Happy Birthday to me! To celebrate, I offer you flash fiction. This piece was accepted by a publication, but then the publication ran out of funds. So, rather than submit elsewhere, I’ll share with you.
The prompt from my AFCG buddies was “blockage.” Enjoy!
The Great Blockage
Helen later recalled it was her neighbor Tim who had the idea. Trash collection was only once a week and that wasn’t enough. The community’s cans overflowed. Wind swept through the street and the cans fell over like toy soldiers, plastic bags sprawling out of the openings like drunkards passed out in a doorway. Large birds would swoop down and tear at the bags with determination. Stray papers and egg shells, broken cups and worn out toys would scatter every which way. No one wanted to pick up the debris, the nasty little crumbs of each other’s lives.
Then, during a community picnic over the summer, Tim suggested they make their own trash pit. A grass-covered slope near the cul-de-sac would be the perfect spot. A common area intended as an emergency water overflow hold, the slope was already bowl-shaped. Delighted, the community citizens couldn’t wait. They grabbed the nearest trash of chicken bones, paper plates, red cups, and popped balloons from a children’s relay and lined up in a parade to march to the common area. One little girl, not to be left out, ripped off her Barbie’s head and then joined the parade, waving the body and head in separate hands.
Without being told the community members knew what to do. They stood along the rim of the bowl and, one by one, threw their trash into their new pit. It worked. Nothing blew out or scattered in the street.
“What about the birds,” asked Helen.
“I’ll get a net from the store. Spread it across,” said Tony, a man who lived across the street and two houses down.
Tim’s wife seemed uncertain. “But I don’t want anyone to see our pit.”
Several of the community members nodded.
“Trees,” suggested Helen. “We can plant trees along the rim.”
And so it was decided. Helen priced trees at the store and brought back numbers to the group. After much debate, hands reached into pockets and purses and an amount was collected to purchase a net and one tree. Helen was disappointed. She’d imagined an impressive ring of oaks or birches with their silvery bark. With the community’s money, she’d only be able to buy a regular old redbud.
Although disappointed, Helen took her task seriously and purchased the tree, marked down because it was fall. One of the neighbors dug a hole on the rim and then, with Helen’s help, broke up the root ball and settled the tree into place. Helen watered the redbud to get it established. They’d need the tree’s branches to provide privacy because the pile of trash had continued to grow.
All through the winter the people of the community brought their soup cans and take out containers, drink bottles and worn out shoes. In the spring the tree extended its branches. Leaves unfurled. Buds appeared. Helen had done a good job of watering it. And then, when it was time, the flowers budded. Whispers spread through the community and everyone came to see. The flowers were doll’s heads, a wadded up test with a red “F”, and little Jimmy’s half-eaten hot dog from a month before.
Nervous laughter moved through the crowd.
“Its roots grew down into the pit,” said Tim. “The tree is sucking up our trash.”
No one had a solution, but the problem went away. Or, it became less important. The “flowers” eventually withered and fell back down into the pit. And, if there were uncomfortable moments such as when the tree bloomed the credit report of the Smiths, most of the trash was indistinguishable, one family from another.
And then the flowers stopped. The last tennis shoe on the end of the highest branch fell off and into the pit. The tree’s trunk began to grow, to bulge. The children claimed they could hear gurgling sounds such as one would hear in a father’s belly after a big meal.
The community called in a tree doctor. He came with a stethoscope and listened with a grave expression. He shook his head and said there was nothing he could do.
A month passed and a smell emanated from the deformed tree, a rotting, putrid smell. And then the bark split open and a thick black goo oozed down the trunk.
“It’s got a blockage,” said Helen. “It tried to suck up something too big.”
The tree began to shake.
The people gathered around to watch the shaking tree, the oozing tree, the tree that smelled like gangrene. And then a rumbling began in the ground, working its grinding way up the trunk, forcing its way until a black volcano erupted, blowing off the top branches.
“A tire,” said Tim. He seemed rooted to the spot. His hands were clenched in fists. “It tried to suck up a tire.”
“Run,” yelled Helen.
Black droplets of partially digested rubber rained down. The community members ducked and ran, trying to get away from the exploding tree, but with the blockage gone, more kept coming: dirty diapers, mail order catalogues, raked leaves, and sour milk cartons.
Most people had taken shelter in Tim’s house because it was nearest to the common area. They stared at the community in amazement. All the trash, everything so carefully held down by the net had been sucked up by the tree’s roots and made its way out of the redbud’s ruined top. Trash, thick and wet, littered the yards, the pools, the streets. The tree, finished, lay split in half on the rim of the pit.
“I bought it half-price,” said Helen in amazement.
“This is your fault,” said Tim. “Can’t buy a half-price tree and expect it to do the job of a full-priced one.”
Tony, from two houses down, finished the bag of chips he’d been eating while watching the show. Crumbling the bag into a ball, he tossed it into the trash.