by Jill E. Alicea © 2003

You would think a ninth grade teacher would know better than to ask her class to give an oral presentation on how they spent their summer vacation. Isn’t that something reserved for hyperactive grade-schoolers? I felt insulted that Mrs. Katterin would even assign us to such a task, and more than a little embarrassed. I couldn’t help but pity my classmates, who were up there telling outrageous stories.

Chuck Lancer launched into a description about a family vacation to a theme park, which was ridiculous. Everyone knew that he and his three brothers were squashed into a decrepit trailer at the end of town, with a welfare mom and no dad in sight, who was he kidding? We’d all seen him scuffing his way down to the local ballfield most days with his worn out mitt, begging for a turn to play. Anyway, you get the idea. I think I fell asleep at some point, and not even Suzanne Marquis beside me with her gracefully tanned legs in her stylishly short skirt could hold my interest!

The next thing I knew, Mrs. Katterin had called my name. I snuck a glance at the huge clock hung crookedly on the beige cinderblock wall at the front of the room, and saw that only five minutes still remained in class. Well, I didn’t have much to say anyway, and at least I got to go last, all because I had the good luck to be born into a family with a last name ending in “Z”, and teachers always seem to go alphabetically in the first weeks of school to avoid any show of favoritism (that comes later).

So I swiped a hand across the back of my mouth, just in case any drool had collected during my impromptu nap, then took my place at the podium in the front of the room. Mrs. Katterin looked at me expectantly; the rest of the class virtually ignored me, most of them staring at the clock as if hypnotized. I cleared my throat, and said simply, “On my summer vacation, I planted a garden.”

Someone in the back of the room snickered; I guess someone was listening after all. Mrs. Katterin blinked rapidly, obviously expecting me to say more, and caught off-guard when I didn’t.

“That’s very nice, Mr. Ziewinski,” she said politely, butchering the pronunciation of my name. “Why don’t you tell us more about it?”

I found myself using Suzanne Marquis as a focal point, caught up in the sight of her pen doodling methodically on a brand new notebook. Her long blond hair looked stolen from a shampoo commercial, and if she’d have been closer, I believe I would have reached out to touch it.

“It’s not just any garden,” I replied, equally polite and unassuming. “In fact, I’ve seeded it with species not seen in any other garden before!”

Silence stretched out, long and empty. Mrs. Katterin waited, but I didn’t intend to clarify when my accomplishment was wasted on such small minds. When the bell rang to signal the end of class, my classmates rushed past me, jamming through the door panicky cattle. I found it vaguely amusing as I collected up my own books and headed out after them---much more slowly and organized.

A hand settled on my shoulder as I stepped into the hallway. A soft-spoken girl with weet brown eyes and sleek auburn hair down to her waist, Emily, I think.

“I’d like to see your garden,” she said shyly. “My mother loves to plant things, and maybe you can give me some pointers to take back to her.”

I smiled. “Can you meet me after school? I’ll show you the garden, but I can’t give you any of my babies to take back to your mom; I’m very possessive.”

She giggled. “I don’t mind just looking,” she said flirtatiously.

Whoever declared summer vacation the best of times had it all wrong! I turned on the charm, flirting right back with Emily, and made plans to meet her after school. I had a tough time concentrating all day, thinking of that beautiful hair of hers slipping through my fingers, her mouth moist and parted in a sigh just for me. She came with me down to the little pond hidden in the woods behind my house, happily chatting about the warm weather and sunshine.

I stopped her at the edge of the pond, pointing out my garden, and she just stared for a long time, surprised and unsure. I wrapped my hands in her silky hair gently, pulling her to me, but somehow, she managed to twist away. She ran screaming back the way we had just come, leaving me with nothing but a clump of her magnificent hair in my palm.

She told the police, of course. No one appreciated the artistry of my garden, a water garden made up of a Daisy, a Violet, a Rose, a Lily…and sadly, short an Emily. I pictured her hair floating on the water, spread out like a carpet and mingling with the other varied hues there, her skin a delicate white stem beneath the surface. I didn’t fight the handcuffs; I’m just glad they took me away before I could watch them pluck up my beautiful blossoms and destroy the garden I had worked all summer to create.

x x x

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