"Lawns"


" . . . the aforesaid techniques are efficacious for whitefly and aphid, but I
have not yet found an acceptable way of dealing with children. For they are
not good to eat, and there is a law against making away with them."

--W. Stronge, Garden Pests 1870

Tristana bought a small cottage that spring in Golden Hills. The architecture dated from the late thirties; the Bermuda lawn seemed a post-war innovation. Or should I say aberration, for I detest lawns: vast spaces inhabited by a single undistinguished specie, much reminiscent of the contemporary journals of the genre I am pointlessly attempting to escape-- an immense monotony of mediocrity. My first step was to tear it all out with a rototiller. My second consisted of digging in a mulch of old copies of "Antaeus."

The neighbors, bourgeoisie criticules, objected. The two ancient women who dwelt next door came out to stare. Tristana sat on the front porch, sipping bloody Mary's. She, like the rest, admired lawns but indulged me in my prejudice. The harmless old ladies drove me from the yard with their vapid commentary, influenced by the hack garden writers of their far-too- English childhood. I embraced my companion's hand, bore her light body through the door, across the hardwood floors to our chamber where, to my delight, her foreign mechanizations obscured all thought of my prosodic campaign against received opinion.

In a champagne stupor, I awoke near dawn, intending to recommence the ordeal of soil preparation before the local population could object. A stream of schoolchildren flowed down the narrow asphalt street; a small eddy of delinquents dug mudpies of soil and pulp from the carefully-levelled plot. Sky-destined birdshot from my handy 412 redirected their course. I re-levelled the soil until it bore some semblance to the image I carefully preserved in my Datura-clouded brain.

The sudden unexpected report awoke the old women. Their west window, flung open, was replaced by shocked, uncoiffed heads. The placid object of my considerable affection bore a fresh pitcher toward the unvarnished porch swing; her blue cotton dress billowed farther along those delicate limbs until her thighs seemed to delight in the fresh morning land-breeze. I tugged the last remnants of Saint Augustine from the composted soil, ignoring both the condemnation of the neighbors and the temptation of those white calves, I began to position the foundation shrubs.

My queensland umbrella tree, saved from the greenhouse of my most recent habitation, seemed best positioned at the corner of the wall near the staircase leading down the four feet to the sidewalk. I struggled with the water-soaked rootball, dug a hole twice as large. Just as the roots were settled into their permanent home, just as I was smoothing the amended soil into a circular planting basin, the screechy voice of a schoolchild invaded the peaceful realm of my consciousness: "Whatcha plantin', mister?"

I have always been over-sensitive to sudden, disagreeable sounds. My hands flew up, and my feet obligingly followed. After being suspended for an eternal moment in space, my form began to descend towards the concrete sidewalk. The cause of my distress stepped back to a safe distance. I reluctantly pulled my head to my chest and prepared my now rounded shoulder for the shock of impact. I allowed my body to roll and nearly bounced, but my journey was brought to an abrupt end by the door of an illegally parked Camaro. "Thwack!" went my cranium against the painted sheet metal.

The old women tittered like a brace of finches discovering an unknown amusement. I kept my awareness but lost my sense of metaphor. Kris (for that is all I dare breathe of her real name), flew off the swing and descended the steps. I should remember looking up her dress. I should write about the small moles of her tender cuisses, but all I can think about is the carnival of signifiers parading through my thoughts, unrelated to any set of signified concepts.

Write legibly. Ok. Try this: the cause of my vertigo wandered down the road, already late for his engagement with "show and tell." The neighbors dialed a chorus of 911's. Tristana dragged me back up the stairs, my head bouncing on each step. I never poured any root stimulator into that circular basin. A week of nightmares and tender ministrations brought me around to something approaching normality. I read selections from the work of Chinese Wilson, who brought back seeds of the Dove Tree from the snow-guttered slopes of the Yangtze headwaters.

As soon as I could, kneeling, suppress the bouts of dizziness that still keep me company, I planted my common annuals. Diotomatious earth spread over the soil defeated the snails before they could ravage the seedlings. Garlic spray decimated the aphid population and within a fortnight, the first pincushion flowers were blue against the background of garden-of-Eden green. The old ladies softened their opinions; each morning they emerged to view the now splendid inflorescence.

My only problem was the childish river flowing past each morning. Flowers cascading over the wall were inevitably plucked, only to be discarded into a multi-colored delta a few meters downstream. I screamed, implored, castigated. Nothing worked; the constant current eroded my small reserve of patience. Even the garlic spray, "accidentally" misdirected, did nothing to interdict the violation.

The only effect of that spray was to magically reveal fathers I never dreamed existed. One lawyer's persistence became legendary in the neighborhood. Slamming the door in his face did nothing to stop him. His halberd cut right through the hollow plywood door. Not even the threat of disbarment stayed his righteous parental sense of revenge. He swung the broad-axe through the livingroom air-- only the chandelier preserved the integrity of my neck, shattering as it stopped the force of the blow.

The light fixture exploded, tiny prisms of cut glass refracted the brilliance of the electrical explosion. I believe Tristana over-praised his valor. It seems I was unconscious on the floor when she threw her arms around him.

I still live in that carnival of shattered light. She lives with him in New York now; they have a cottage in Connecticut, a flat on the Rive Gauche. My daughter must be nine years old now. After his divorce, he got one of his colleagues to rule in her favor on the question of custody. I scan the garden journals looking for some organic solution to the problem but have found none, perhaps because every time I get close, those tiny shattered mirrors return to my memory, overcoming all possible signification with their intense, remembered brilliance.


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