Stories Oct. 2008

 

Our Ficus

       by Clifford Hui

 

They are sometimes known as Chinese banyan trees but most people call them by their scientific name, Ficus benjamina.  They are common houseplants for they grow well in pots and indoors.  They have a straight trunk with many leaves on slender, drooping branches, presenting a delicate silhouette and offering a patch of breezy shade when grown outside. 

One was growing in the indoor atrium of our house when we moved in.  It was energized by the sun piercing the huge skylight above and nourished by Mother Earth who cradled its roots below.   If trees could be happy, this one must have been absolutely joyful.  It had grown to touch the skylight fourteen feet above and spread wide to shade most of the floor below.  One of my first tasks after we were settled in our house, was to prune back the Ficus so that our other houseplants could see the skylight.

I never fed that tree and rarely watered it.  Nevertheless, it was ecstatic in its growth and I had to prune it back two or three times each year.  In the process of pruning, I shaped it and controlled the direction of its growth.  It became more and more beautiful over the years.  Its delicate foliage offered a lacy veil before the white intensity of the skylight. The other houseplants adjusted to its dappled shade.  Some climbing plants ascended its trunk, wrapping their tendrils in seeming affection around its smooth bark.  Our atrium was a happy place for plants.

As in the life of many homeowners, we came upon the time to remodel (eventually becoming several times).  I moved the houseplants, all in pots, outside to give the workmen more room and to keep the plants safe from inadvertent damage.  The Ficus, however, rooted in the ground as it was, couldn’t be moved.  It pained me to do it but I pruned it back severely so its branches were well away from the walls, allowing the workmen room to work.  To look at it was like looking at a raven-haired beauty whose mane of curls and waves flowed about her shoulders and who was then given a buzz cut. 

Although but a whisper of its former presence, the tree still stood with a stateliness that helped to cheer me.  I knew that in a few months it would look even more ravishing than before.  It would have bright green new growth, giving it the appearance of an enthusiastic youngster but with the strength of a mature tree.  It would once again be the official greeter for those entering the front door and radiate its enthusiasm for life to the rest of us.  But for now, it would rest. The workmen covered it with clear plastic and set about their task.

In a few short weeks, the remodeling was completed.  The clear plastic covering the tree was now thick with a coat of dried plaster drops and fine sawdust.  The workmen removed the plastic carefully so as to not damage the tree.  The tree stood just as stately as before.

But it was not the same as before.  On its leaves and branches were fuzzy spots of white, grey, and black.  Mold.  It was diseased.  We called in an expert.  “Health hazard to the household inhabitants,” he said.  “Must be removed,” he said.  “No cure.”

There was a heavy lump in my chest.  I stood back and looked at the tree.  Surrounded by the clean barren-ness of newly-painted walls and with the houseplants still outside, it appeared lonely in the glare of the skylight.  Its scant branches seemed feeble now and its color was gone.  A few short weeks ago this tree shared its vitality with the household but now it was sick and had to be  removed.  There were no alternatives and the deed had to be done soon because of the health hazard.  I could rationalize what I needed to do but found no joy or satisfaction in it. 

There is no humane way to euthanize a tree.  There is no cocktail of drugs that can be injected to peacefully usher in its final sleep.  There is no blend of exotic gases whose sweet fragrance will be its last farewell.  Euthanizing a tree is a brutal enterprise. 

“Farewell,” I said softly to the tree.  “Thank you for all you have given us.”  Then I sawed off its branches and cut its trunk in pieces down to a stump.  I dug to its roots, severed the main ones from the stump, and pulled the last clinging remnants from the breast of the one Mother who nurtures us all.  Unceremoniously, I piled the arboreal remains in the street for the city crews to take away. 

Our atrium is full of bright light now.  We haven’t replaced the tree, choosing to have only smaller plants and to keep them in pots so as not to suffer such a loss again.  No tree dominates the welcome for visitors or provides a lacy silhouette against the skylight.  The potted houseplants have responded to the new light regime with exuberant growth, offering their own enthusiastic welcome with a cacophony of greens and forms.  But it’s not the same.

The city transformed our Ficus into compost and used it among its many plantings.  So it’s still out there, in a way, perhaps encouraging another young tree to meet life as it did, with enthusiasm and good cheer.

 
 
 
 

Bio: Clifford Hui retired from a career of research biology(not trees), and decided to expand his writing experience from technical reports to fiction, mostly short stories. In these four years, his work has appeared in The Flatlander, The Yolo Crow, Wandering Army and 10x10x10.  He continues to work his craft and has a good time.

 

 

 

 

Daffy's Revenge

     

           by Betty Beamguard

 

Three years ago, Daffy, a calico kitten with a dainty meow, came to live with me in my duplex. We spent two happy years together, and then a friend decided Daffy needed a companion.

She brought me Blip, a fawn-colored kitten with blue eyes who earned his name by blipping past in a blur as he played. I loved having a kitten around, but would never have taken him had I known how Daffy would react.

           

From the moment Blip appeared, Daffy morphed into a green-eyed monster. She attacked Blip anytime he got close to her, and she tried to escape each time I opened the  back door. One day she succeeded.

           

I set out to find her, starting with the yard and working my way through the neighborhood. For a week, I posted flyers and knocked on doors. I called her name so much I called her in my sleep.

           

When it snowed, I gave up, thinking she’d been run over or killed by a dog. But I couldn’t quite convince myself because at night, when I closed my eyes, I felt her soul tugging at mine.           

           

Meanwhile, Blip acted totally loopy. The little clown would turn over the kitchen trash can and play with the plastic curl off a frozen juice can or pop out of the washer when I started to put clothes in. When I watched TV, he’d hop onto the entertainment center and try to catch whatever moved on the screen. Basketball players were his favorite prey. But no matter how funny his antics, they made me sad, reminding me of Daffy.

           

Everybody at work was totally sympathetic. One day, when we were the only two in the break room, WillBolton confided that his wife was psychic.

           

“I told her about your lost cat,” he said, “and she got this picture of her in her mind. Said  to tell you Daffy isn’t dead—just “biding her time.”

           

“Really?”

           

“Yeah, she’s good. If you’ll bring me something that belonged to Daffy, she can touch it and tell you where to find her. I’ve seen her do it time and again.”

           

“I threw out all her toys. Couldn’t bear to keep them,” I lied, after picturing myself knocking on a stranger’s door to say, “Hi. A psychic told me you have my cat.”       

           

Daffy haunted me all that long, cold winter. I’d catch myself doing a double take  at the kitchen window, thinking I’d seen her out by the hedge. I’d wake at midnight, sure I’d heard her meowing beside the bed.

           

Spring arrived. The sunshine and flowers improved my mood, and one beautiful Saturday, I broke my rule and took Blip outside. He pounced on my hands as I weeded the flowers and deadheaded tulips, causing me to laugh. I noticed him stalking a stag beetle and warned him it would pinch his nose. As I turned back to the tulips, I remembered it was April 29, Daffy’s adoption anniversary.

           

The squeal of tires brought me out of my reverie. I heard a soft thunk and looked up to see Blip lying on the side of the road. I ran over to stare down at an empty shell of flesh and fur, blood oozing from its mouth. All that life and energy gone in an instant.

           

The teenage boy who hit him got out and apologized. He offered to bury him, get me another cat, pay for him, but I said, “No, it’s okay. It’s my fault for not watching him. I shouldn’t have let him out of the house.”

           

He finally drove off and I went to the house for a box. Walking back to the spot, I glanced across the road at the park. There in front of the pine trees sat a calico cat .

           

“Daffy?” Tears blurred my vision. The calico markings blended with the shadows, so I couldn’t be sure.

“Daffy?” She didn’t move.

           

I slid the box under Blip’s limp body and replaced the lid. When I straightened, I looked across the road. She was still there. “Daffy? Kitty kitty?”

           

Must not be her. I headed to the backyard where I started to dig near the fence, hoping the landlord wouldn’t notice. When I stopped to catch my breath, I saw the calico sitting in the shade of a bush—close enough for me be certain.

           

“Daffy?” She didn’t respond. A shiver ran through me and my arms broke out in goose bumps. We eyed one another as I finished up. I started toward the house and she followed. I opened the back door and she strolled in.

           

I brushed her, fed her treats, tried to play with her. I explained, apologized and begged her forgiveness, but nothing was ever the same. For one thing, she never meows. Never. And she watches me constantly. Follows me from room to room and just watches, even while I read. Six months she’s been doing this, and it’s driving me crazy.

           

I feel as if Daffy hasn’t forgiven me, as if she’s punishing me, maybe even waiting for me to die. That she lured Blip into the road and now she’s just “biding her time,” as Will’s wife said.

***

 

Bio: BettyWilsonBeamguard writes magazine features, fiction and poetry in South Carolina. She recently published a biography of a young woman with cerebral palsy who drives a horse-drawn carriage with her feet. www.home.earthlink.net/~bbeamguard

 


 

 

   

 

 

A Box of Silk Thread

     by Nadine Gallo


 

Now that the old lady was safely tucked away in a nursing home, Fred and Doris tried to clear up her legal ties to material things.  Her house was occupied by a family whose members were struggling with alcohol and gender confusion but they sent the rent checks on time and that helped pay for the nursing home.

 

Looking over the rooms  where the old lady had spent most of her days, Fred said, “Let’s just give it to a real estate agent.”

Doris argued, “You have to fix it up first--it needs painting. Her stuff has to get sorted. Most of it should get tossed out.”

So they moved in for a week, slept on the old couch where the mice played every night, cleaned out the closets, the attic, filled trash bags with the old lady’s prized possessions. Then they called a local charity to come and haul it away.

After the hauling, Fred and Doris began cleaning, then painting the rooms. Windows were washed, appliances polished. When they moved the heavy bed to clean under it, they found a small box.

Doris opened it carefully,  She was a textile enthusiast so a little yelp escaped her larynx when she saw the contents. Eleven spools of Corticelli silk. Just what she needed to decorate her latest quilt.

“I wonder if this belonged to your grandfather, the tailor? Looks so old. The dyes are Asiatic. Why did she hide it under the bed for fifty years?”

“Just be glad you found it and let’s get this over with,” said Fred, groaning.

“It’s just that she hardly ever sewed anything....”

“She kept things. She didn’t need a reason. Maybe her mother used them.” Fred sounded as bored as a corrupt politician at a congressional hearing.

“Then she would have put it in the trunk--you know, the one with her old poems and Caesarean clips.”

 “Don’t remind me.”

 “She sure is full of surprises. Remember the night she yelled at your father?”

 “I never thought it was possible.”

     “She just saved it up for forty years.”

 “She should have had a job instead of just me to take care of.”

He poured off-white paint into the tray on the floor.

“She should have been a Private Eye.” Doris resented her mother-in-law’s intrusiveness, a habit she learned to resist over the years. She tore the plastic wrapper off a paint roller. “Remember how she used to tell your father not to eat the last custard in the fridge? She was saving it for you.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“You were always her number one son.”

“I can see her now, bursting into the kitchen in her Private Eye outfit, pointing her little gun at my father, muttering through her tight little mouth, ‘Who ate the last custard?’”

“If she ever saw us now tossing all her treasures into trash bags, she’d kill us.” Doris dipped the roller into the paint tray and squeezed out the excess. Then she rolled it across the wall till the paint ran out.

Fred watched, then he dipped a brush into the same paint tray, tapped it a few times, began painting the edges around the doorway.

“Hope she isn’t driving them all crazy up at Shangri-La. She has to share her room with some poor soul.”

“Hope the poor soul is deaf as a stone.”

“He’s going to hear a lot about how wonderful you are.”

They finished painting the room just as the sun set. Fred cleaned up the equipment and Doris admired the little wooden box, the treasure from under the bed. To think it had been there for fifty years, never used. She'd bring it to the next quilters' meeting, maybe get an offer for it. Of course, she could always use it herself. She looked around, admired the clean walls, as the sunset splashed across them like a bucket of blood. 

  *****


Bio: Nadine Gallo writes poetry, fiction, essays and publishes in JIR, Greensilkjournal, BostonLiterary, writer'seyemagazine, Wolf Moon Journal and NPR. She lives in Hadley, Mass. with her spouse, Ernie. They have three grandchildren. Nadine formerly taught middle school.

 


 

 

 

 

What are Friends For?

    

            by Barbra Annino

 
"I tell you, I don’t care if she is my cousin, I’m done with her."
 
I was in a coffee shop with my friend, Pam. She was sipping an espresso, her Gucci bag next to her. 
 
"You don’t show up to my son’s birthday party in a provocative dress," she continued. It was a sundress and it was tasteful. Pam exaggerates.
 
"People were embarrassed."
 
No they weren't. But her cousin had looked attractive, and Pam’s husband told her so, which is the reason Pam was pissed off.
 
Pam tucked her Dior sunglasses into her bag and twisted her neck towards the counter. "Where is that waitress?" She sighed and waved her cup. "Hello?" she said, loudly.
 
I met Pam in ninth grade. I didn't choose her, she chose me. I was the new kid, shy and homely. Pam decided I was her project. She gave me a makeover, took me shopping, and dangled me around school to show people how she had "helped" me. Like I was a poodle she rescued from the pound.
 
Pam eyed my muffin. "You’re not going to eat all of that are you?" she asked as I tore apart the second half. I looked at the chocolate chips oozing from the center. I planned to eat it. I wanted to eat it. But I was the fat friend and Pam considered it her duty to play Richard Simmons to my
Rosie O’Donnell.
 
The waitress glanced over from another table and held up a finger. Pam rolled her eyes and said, "Like I have all day."
 
"She’s just working on a good tip," I said.
 
Pam looked like I slapped her. "What are  you saying, Jane? That I don’t tip well?"
 
"I didn't mean--"
 
"Because I will have you know I tip twenty percent religiously."
 
Ten percent. Tops.
 
"But the service here is terrible. I am done with this place."
 
I sipped my coffee and counted how many times Pam had been "done" with things. She dropped people, restaurants, and shops more than a mariner drops an anchor.
 
The waitress brought us two more coffees and apologized for the delay. She was about to set my cappuccino down when a man bumped her, sailing the frothy drink into my lap.
 
Pam shrieked like she were the one with hot coffee dripping down her legs.
 
The waitress panicked. "I am soooo sorry. I’ll grab a towel." She rushed away. 
           
"Ridiculous! How careless is that? I tell you, I am done with this place," she said.
 
The waitress returned with towels and cleaned the mess. “Your check is on the house. I’m really sorry,” she said.
 
"You could have scarred her. You better foot the cleaning bill, too," Pam barked.
 
The waitress nodded. 
 
"No," I said. "It's fine. I'm okay, really."
 
"Jane, don’t be stupid. You can’t let people get away with bad behavior," Pam said.
 
I looked at Pam. She was right about that.
 
I grabbed my purse. "I'm done," I said, and left her.
 
 
Bio: Barbra Annino's first novel, UNCOVERING AMETHYST is currently being shopped. Visit her at www.barbraannino.com.