Fictography #19: Beneath The Mimosa Tree (An Excerpt)
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/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).
As I was combing through my photographs this morning, I came upon Jennifer Bumgarner’s shots from our cover shoot for “Beneath the Mimosa Tree.” There are so many gorgeous pics she took, and they are wasting away in a file on my computer. I decided to use one of her photos for today’s FICTOGRAPHY segment—a photo that was captured as a scene from my novel—and I pulled that part of the story from the book. Therefore, today’s FICTOGRAPHY is an excerpt from “Beneath the Mimosa Tree.”
To set the stage, Michael and Annabelle are in high school in this scene. They are both seniors. They live next door to each other and Michael has always had his eye on Annabelle. She has not thought of him romantically to this point, but rather only as her neighbor and friend. It is a Friday night, and she is alone in the house with a broken foot. She hears a noise coming from outside, and calls over to Michael’s house. His parents are out to dinner with her parents, so he comes over to the rescue. And the rest, as they say, is history…
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BENEATH THE MIMOSA TREE: AN EXCERPT
With Michael’s flashlight as our guide, we made it out to the garden, and there was the possum, scared and stuck. His mouth was open, and he was shrieking, but it came out more like a growl and a hiss.
“I’m going to try just gently wiggling the wire with the broom so I don’t scare him more than he already is. I may be able to loosen it.”
“Is he bleeding?” I asked, now worried about the little creature.
“No, well, maybe just a bit. It’s not bad from what I can see in the dark.”
Michael jiggled the chicken wire fence with the broom, but the possum still was scrambling to get out, his screech silenced by our presence. Michael grabbed the pliers and pulled the top part of the wire. Still nothing. The possum was caught.
“What if you bend the opposite sides outward and I pull the top part. Do you think that would work?”
“Maybe,” he said. “Let’s try.”
We tried that, but to no avail. “Let me see the broom again. I’m going to wiggle this part one more time,” he said.
And with that, the little possum was freed. It gave out a final cry of relief, and scurried back to the brush, and hopefully to a family that was waiting for him.
Michael looked at me, his dark eyes wide, his flashlight still our only source of light besides the patio lights in the distance. I gave a laugh, and said, “Whew, that was something,” and then he moved close to me so he could help me back to my house. I hopped on one foot up to the concrete patio.
“Thanks for coming over. I would have been freaked out if you hadn’t been home.”
“I can understand why,” he said. “Wanna have a beer with me? I’ve got a little stash out in the shed. They might be a little warm, but a beer’s a beer.”
This was an odd proposition coming from Michael, my neighbor since we were both five, the son of my parents’ best friends. He and I had always been friendly because we had no choice; we were often thrown together for various functions. It wasn’t unusual for us to have conversations around our families, but at school we rarely communicated at all. He must have seen the quizzical look on my face, because he pulled out the patio chair and told me to sit. “Wait here for a minute, and I’ll be right back,” he said.
It was difficult to say no to him, because he was probably one of the nicest boys I knew. He wasn’t pompous and arrogant like other boys. He didn’t play on the football team, but rather on the golf team, and his grades were stellar. And so, that night, I didn’t say no to him. Instead, I waited on that patio chair for what seemed like ten minutes, until he appeared with a wheelbarrow draped with a blanket.
“What is that?” I asked.
“Get in,” he said.
“Am I holding something else for you to get into?” he shrugged.
He helped me turn around and I sunk my butt down. I was laughing. This was hilarious. “Lift your feet up a little,” he commanded.
He wheeled me over to his back yard where he had arranged a little picnic under the mimosa tree that ironically we had given his family as a gift for their one-year anniversary in their home. It was a lovely tree with a large canopy, though its leaves were tucked in for sleep. It still had some pink blossoms, even in the late summer, though they were not as vibrant as they once were. There was a six-pack of Bud on the blanket and Doritos and salsa in the jar. The flashlight was on and sitting on the blanket like a candle. It was pretty cool.
“Come on,” he said, “come hang with me. I’ve got nothing to do and apparently neither do you now that the possum has left you.”
“You mean now that we have saved the possum from death in a vegetable garden.”
“Correct,” he said. “Come sit and put your leg up.”
He took the blanket that was in the wheelbarrow and folded it up to form a pillow. “See,” he said. “Foot goes here.”
He popped open a Bud for me and then one for himself. I didn’t like beer very much, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so I took a sip. We weren’t legally supposed to drink alcohol at seventeen, and a lot of kids had been looking forward to their eighteenth birthdays until this year when Maryland law raised the drinking age to twenty-one. But kids still got their hands on beer and Boone’s Farm, which I’d sworn off for all eternity after a crazy night and consumption of almost an entire bottle earlier in the summer.
Surprisingly, it was going down rather smoothly, and I’m not sure if it was because I was in unfamiliar territory alone with Michael or because I was extremely flattered by his attention and creativity. I’d never seen him quite so innovative and expressive. It was almost as if I were sitting under the tree with a whole new Michael.
“So, have you applied to any colleges yet?” he asked me.
“I have. All local ones. You?”
“Yeah, I have, too. I just sent one off to NYU, which is my first choice, Fordham University, and Columbia University. I hope I hear back soon.”
“All of them in New York, right?”
“Yes. I want to be a journalist, at least that’s what I think right now. Anyway, I love it here, don’t get me wrong, but I figured it would be cool to live and go to college in New York. I don’t think I could get bored there at all. Plenty of museums and sports to keep somebody happy along with school.”
It was quiet for a minute, the chirping of the crickets taking center stage. The sky was clear; as we looked straight ahead, the stars were out and seemed to be winking at the river. “So how did you kill your foot again?” he asked.
“Stupid, really. I landed in the wrong position when I came out of a back-handspring. My foot was forced sideways.”
“See? That’s why I stick with golf. If you get hurt in golf, you deserve the injury.”
That made me laugh. He was funny, but I already knew that about him. He always had a good sense of humor; there’s was a nice, easy way about him. My father perpetually raved about Michael. “Did you know Michael said this?” or “Did you know Michael won an award?” Blah, blah, blah. My dad adored him, and I always assumed it was because he never had a son of his own.
“So what are your big plans for senior year?” he asked.
“I don’t think I have any big plans, but thanks for making me feel bad about it,” I teased.
“How can you have no big plans? You’ve got to have big plans! This is your senior year of high school. It’s never going to happen again in your life. You have to do something really fantastic, something memorable…something you can tell your kids about when you’re old and gray.” He took a swig, stretched out on the blanket as he turned to see my reaction, and waited. He was wearing blue jeans and a gray Naval Academy t-shirt. His flip-flops sat on the edge of the blanket. “Come on, you’ve got to come up with something.”
“I don’t know!” I said, laughing again. “What are your big plans? What will you tell your kids?”
“I couldn’t tell you. I have absolutely no idea,” he said.
“Oh, but you’re pressing me to come up with something creative. Nice…”
“Well, I just think planning is important to the success of one’s own life,” he said. “That is, unless you want your parents to plan your whole life for you.”
I laughed at him as he pontificated on life’s big issues. “What are you saying?”
“I don’t know. It just seems like our parents like to drive the bus, you know? They always seem to want to steer me in the direction they believe I should go.” I couldn’t have agreed with him more. I felt exactly the same way. He continued, “I mean, when have we ever been able to talk like this when they’re around?”
“You are right,” I said, feeling a little bit lighter in the head than when I had first rested on the blanket. “It’s just how they are.” We both thought about it and sipped our beers. “Speaking of our families, can you believe my family gave your family this tree? I mean, look at the size of it now. I remember us giving it to you and our dads digging the hole for it. Sometimes that feels like it was just yesterday. Other times, it feels like it was a lifetime ago,” I said.
He was watching me intently, listening to my words, my thoughts. The moon had just appeared over the Severn, and I looked over at him that night and examined his wavy dark hair, his brown, big eyes, and his nice build. Had I lived next door to him all these years and never noticed him before? Or were the beers I’d been drinking affecting my perceptions?
He sat up and moved his body closer to mine, the two of us sitting with our feet outstretched, mine on the makeshift pillow, his extended out, his hip and hand brushing up against me.
“I have an idea of how we can make senior year memorable,” he said.
“Come with me out on the boat tomorrow, just you and me. Our parents are going to the Navy Football game. We won’t tell anyone, and you and I can take her out. What do you say?”
“And my foot?” I asked.
“It’s welcome to come too,” he said.