy, healthy, well-rested and living relatively uncomplicated, minivan free lives.  For now, anyways.

     

A Day in the Life

Notorious

Two men stood outside of the brick building, smoking cigarettes. The taller of the two kicked at a clump of weeds and inhaled at his Marlboro, while the other worked an orange, plastic lighter through his nicotine stained fingers.

“Did they install your A/C yet?” the taller man asked.

“Nah, they told me there was something going on with maintenance. You think we’ll have them by August?” the man said with a laugh and continued to practice with the lighter like an unlikely baton twirler before a high school football game.

“I put a fan in my window, but it’s just blowing the hot air around. It’s like the desert in there.”

Beads of perspiration popped out on the taller man’s forehead, he wiped it with the back of his hand.

“Whew, it’s hot,” he declared. “But its cooler out here than it is up there,” he gestured with his eyes in the direction of his apartment, too drained from the heat to lift his arm to point.

A woman emerged from the door of the house next to the apartment building. She wore a neon swimsuit top with white washed, cut-off jean shorts that were pulled up over her belly button. Perhaps most noticeable was the mean looking, black and purple bruise around her left eye.

“Hey boys,” she rasped to the men with a grimace that was as close to a smile as possible.

She fished out a lighter from her high-waisted pocket and uncurled her fingers from around a Pall Mall.

“How’s your old lady?” she asked the taller man.

Sensing a follow up question, the man answered with a reserved, “She’s ok,” and waited.

His companion interrupted the pause with a snort, “She’s been cooking again. I smelled the burned food all the way over in my place,” he chortled.

The woman lit her cigarette and took a deep drag with no small amount of pleasure.

Exhaling a dragon-like stream of smoke through her mouth and nose, she continued, “Does she smoke? You tell her to come over and visit anytime she gets sick of you. We can garden and smoke a little herb.”

A shadow darkened the doorway from which the woman had previously emerged and a man with strands of long gray hair appeared.

“Theresa,” he barked with a tone that threatened of another bruise, this time to her right eye.

The men outside stopped smoking and looked at each other; the reputation of this neighbor preceded him via the frequent bruises of his partner.

“That’s just my ol’ man, you know how he gets.”

Theresa took another long drag of her cigarette before dropping it onto the grass and walking away with a wave. Smoke curled from the end of the abandoned cigarette, briefly burning before it extinguished itself.

c

Burning Questions

fire

Before the fire, I wanted to be a real writer. I wanted to write stories and books, essays and poems. I wanted to move readers with my words into action and compassion. Now, I just want to free myself of the words and be done with them.

“I’m bleeding,” our neighbor screamed as he burst through the front door.

Bright, red blood was splattered over his face.  It dripped from his hand and arm, which he held away from his body at a strange angle. An old dog trotted out next to him, faithful and endlessly loyal to his panicking owner.

This would be the perfect way to start a short story if it was fiction, if real smoke didn’t follow him out of the house in rolling waves. His girlfriend emerged from the dark smoke in bare feet and flimsy pajamas. She ran across the street with a pet carrier and set it down on the sidewalk.

She gasped for a breath of fresh air and yelled, “Call 911. The house is on fire!”

Without waiting, she ran back to the house and a cat started to wail from inside of its tiny prison. A small white paw poked out from one of the holes of the carrier and disappeared back inside. The wailing continued and then suddenly stopped. I understood the cat’s pathetic cries, an innocent victim of its humans’ actions..

It was how I felt at being left with the chubby babysitter of my youth or forced onto the school bus, taking one big step after the other, away from safety and towards the unknown. I wailed back then, just like the mangy cat on our sidewalk.

The neighbors kept running into their smoke filled house in search of the rest of their pets. Logic was overridden in their mad hunt for the frightened cats that did not want to be found. Sirens pierced through the summer air, deafening our pleas to the couple to stay out of the house. Help was on the way, if only to drag the fools out of the burning house.

In the meantime, the old dog flopped onto the sidewalk next to its sorrowful feline companion, patiently waiting for its master to return, being blind and deaf has its occasional perks.

Fortunately, the fire was put out quickly and the bleeding was stopped at the hospital. The pets were eventually reclaimed and all of the nosy neighbors returned to their respective homes.

Unfortunately, the night of the fire, I read an essay by Joan Didion. It was unusual for me to read non-fiction and a surprise how much I enjoyed it until I got to the last paragraph which stopped me cold turkey, dead in my tracks, (insert your favorite cliché here).

“My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.”
― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Words have never chilled my blood as quickly.  They spoke directly to my mind and heart and left me with questions that demanded to be addressed, especially in burning light of the neighbors’ home.

What am I doing on here?  When does story telling cross the line? Is there a way to write something decent and not sell anyone out?  Who have I already sold out and at what cost?  I am left wondering as a writer and a person, now what?

I clearly have some thinking to do.

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