Soundtrack: Kid Koala's Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Bjork's Selmasongs, Asian Dub Foundation's Community Music
Reading list:Francesca Lia Block's novel, Witch Baby, Roald Dahl's bio, Boy, Nawal el-Saadawi's Memoirs from a Women's Prison
A Mostly Marvelous Garden
Once upon a time, in a dusty desert city near a barbed-wire Border played two Khmer children who had yet to sort themselves out as either boy or girl.
They were children, simply, wild ones rapt, like most children, with creation and destruction.
Snarling at each other as they scratched at the dirt during windy afternoons, the brother and the sister blithely unlearned what they learned in school that day (like neatness and civilization and History). They were the wild ones, simply, who returned to the house each evening mysteriously transformed, the wild ones no more, scrubbed neat and meek for their Mummy's viewing pleasure.
Alternately wild and meek, the two Khmer children lived on the outskirts of a hilly neighborhood where the houses sat immense and uncomfortable, not-lived-in, but with the windows shuttered and the doors locked, even on the weekends.
The front yards were interesting, they supposed, in a uniform kind of way: carefully cultivated plots containing neatly arranged flowers and uncommonly green grass always meticulously clipped, with well-defined borders.
Of course, the sister and the brother thought their front yard was simply and mostly marvelous, the most marvelous front yard in the entire neighborhood. It was an unapologetic unraveling of flora and fauna.
Under the shivering arms of a bottlebrush tree, a spiky stunted palm squatted close to the earth. Pearly pebbles glittered among the weeds and poisonous foliage, crawling with lizards and mice and squirrels, as well as critters of a humanly sort.
The girl and the boy played in the cool shadows of the two-story house bought with their Mummy's blood and sweat. Sounds of pistols discharging issued from the boy as he played games of war, imagining his manifest destiny. His sister preferred the theatre, performing as both Prospero and Caliban, master and slave, for a highly critical audience of robins and lizards. After deciding that acting was not her calling, she would entangle herself in tendrils of ivy, pretending that she was a puppet.
The brother and the sister did not call it happiness or paradise (although they would name it that after it was lost). They were children, simply, playing in the only mostly marvelous yard in the neighborhood.
Then one day much like any other day, an unstamped letter arrived in the mailbox.
This was very odd, since the father and the Mummy usually received lots of bills and unanswered airmail from relatives asking, on fragile see-through paper, for money.
Typewritten on heavy officious paper, the letter stated that the yard at 6108 Camino Largo was unsightly and suggested that the owners (meaning the father and the Mummy) render it respectable. The real estate value of the neighbors' houses would appreciate nicely, thank you very much. Signed, Your Neighbors.
The father merely grunted and the Mummy sighed. This is the difference between a house and a home.
A how-to-make-your-garden-House-worthy list: 1. Uproot palm. 2. Prune bottlebrush tree. 3. Unpeel ivy. 4. Evict critters. Use violence and a sharp-toothed rake. 5. Collect and donate pebbles to the salvage yard. 6. De-weed. Use chemicals that sting the nose. 7. Seed and water grass. Use lots of water. 8. Clip, meticulously.
Gradually, expensively, the front yard became respectable: it was a lawn. It looked like the lawns in the rest of the neighborhood, interesting in its own sort of way, in a uniform sort of way.
The Khmer family stood in the front yard, frowning. The father grunted and went inside to read the sports section of the Babbler. The boy shrugged. Not a word escaped his lips as he entered the house and sat in front of the television; he wouldn't leave it until a few years later, when he discovered that he could draw.
The Mummy looked at the girl and sighed, the sigh of a well-meaning mother.
Now you can't be wild anymore. This is not good, running around like a boy. Go into the kitchen.
So that was when the girl got pruned and collected and clipped, meticulously, as well, until much later, when she left the dusty desert city and its b/Borders to unlearn everything that she had ever learned, growing a bit more and more until she unraveled like a mostly marvelous garden.
But that's another story, another once-upon-a-time.