Rites of Spring
Each spring the face-off began. The varied competitors surveyed their land, looked for early fault lines, established strategies. Turf was paced, dogs marked their territories, focused on their domain, while casting a watchful eye on their nemeses.
The starting gun was observed by the vigilant—the tendril of a tulip emerged, and marked the season. In a chaotic flurry, they are off, and the games have begun.
Jess, as always, was woefully unprepared. She could have learned volumes from her previous neighbor, who, in the months before her divorce, campaigned wildly for the lead. Relying on sheer wit, and a well appointed body, she shored up her support through varied tactical maneuvers. A variety of cunning outfits were donned—low slung jeans that would show the hint of thong underwear on her backside, exposed while she dutifully pulled the weeds. Bikinis, barely deemed appropriate by the watching gaggle of gossiping neighbors, served as lawn cutting wear. In rare off times, the yard doubled as a Brazilian beach, where more and more of her body was exposed to the rays of the sun.
Her brilliance was repaid—the absence of her husband served as a siren call to a coalition of eager middle-aged neighborhood men with bulging waistlines, anxious to win her attentions. They descended upon her lawn in teams, clipping, trimming, mowing, and digging garden beds at this shrewd woman’s beck and call.
Jess had at least won out over her…her Birkenstocked, un-showered, sweat suit clad body did nothing to stir the masses, but it was her income that ultimately prevailed. The woman packed up her things, unable to support her house, and moved her charlatan outfit elsewhere.
Jess vowed to succeed by effort alone, and the first year of effort was abysmal. Broad leaf patches grew in ambitious clumps, choking out any societally accepted growth. The only place real grass seemed to grow was at the fence line, and there it grew heartily. An early attempt at weed wacking proved fruitless: the tall grass remained, and Jess’s left leg supported a series of suspicious looking cuts.
Her lawn served as a host to a series of underground beasts. A slug love den, Jess dubbed it, where breeding was supported equally by hospitable conditions and landlord ignorance. White grubs abounded, providing unattractive brown patches as well as endless entertainment for her children, who loved to dig them out and let them dry in the sun.
Aboveground was also teeming with unwelcome life forms. Rabbits and squirrels thrived, spurred on by an endless supply of tasty flowered weeds and Jess’s deep humane streak. Chiggers loved to bite unassuming persons who dared to walk on the grass, and spittle bugs provided dashes of color to the wanton environment.
Early this season, Jess threw in the towel. The children were too young, there was too much to do, her status as a single woman too fresh. The lawn, and Jess’s psyche, could do little more than atrophy.
The only effort she could make was late in the season. She commissioned grass removal supporting two rectangles—one would serve as her garden, the other, as a mud pit for the children. Her garden proved a jungle—the only thing that grew were tomatoes, and even they were resistant to cooperation. Their rebellion was marked by their endless growth pattern, and subsequent response to gravity, which caused their fruits to drop, rotting, to the ground. Only the rabbits clapped in appreciation. Thank god Jess had thought of the mud pit.
The mud pit was an instant hit for not only her children, but the neighborhood children as well. At Jess’s house, children could not only play in the mud, but digging, collecting, and showcasing was eagerly supported. On any given day, Jess could look out her window and see scores of children, in addition to the teems of lawn pests she knew were present, digging with shovels, carefully sorting discoveries, and transferring varied treasures into the provided fish tank.
The mud pit was the pipe to Jess’ Pied Piper—children filled her backyard, her house, her life. A huge pit was dug, in an attempt to connect each house on the block underground.
“Its great mom.” explained her son. “We can each go to one each others houses without coats in the winter, and you won’t have to tell me when to cross the street.”
Hours were whittled away. The children endlessly created, and Jess endlessly supplied: paper and pencils to draw up plans, crackers and sugar bread to support collected masses, juice bags and snacks for the hungry workers. When water in the fish tank produced larvae, it was Jess who led the internet search for what the occupants could possibly be.
Both Jess and the children dreamed big. Would the larvae—hundreds of them—produce a collection of tadpoles, the spawn of high jumping frogs, which they could sell to the local pet store, securing much needed funds? Were they dragonflies? Perhaps a new species, created through their precarious mix of life sustaining materials?
The fact that they were mosquitoes, revealed to them through a growing, gnawing swarm in early fall, did little to dampen their enthusiasm. It was time for the next project, the next adventure, all brought to you via Jess and a wisely dug pit.
The attendance of the children was rhythmic, the absence of their parents marked. Jess recognized that unlike her freshly gone neighbor, she not only lacked essential clothing articles and the right body, but keenly lacked any kind of psychological support.
While she pined for the appearance of the neighborhood coalition, they pined for her ex-husband. Jack had many skills Jess lacked—an endless supply of banter, keen sports commentary, and an uncanny ability to garnish unearned sympathy. Jess, in his and their eyes, had forced him out of his home, his family, and his place in the annual lawn competitions. So while they allowed their children to flourish under Jess’s care, she was no more than a grub to them.
Winter provided an essential dormancy. Snow covered the gaping brown patches and crushed the climbing grasses under its weight. The children moved indoors—smaller in numbers, they passed their days listening to Jess read them stories, played endless games of Clue, and plotted the spring season’s mud pit attack.
For Jess, the dormancy allowed time to regroup. She began to heal; her own slimy slugs eating that ate at her conscience and created endless brown patches began to subside. Therapy, the empathy of close friends, and the growing sense that she had acted in everyone’s best interests, particularly her children’s, began to bloom. Like the children, she planned the spring season attack.
The tulip tendril emerged, and Jess’s first modus operandi was to size up the competition. Her home was situated in a rectangle of eight houses; her direct competition was kitty corner on her left and right.
On her left was a man of Jack’s caliber. A sports enthusiast, with one of the four bedrooms in his home devoted to college glory days: pictures of him as a quarterback, a collection of college and high school football helmets, and jerseys of the same donning the walls. He was ever devoted to his lawn, would spend his Fridays, whether there was need or not, cutting the lawn in complicated patterns: the first cut diagonal, the next horizontal, the next lateral, looking for grass that would provide the perfect spring for his step. Saturdays were devoted to walking about his lawn, placing his foot gingerly on trouble spots, and treating with a potpourri of natural remedies.
On Jess’s right, a lawn rampant with pathologies, surely an extension of household discord. Her judgmental eye gave them no excuse—the family was an intact unit, with two teenagers capable of servitude unemployed. To Jess, there was no excuse for their blatant disregard of community values. They were so easy to defeat that establishing their lawn as a goal was an insult to Jess’s newfound moral platitudes.
She set her goals to the left. Recognizing that she lacked essential skills, she elected to hire out. Neighborhood children were paid to mow the lawn on a semi-regular basis; companies spewing harmful chemicals were brought in to exterminate pests. The formerly hospitable breeding grounds were eradicated—even the bunnies and squirrels were clearly given the message that messing with Jess just might result in an untimely death.
By midsummer, she, although not a victor, could surely garnish the coveted “most improved” award. Her lawn was no longer an eyesore, providing testimonial to her own internal hell, but had become, amazingly, just another lawn.
Jess was focused on the win, and knew she must do something to get ahead. The neighbor on the left had cornered the green award, and she knew, without hiring extensive unaffordable lawn care services provided at the hands of someone over the age of fifteen, that she would never prevail.
She quickly looked for a weakness, and found what he lacked: color. Her formerly boring beds of varied prickly bushes became the focus of heroic efforts. Black-eyed susans, jonquils, lilacs, asters, daisies, hostas, phlox and poppies were chaotically planted, with the hopes that Jess would ultimately prevail.
And in late fall, the assured coup. Ignoring the monetary costs, Jess secured three hundred bulbs, and planted them with increasing passion throughout her landscape. Each bulb represented her faith in herself, her immunity to the eye of the coalition that never saw Jess, and her never ending desire to be accepted.
Come next spring, at the first tulips’ tendril, Jess assured herself, she--the dark horse--would win. Time, patience, and tenacity would, as it should, prevail. She pictures herself surveying her domain: confident, secure, and accepted; surrounded by color, children’s laughter, and beauty.
About the author:
Megan Alexis McMahon is relatively new to the world of creative writing, but has published extensively in academia. At the present time, four of her stories--Convicted, Naked on TV, Amazing Woman, and To Be Included have been selected for publication.