Monday, April 25, 2011

Short Fiction: Mother’s Day 1989

This is 1000 words including the title.

When Miller and Baker showed up at my door, it was six o’clock in the evening on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. It had been raining like a son-of-a-bitch since noon and hadn’t let up a bit. They were drenched just from walking from the parking lot but didn’t care.

We had all survived high school together and only called each other by last name. To them, I was Music. That wasn’t my last name, but that was as close as they cared to get. They brought a half-gallon jug of tequila and a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew.

I lived in a mass of apartments near the university’s basketball stadium. I had a no-frills apartment on the second floor with a small covered concrete balcony¬–just enough room for three chairs and a small table. The table was just big enough for an ashtray, three shot glasses, and a glass jar containing a pair of dice.

It was our sophomore year in college, and we had perfected weekend binge drinking. By perfected, I mean we were very efficient. We watched it rain and played our version of craps for drinks.

After some hours of winning and losing and talking crazy ideas, it became pitch dark. Streetlights barely reached the ground and only lightning flashes showed the few cars in the parking lot. No one was out; it was a mad downpour.

Every day I walked by the stadium on the way to botany class, and earlier in the week I noticed that ginkgo saplings had just been planted around the front entryway of the stadium in a thin stripe of lawn between two sidewalks. There were fifteen or more in a row. I remembered that I hadn’t gotten a gift for my mother yet. With that tequila on my brain; I became obsessed with the idea that I wanted one for her present.

Only Baker was up for the mission. I went to my hall closet, where I kept my camping gear. I found a hatchet and handed Baker a folding camp shovel. That was all of the preparation we had time for. I knew that if I thought about it longer, I’d chicken out or pass out. We were both dressed in black t-shirts and dark colored shorts; conveniently, we had dressed for mischief.
Actually, that was our usual uniform because we had a propensity for small-time criminal activities after a few drinks. Theft wasn’t a necessity; it was a thrill. Some times it was the only action we’d see, especially on a Saturday night with no girls, and the dice weren’t rolling right.

We had no business standing up and walking, much less running down some steps, out into pitch black and pouring-ass rain to commandeer a tree; we were trashed. But, it sounded like fun. We could only see the ground when the lightning flashed and showed the individual raindrop splashes. During the visual afterimage we’d run to a car, crouch down, and wait for the next glimpse.

By the time we made it to the covered walkway attached to the stadium that sheltered people in case they had to wait outside before a game, we were soaked like a jump in the lake.
The walkway was well lit, but there were brick pillars every twenty feet; we managed to stay primarily in their shadows. We reached a place at the front where we were the closest to the trees without being visible from the road.

It was at that point I wondered why I had brought a hatchet. A dead tree would be a sorry gift. I shouted over the noise of the rain, “Are you ready?”

He responded by hoisting the shovel above his head with both hands and pumping it up and down. He looked like a crazy ape soldier from Planet of the Apes. I raised my hatchet into the air, beat my chest with the other hand and charged out into the rain. Baker was right beside me.

When I reached the nearest sapling, I fell to my knees; the mud splashed up to my chest but was quickly washed away by the downpour. Baker landed opposite of me. The light from the building reached the tree but only made shadows. When the lightning flashed, I studied the sapling; I made my plan from the afterimage.

It was two feet tall. It had three branches and maybe fifteen fan shaped leaves. I knew from class that ginkgos were the oldest species of tree still living; its kind had been around for at least 150 million years. My mother was a gardener and would be impressed.
I shouted at Baker, “Give me the shovel. I’ll dig it!”

I dropped the hatchet and took shovel; I prepared to strike. The next flash showed Baker grinning stupidly and holding the tree by its trunk over his head. Its rootball was still in the shape of a nursery pot. The ground was so waterlogged that he had just plucked it out.
We laughed maniacally, jumped to our feet, and ran back.

In my kitchen, I tied the root ball in a plastic sack and went to change out of my wet stuff and find something dry for Baker. Miller had passed out watching MTV’s Head Banger’s Ball. There was a lit cigarette between his fingers.

Baker and I knew he would wake up soon and decided we’d celebrate on the balcony. We took up the bottle and headed out; on the way, we took a couple of cigarettes from Miller’s pack.
After a minute, we heard a shout from inside; soon Miller joined us looking for the bottle and blowing air across his fingers.

He asked, “How’d the mission go?” He hadn’t noticed the small, triumphant tree on the kitchen table.

I pointed inside and handed him the bottle.

“Hmm,” he said, “It’s awful small.” Then he drank, coughed, and handed the bottle back.

I replied, “I’ll get her a card too.”

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