This week’s installment is inspired by the very plant I wrote about: bluebells. A dear neighbor gave my mother a bluebell plant years and years ago and it has grown into a formidable vegetation. You literally can’t kill it.
This brings us to Week 7. Let me know what you think!
“You can’t kill it.”
Miss Winthrop had warned us herself. You just can’t kill the plant. Even if you tried. Even if you soaked your green thumb in rubbing alcohol for a week, it would thrive on, blossoming with more and more bounty. And here are its tiny roots sinewing through all the rocks in the landscaping. Taking over the pine trees and forsythia bushes in the backyard. And I just can’t kill it.
I stood there staring at it. The flowers heavy and dripping with purple color, nodding their heads toward the ground. The hearty green stems stood conquering the stones they stood in, and the ground growth that resembled ivy spread out in all directions. It spread over the stones and beyond the rocks that lined the landscaping, into the grass, past the porch stretching out, hoping to find a new patch of dirt to infiltrate.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m hoping that if I stare at it long enough … it will die from my disgust.”
“Don’t count on it. Besides, you think you have more disgust in you than you really do.”
“Hey, if I ever had disgust, I have it for this plant.”
“What is this plant anyway?”
“Bluebells, Sal, these … are bluebells.”
“Bluebells, huh? You’ll figure it out.”
I threw the picnic table tarp over the most surface area of the plant as possible. It was my hope that denying it sun and rain and nourishment would lead to its eventual end. Sal tried to tie it down when the breeze blew up the rocks I stuck on the corners. I stomped on it for good measure.
“If nothing else your stinky feet will kill it,” Sal said.
“Whatever it takes,” I said, eyeing the leafy expanse with a slitted gaze. I haven’t given my worse enemy that look.
“Well, if not your feet, your face should do it.”
Sal was always trying to get under my skin. Or maybe he just got pleasure out of watching my brow furrow at his snips. They bothered me less and less as we aged. The jabs during high school took on a particularly rotten pitch. In front of his soccer chums, he’d make a quip about how he could hear me practicing piano across the street at night and it made Miss Winthrop’s cats cry. My first reactions were to lower my head and walk away, but my Mom had taught me to quip back with something like,
“Oh, yeah? Well, I’ll stop practicing when you finally score a goal. Which will be never. So I’ll never stop practicing. Get it?”
I didn’t really understand the subtleties of insults then. Since then I learned to smile instead of saying anything in response. In my head I always thought of something I should say, but I just smiled, smiled, smiled. As I got older, sometimes I’d be brazen enough to batt my eyelashes. He’d huff and puff and saunter off, pretending to be unfazed. He never was a good actor.
“Your tarp idea didn’t work,” Sal said later that week.
“I know, I think I’m going to douse it with tar.”
“You can’t dump tar on the grass! You’ll kill the grass too!” Sal said, almost yelling.
“Oh, stop whining. You have any better ideas?”
“Why do you want to kill it anyway?”
“Because! It’s taking over EVERYTHING.”
“No, it’s not. Why can’t you just appreciate that you don’t have to do a damn thing to maintain this thing and it just grows.”
“Because it’s been here for years and I’m tired of it. What if I wanted to grow something else in its place? I could never. There’s no room!”
Sal shrugged and walked away. His interest in saving the bluebells was simply because of my disinterest in them. Just like when his interest in my little sister during high school was because of my disinterest in her. When her socialite ways left no room for a neighbor boy, he spun his irritation into doubling his efforts to piss me off. I can’t come home from college without stepping a foot out of the car and hearing him yell across the street,
“They kick you out again?”
For a smart boy, you’d think he’d come up with a new line.
“I thought Sal was going to help you get rid of the bluebells,” my mom asked after dinner.
“He did, but now he doesn’t want me to kill it.”
“Oh, I don’t know. He thinks I should appreciate that it requires no effort to flourish.”
“Well, that is kind of nice.”
“Mom! You’re the one who said I should try to get rid of it.”
“I know, but when Sal puts it like that …”
The next morning I took a shovel out back and started digging up the bluebells. If they wouldn’t evacuate willingly, then I would evacuate them myself. The shovel hit the stones and barely made an impact. It took three solid shoves to hit dirt finally. As I whacked at the plant, I took the stones out of the landscaping with it and tossed it into a garbage bin. Three hours later, it was gone, blossoms, green undergrowth, stems, leaves. Gone. All gone. I stuck the bin on the curb, stuck my gloves on the gardening shelf and just as I was opening the door to go inside, I heard,
“What did you DO?”
It was Sal. He was marching across the street, stopping to gawk into the bin. He saw the bluebells and his face turned red. He grabbed the bin and dragged it across the driveway toward me and letting it go, he tossed it in front of me, still upright.
“What the hell, Marilyn?”
“What do you mean? I finally got rid of it.”
“I told you to leave it alone! It wasn’t bothering anything.”
“It’s in MY backyard, not yours the last time I checked, Sal. What right do you have to be upset? YOU were trying to help me kill it last week! Remember?”
“I know, but you’re …”
“What, Sal? What? Not appreciating it? Forsaking Miss Winthrop? What?!”
“Forget it.” He shook his red face and stomped back to his house.
For once he didn’t have a smart comeback. He didn’t try to talk me into circles. He didn’t try to win the argument. So this was what it felt like to win an argument with Sal?
Stuffing my bags into the trunk I grabbed the keys from the trunk lock and shut the trunk. I held the keys in my hand and walked along the sidewalk to the backyard. I stood opposite the empty stone landscaping where the bluebells once where. It was finally gone. I couldn’t believe it.
Back in the driveway I said my goodbyes. I sat in the driver’s seat and promised to call more often and to study more. I turned on the car and backed out of the driveway. I was about to take the car out of reverse when Sal came calmly walking out of his front door. I didn’t even try to propel the car forward. I sat there and wound the window down and Sal came walking up to the window.
“It’s one of the last,” he said, handing me a bluebell blossom he took from the bin.
“I hope so,” I said.
“You know it’s going to grow back, right? You can’t kill it.”
I stuck the bluebell on the sun visor joint and looked and Sal and smiled.