OUR TREE -Flash Fiction
“Mom! There’s floating poop again.”
My heart sinks. Not again. Didn’t the toilet just back up? I run downstairs, forgetting about the baby. Before I get to the bottom of the stairs, the stench hits—the heavy smell of sewage. Brown water spills out of the bathroom onto the hall. The filth permanently embeds into the carpet. This is getting old. I press my fist into my chest.
Tears stream down my face. How come this always happens when my husband is in the field?
Hailey looks up at me, ankles deep in pipe sludge.
“I didn’t do it,” she stammers after seeing the expression of horror on my face.
“I know, but why are you standing in it?” My voice comes out sharper than I meant to. She has her ballet slippers on. “Hailey, you ruined your slippers. Why are you standing in it?” I scream, unable to control the rage that flames within. Her huge brown eyes widen on her four-year-old face.
“Go wash your feet. And your shoes are ruined. I can’t afford to buy new ones right now.”
With my husband serving Uncle Sam, I had thought we would live financially comfortably, but instead, we live off maxed-out credit cards.
“Stop crying, and go wash your feet,” I bark.
I don’t have time for this today.
I find the shop vac in the garage while spewing profanities at life.
When I get back downstairs, my eleven-month-old baby is splashing and giggling in the sewer pool.
“No, Edith!” I wail as I drop the shop vac and rescue my baby. The putrid water will have to wait.
I bathe Edith and Hailey in the upstairs tub. After the girls are clean, I call out for my ten-year-old. “Julie!”
She doesn’t come.
“Julie!” I howl.
Still no Julie.
I carry Edith on my hip and drag Haily to Julie’s room. When I open the door, Julie looks up from the floor. She holds up her picture.
“It’s our tree,” she says, looking at me. “See, there is the robin in the birdfeeder we made. Then look, Hailey and Edith are on the swings, and that is me on the top branch.”
I love that tree, one of the reasons for buying this house. She has done a wonderful job on her picture, but I don’t have time for this.
“Julie, the toilet has backed up again. I need you to watch the girls.” I put them next to her. Her eyes drop. I guess I should have told her how much I like the picture, but I can’t think.
“What about ballet?” Hailey asks.
“I am sorry. You are going to have to miss it,” I say as I run downstairs.
After the horrific job of sucking up sewage, I shower, then take a break and look for my kids. I hear giggles outside.
There they are, just like in Julie’s picture. Edith contently sways back and forth in the baby swing. Hailey propels from the tire swing. Up in the branches, Julie maneuvers around with grace smoother than Tarzan. I climb the branches and sit next to Julie. All my tension and frustration carry away into the leaves.
“I love our tree,” Julie says.
My fingers trace the etching I had put up here the day we moved in. Elizabeth & Doug. When we looked for a home in Brigham City, Utah, we considered a few other homes with more room than this one, but this tree had called to us. We bought this house for this tree.
The Roto-Rooter truck pulls up, and my serenity vanishes. As the serviceman stands at my front door, I drop out of the tree next to him, and he jumps.
“Hi, Beth,” he says.
One shouldn’t be on a first-name basis with a Roto-Rooter guy.
“I can’t do this again,” I say, trying not to cry.
“Well, I told you what you need to do. When they built these homes, they used Orangeburg piping. Eventually, everyone in this neighborhood will have to replace it. Those pipes were made out of cardboard.”
“I can’t afford that.”
“Well, then, I guess we’ll have a standing appointment every other month. I don’t mind. You keep us in business.” His front teeth protruded while he chuckled.
“Just let yourself in,” I say, climbing back into my leaf cathedral.
After the Roto-Rooter guy drives away, I put together a lovely picnic of peanut butter sandwiches, cookies, and punch and spread the blanket under the tree.
“Can we dress up?” Hailey asks.
“Yes, we need something fun today.”
Soon enough, we dive into a world of make-believe under the tree. As the tea party wraps up, my phone rings.
“Hi, Dad,” I say.
“You sound chipper. What is going on? Your voicemail sounded frantic.”
“It happened again, Dad. The sewer backed up again.”
“Didn’t you just go through this?”
My voice cracks up. “Yes, I can’t keep doing this. The guy says we will have to change our piping. We can’t afford that.”
“Listen, you can’t keep doing this. You keep putting a Band-Aid on an artery bleed. I will lend you the money to fix your pipe.”
“Oh, Dad, I can’t ask that of you.”
“Where is Doug?”
“He is in the field.”
“Elizabeth, just let me help my daughter.”
I swallow my pride. I make the appointment with a pipe guy on Dad’s credit.
A week later, as I push Edith and Hailey on the swings, the pipe guy carries a pile of papers to me.
“All right, I have good news and bad news,” he says. He had just spent a good amount of time scoping our pipes.
“The good news is that the previous owners swapped out the Orangeburg pipes.”
I feel the weight of the world dissipate. I won’t have to replace the pipes.
“The bad news is,” he looks up at Julie. She stops moving and peers down at him, feeling his gaze.
“Your tree is shredding your pipes.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you know what type of tree that is?”
“Well, it appears to have aggressive roots. They have mangled your pipes. We will have to replace all your pipes. You would be good to cut the tree down, or it will just do it again.”
My heart sinks.
“You can’t cut down my tree,” Julie screams.
Hailey picks up on Julie’s hysterics. Her eyes fill with tears. “Don’t cut our tree.”
I watch the pipe man leave and crumble to a pile under the canopy.
This tree is our sanctuary. The girls spend half of their day in it. It shades our home, and I hardly have to run the air conditioner in the summer.
I bought this house for our tree.
Why does Doug have to be gone right now?
Julie drops from the branches and throws her body over my back. Hailey joins. Both girls wail as if I had just told them their dad had died.
“Please don’t take our tree.”
“Mom, promise you won’t take the tree.”
I don’t have an answer.
by Stephanie Daich