Stem and Leaf Plots. Ten Eco-fiction Short Stories. By Virginia Arthur.
Any resemblance to specific persons living or dead is coincidence.
All illustrations are from the public domain or created/owned by the author.
Copyrighted by Virginia Arthur, Ecological Outreach Services (EOS), 2020.
No part of this book can be illegally copied and/or distributed.
Stem and Leaf Plots
Ten Eco-fiction Short Stories
A Strangler Fig (Ficus macrophylla) Grows in Eden
It's So Lovely to Live in the Country
(A Constantly Repeating True Story)
All Forces Maligned (Driving Nora Home)
Di Voce Quae Loquebatur de Ligno Caudis.
(The Voice That Spoke From the Stumps)
Free the Teacher, Free the Child
About the title and cover: stem and leaf plots are a type of distribution table (similar to a histogram) used in statistics. The title and cover of the book are a play on this statistical method, pun intended.
A Strangler Fig (Ficus macrophylla) Grows In Eden
“This is all your fault. You're a terrible person, a terrible real estate agent. You're evil, a witch. In fact, you probably set this whole thing up.” Rowena slammed the phone down. Cursing under her breath, she waited for it to ring but it didn't. Not this time.
“You son-of-bitch, Hugh.”
She paced. Grabbing the receiver and dialing, she got her real estate agent's voice mail--of course.
“Muriel, I'm sorry (no she wasn't, not at all). You're not really a...but you have to admit, three days before closing, with all I have planned not the least of which is the money? I mean, the trip? MY LIFE?” She paused. Not used to being contrite, she had to summon it up. “I...I...I would appreciate it if you would call me back and I'm...I'm sorry. You're not a bitch...or a witch. Please. Call me.”
15 minutes later, she called again.
“Muriel, I am just going to have the tree cut down. I am going to find someone today and have it cut down immediately. This is the only solution. I told you he never asked me, Hugh. He just planted it one day, without talking to me about it...and, well, you see the result. It's Hugh's fault, this whole thing, and if he hadn't left me the money--” A call was beeping in.
“Are you going to be nice?” Muriel asked. “Because if you are going to--”
“What are we going to do?”
“I will talk to the buyers today and see what we can work out but it may require an allowance from you to fix the sidewalk and--”
“Fix the sidewalk? Fix the sidewalk? I don't even own the GODDAMNED sidewalk!”
“Rowena, you HAVE to let me talk.” Uncharacteristically, Rowena got quiet. “This is the point, Rowena. The city can cite you or the buyers for the way the tree has pushed up the sidewalk. The buyers have every right to be concerned--”
“Yes, but why NOW? Why didn't you get out in front of this Muriel? For Christ sakes.”
“Rowena? STOP. Do you want to take care of this, or insult me some more and Rowena? It is in the disclosure, the sidewalk. The disclosure THEY signed.” Any other client, she would have exerted the energy to explain these things happen all the time as it nears closing; it starts to sink in what the buyers are about to do, they actually READ things, get jittery, but she was exhausted already by Mrs. Rowena Favor who would never listen to her anyway, having lived in the same house almost 40 years. She had never held a job, as far as Muriel could tell, or been in the world in any real way. What was truly staggering is that her husband stuck with her, speaking of witches, bitches...
“And who called the city? Did you?”
Muriel sighed. “No I didn't call the city and I don't think they did either. The sidewalk is buckled and they are rightfully concerned. It's just too bad your homeowner's insurance won't cover it.”
“The property is ABOUT THE TREE. It's ALL ABOUT THE TREE AS YOU KNOW and NOW they are worried about the sidewalk?” She parted the curtains to look at it, what HE planted, though at the time, she didn't notice, or care; he planted a lot of things in the yard.
Looking out the window, for a glimmer she saw what other people saw, the ones that would stop to look at the tree, the roots, like massive gray muscular arms, gripping the ground, holding on, bearing down, pushing up the sidewalk. She cocked her head to the side. They really were kind of remarkable, and the crown that had shaded their house from the hot California sun for decades. Somewhere under it was her wedding ring, flung off in a fury when he would not talk to her, on his way to play golf or wherever it was he went. She always meant to look for it.
“They are expecting a call from me. Let me call them. I will call you back.” Muriel hung up. Muriel's voice wrenched Rowena out of her reluctant reverie back into her easily accessed fury. The asshole. He had NO RIGHT to plant that tree, put her in this situation, $125,000 worth of life insurance or NOT!
They had been married almost 40 years, if marriage means living under the same roof. Community colleges in California were free then and the two sisters signed up together, Rowena's younger sister finishing a certificate in bookkeeping that provided her a steady career while Rowena was courted by a not too extraordinary guy, ordinary enough to induce her to drop out and get married. He went on to get his B.S. and she went home to the house they bought. He never discussed having children and she never felt all that compelled about it either...At about ten years, she started hating him, permanently stationing herself in the guest bedroom. It went into something neither of them could quite figure out--tolerating one another. Why? Why 'tolerate' someone for 30 years? But when he would be on his business trips, she would miss him until he would get home then she would count down to when he would leave again. “Why do I hate him so much?” she would ask herself. There was nothing awful about him, aside from that he was very boring, at least to her; his walks and gardening, neither of which she wanted to do. Golf. GOLF? God no. After he retired from his insurance firm, she tried the walks, golf, gardening, always unhappy. One day, he just stopped talking. She would get up and he would be gone. No note. Nothing. She would be relieved to see him gone yet if it got too late, worry=her hamster wheel. Sometimes he would go to church on Sunday mornings. She wasn't even sure the church until after he died and a friend of his suggested it for his funeral. He had so many friends! So many she didn't know. She had to work very hard to conceal her surprise. Was she at the right funeral?
“Three days. Three days before closing and three days before I leave for Bali. What assholes. If I didn't want the money, I would just pull the hell out,” she said to no one. She looked at all the new clothes on the love-seat. She was still sorting. Her “Bali” pile was striking, all the colors. The lovely mu mu in peaches and pinks. She planned on wearing it with her low slung gold sequined sandals along with her new giant straw hat with the orange flowered sash. How many times she pictured herself wearing this ensemble, strolling down a pristine beach (no doubt attracting so many men). Lord, she was ready.
She made herself a martini and went out on the deck where she could look down on the magnificent fucking tree. Some bird landed in it and sang. This was the first time she had ever really noticed any bird. It was black, white, and orange, matched her mu mu. She didn't realize birds could even look like this.
The fourth martini found her dressed in her Bali ensemble, cussing and stamping on the uphill end of the upended sidewalk, hard to miss. People already drove by to look at the tree but now there was a bonus--a drunk 68 year old woman in a loud outfit (with hat) apparently trying to stomp down the chunk of the sidewalk being claimed by the fig root. Phones clicked.
Oblivious and exhausted, Rowena stumbled off to look for something...What was it again? This resulted in her collapsing at the base of the tree and hanging on to one of it's 'arms' to stop the spinning. Hours later, she was awakened by a cop. Somebody had called.