The Cincinnati Rain Forest

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CINCINNATI RAIN FOREST (Short Story)
© Cupideros, Thursday, January 15, 2009
(3, 167 words)

May 30, 1996

Gregory Kavanshaw
New York University
Prescott Hall Dorm
New York, NY 10022

Dear Brother:

I know you hate to hear about Mom. But something so unusual happened the other day that I felt compelled to write you up there in New York.
You know Mom’s rain forest exists in our kitchen. You know how she catalogs all the plants from edible peas, colorful yellow daffodils, tiny red tulips, fuzzy ferns and to even the small pine tree and crams them into that small hot room as if an ecological disaster will occur destroying all the earth’s plant life. You know how you wanted the ozone layer to open wide and burn up that mass of alternative life forms hanging off cabinets, the refrigerator’s top? Well . . .

Mom is going on, “Kay, dear, hand me that SuperGrow Natural Plant Food, and remember to shake it first.”
“Yes, Mom,” I reply, though actually, I want something terrible to happen. I want to substitute vinegar for her magical concoction. Many a night we would eat dinner in that jungle and while you were brushing vine leaves strung from the swirling ceiling fan that had not swirled in five years–I would think mean poisonous thoughts. I hoped to kill off those things. I read you could do that.

But brother, that’s not what happened, not exactly. I know you’re saying, “Sis, get on with it. Tell me.” So here goes:

Mom is cooking one day. She said, “Kay, you watch the pot roast and asparagus casserole. Take out the asparagus in fifteen minutes, and let the roast stay in thirty minutes more; if the pot roast appears mushy and pink when you stick this large cooking fork,” you know the one I’m talking about, dear brother. It makes you feel like you’re the devil’s henchman. She said, “If it’s pink inside, put it back in the oven for fifteen more minutes.”

But, dear brother, I’ve never been able to cook, even though everyone says I have the biology for it. And Mom knows my fifteen-year-old biology is tuned more to boys now than to pot roast.
So Jimmy calls me up and says, “Kay, can you go to the park?” I tell him, “No, I have to watch the pot roast.”
Then he says, “Can you go to the movies?”
I yell at him, “Jimmy! I can not go anywhere with you till the pot roast is cooked. Mom will kill me if anything happens to it.” It’s getting awful hot with all that foliage throwing off oxygen and sucking in the carbon dioxide before I can even breathe it out of my lungs, so I tell Jimmy, “Wait a second. I’m going to use the phone in my bedroom,” (which you know was formerly your bedroom). I’m delighted you’ve gone to college in New York, brother because having your larger room is just awesome.
Anyway, I go upstairs and leave the phone off the hook in the kitchen. I turn on the TV, and Jimmy says, “Can I come over?”
I say, “Here…in my room!”
He says, “Where else can a fifteen-year-old girl and sixteen-year-old boy make out? You don’t want to go to the park.”
“OK,” I tell Jimmy, “but come around to the back door of the house.”

Jimmy comes over. I let him in, and the phone is still off the hook. We spend two hours making out when I see this misty cloud, and I think Jimmy and I are going at it so good (only kissing, dear brother!) that I’m in a dream world. But I’m not. See, there is this awful smell, too.

The romantic mist begins to resemble gray smoke. It is such a bad-smelling potion, like melting tar that could have killed off the dinosaurs all by itself — a sort of atmospheric catastrophe. I run downstairs. My bleached blond hair looked wild. I am half-dressed. My plum jeans, unbuttoned at the top button, my white blouse unbuttoned down beyond my cleavage. (I’ve grown some more over the year and boys really like me now.) Everything about me is in such disarray that I knew Mom would know I was “making music” in my bedroom as she called it. Gray smoke billows out over the living room and into the den. I wave my arms in the air like a firefighter.

Inside the kitchen, I almost trip over the bright yellow phone cord stretched across the doorway laying on the cabinet. I hang up the phone, and I can’t see two feet in front of me.

Fumes are everywhere, and I grab a towel and fan my way clear, reach the oven and turn off the 500-degree heat. My eyes are brimming with water, but I finally get used to it and open the oven door. I’m assaulted, dear brother, by fumes that smell like a cross between a garbage dump and a forest fire.
I pull out the pot roast that seems like a “cup” roast it had disappeared so. The asparagus smells sick and looks like a slab of blacktop granulated, rock and tar mixture.

I cracked a window open, saying to myself, “Why didn’t the smoke alarm go off?” But then I remember, it is buried behind the thick water plant that forms (somehow) a protective bubble that confused the technology and kept it from doing its proper job.
I yell up to Jimmy, “Get the hell out of here!” because from the cloudy kitchen window, I see Mom waddling up the driveway. Jimmy grabs his clothes and exits out the back. I button my jeans, blouse, and I comb my hands through my hair. I try to clear all the smoke by turning on the exhaust, but I’m too late.

Mom scolds me something awful. A seasoned sailor could not have been able to withstand the tirade Mom unleashed as she put water on the “cup” roast and asparagus rocks, cooling their need to throw the room into an overcast smoky view.

The smoke’s effect is immediate. Leaves start dropping off, buds refuse to open, and tall, strong plants become weak and droopy. Mom’s screaming and yelling, “My babies! My babies!” Then she goes on this vigil to try and nurse them back to health. She spends time praying over them, too.
She gives me a severe scolding every time a leaf turns yellow, then brown, then dies off its pale green stem and falls into the dirt. I tell her it is temporary. That all the smoke made her babies sick. She begins to believe me.

Well, one week later, all Mom’s plants die, even that ridiculous baby pine tree.

They simply call it quits. They exit their green, pink, red, and purple-yellow colorful bodies for the higher planes of life.
Dear brother, did I get an earful, a whipping-full and a curfew-full. It has almost been a week, and I still can’t sit down.
The event so traumatized Mom that after a week of tears and urgent inquires to plant stores across the city; she finally reached a plant expert, a Mr. Fern Rosenthal.
“Is that not a mystery,” I said when she told me Mr. Rosenthal was coming over.
She said, “It’s quite a mystery why all my babies would die. It was only a little smoke.”
“That’s not the mystery I’m talking about,” I said. “I’m talking about–“And I broke it down microscopically slow so Mom would understand. “Mr . . . Fern…Rosenthal . . . Fern. Get it? Why the man’s got the name of a plant!”

Mom tells me, “We Kavanshaws don’t talk about people Kay, dear.”
“Okay, Mom,” I said, and I decide to go up to my room and figure out the mystery myself before Mr. Plant arrives. But the doorbell rang and there he is, Mr. Fern Rosenthal, Plant Man, Expert Plantologist.
I almost start giggling because the expert favors a plant in appearance and kind of walks like a plant man, too: He is slow, lanky and has long fingers and moves like a plant stem dancing with the wind. He takes slow, sure steps and has ears that are pointy like Mr. Spock, except that they are reversed. His points go down toward the floor instead of up to the ceiling. He’s wearing a green shirt, slacks, and socks outfit that completes his transformation, and his handshake, dear brother, is just like a limp leaf. He’s kind of scary looking. Even his feet are rooted in ordinary brown shoes that remind me of dirt.

I said, “How do you do, Mr. Plant Man.” And Mom sends me upstairs right away. “Go, do your homework, young lady!”
Often, I try to be good like Mom wants me to, and I know you did, too dear brother, but it is most difficult when you are curious about the death of an entire greenhouse rain forest. So I go only as far as into the living room, just around the corner, to hear the floral secret, to discover the mystery.
“Ahem,” he says starting off his analysis. Behind the wall, you can still see into the kitchen because the mirror at the bottom of the steps is angled just right. I listen and look. Things do get kind of distorted like that, but it’s the best I could do.
“Yep,” he says walking about touching the dead brown plants, crumbling the dried out lifeless leaves and pinching dirt samples that he slipped into little plastic bags. “This seems mighty mysterious. Mighty mysterious, indeed!”
“What do you think happened,” Mom says, anxiously, as she follows his hallow footsteps like a four-year-old toddler.
“Foul play,” says Mr. Rosenthal.

I could tell you, dear brother, Mr. Plant Man is a person of few words. But then he gets real talkative.

“Now, that’s my first estimate of the matter, you understand. But–” And he stopped and whispered something to Mom whose large body blocks my view of Mr. Fern, or I would have read his venerable lips. (We girls learn to do that to see if the boys in groups at the football and basketball games like us. That’s the trend now, dear brother. Don’t get defensive. Dear brother, how else is a girl going to protect her reputation or find out who really wants to date her? I can tell you this now because you are thousands of miles away in New York–DON’T YOU DARE TELL ANYONE).
“Let me know what you find out,” says Mom in her super angry tone of voice. Plant man shivers under her stare like a leaf confronting an undulating butterfly larva about to become a caterpillar.

She tells Mr. Fern bye, and he still has a fear about him like the sun isn’t going to shine tomorrow.

I make some noise like I’m coming down the steps. I go into the kitchen. And she’s mad as a furnace burning all winter, excepts its summer.
“What’s wrong Mom. What did the plant guy say?”
“He said that ‘Maybe someone used another plant food with my Natural SuperGrow and that–‘” She is shaking now as her anger turns to disbelief.
“Mom . . . What did Fern say?”
“Mr. Fern Rosenthal, Kay. Do I have to remind you–“
“Kavanshaws’ never talk about people. No, Mom. Mr. Rosenthal, what did he say?”
“He said,” and she shook her head again. “My Natural SuperGrow goes through a deadly chemical reaction if it is mixed with a plant food made out of State. Dixie Dream Plant Food. It’s one of those hidden national scandals, like the tainted blood supply, except this one is confined to the plant world.”
“You mean someone substituted Dixie Dream Plant Food for your Natural SuperGrow?”
“We don’t know that for sure, Kay. If that’s what happened, Dixie Dream is going to have a major lawsuit on their hands. Dixie Dream is the nation’s second-largest plant food company in the U. S. Mr. Rosenthal is going to analyze the containers, Kay, dear. That’s the only way to tell.”
“I’ll be,” I say, unable to speak the proper words of a Kavanshaw when I heard all this. “I’ll be,” I say again.
A week later, Mr. Rosenthal calls and confirms two startling things. One you will not believe. While Dixie Dream Plant Food is manufactured in New York, it can be bought nationwide from any plant or grocery store. The second is that there was no general mixed shipment of Dixie Dream. Mom’s is the only case of cross-contamination. So, I immediately tell her, “Anybody in the country could have bought Dixie Dream right off the store shelves and poisoned your plants. Including me.” Then I say, “Ooops. Mmmm . . . You know I wouldn’t poison your overgrown–.”
Mom says, “Kay!” Then Mom puts her hands to her forehead and calms herself down, “Dixie Dream PXDD46 version is a new Dixie Dream product that is supposed to outsell Natural SuperGrow.” And here’s the most mysterious news of all. This newest version is only manufactured and being test-marketed in New York. And straightaway I thought to myself, that’s where you are, dear brother.

All these events happened so fast, and now Mom is suspicious of you, dear brother! So we start to argue, Mom and me.
“Mom, so what if he’s a botany student? Do you think he has time to come back and poison your plants? Incredible!”
“Mr. Rosenthal said, ‘It takes two weeks for the chemical reaction to take place.'” Then she pauses her hands on her hips. “Kay, you couldn’t have done it because you can not get to New York. But your brother could get from New York to Cincinnati.”
“He didn’t,” I say furiously defending you.
“We went to Clearwater, Florida, during your spring break from Seton High School for two weeks to get away from this on-again, off-again weird Cincinnati Winter. You, dear brother had time enough to do it.”
“How do you know old ninety-year-old, Mrs. Vera Dryfus watered the plants at all when we were away? How do you know Mrs. Dryfus didn’t get one of her relatives to bring her some PXDD46 Dixie Dream? She always has been envious of your Brazilian rain forest.” I am building a strong case like Mr. Perry Mason in your favor. You are practically cleared until she reminds me of one small troublesome fact.
“He’s still got the keys to the house, Kay. The front door and back door keys.”
I yell, “You took them away from him because he said he was going to throw away all your plants! Mrs. Dryfus took his side in that argument, too. She said, ‘Young man you can stay over my house if she throws you out.'”
“I know that was rash of me to threaten Gregory. And the next day, I gave the keys back to him when he went up to New York to pick out his dorm.”
I am shocked and adjourned our case for a recess. I decided I had to talk to my client. Dear brother, did you fly down here and feed toxic plant food to Mom’s personal Brazilian forest? Tell me the truth! Even though I’m a girl, you can trust me. “That’s what sisters are for,” Sheryl said that to me one day. You remember Sheryl, your old girlfriend from last year. Sheryl told you that, too.
Your Loving Sister and A Future Lawyer,

Sylvia Kay Kavanshaw

June 4, 1996
Ms. Sylvia Kavanshaw
988 Primrose Lane
Cincinnati, OH 45777

Dear Sis:

Upon hearing the moving events, I was inclined to come down right away. However, my botany finals are coming up, and it is finals week to boot. But let me say, I appreciate your defending me before Mom’s Environmental Court. I also trust you, Kay. You can put your mind at ease. I shall tell you this mystery is only a partial mystery. Let me explain.
During your vacation in Clearwater, I kept thinking: Mrs. Dryfus is ninety-years old. At her age, is it likely she would remember to feed the plants at all?
Perverse as it may seem, dear sister, I stopped by with my new girlfriend, Linda, who is from Richmond, Indiana. I planned our weekend halfway during the vacation you and Mom took. I bought this new plant food Dixie Dream PXDD46 being test-marketed up here. Then I didn’t see any problem in Mom changing plant food after all Dixie Dream will overtake SuperGrow Natural Plant Food in the national markets in two years.

I stopped by Mrs. Dryfus’, and sure enough, she barely remembered me. She hadn’t even checked in on the Mom’s babies all week. Linda and I went inside, and right away, Linda started laughing at the jungle.
“It’s worse than your description of it,” she said as she began laughing and hanging all over me, her face red with tired laughter. It was contagious, and I started laughing, too.
I told her, “Calm down, as it is really hilarious to grow up in the middle of the city in a lush Brazilian rain forest, yet curiously comforting.” She continued her laughter.
I said, “Linda, I’m just going to feed these hungry plants mouths and go.”
She said, “I am getting my claustrophobia, Gregory.” We both erupted in laughter until tears streamed down from our squinting eyes. (It’s an inside sex joke. I don’t expect you to get the claustrophobia bit, dear Sis.)

Claustrophobia is one way to describe that kitchen of mom’s. I went over to Mom’s SuperGrow, and shoot if the bottles were not all delightfully full. So, I decided to just feed her plants with the best future plant food on the market, PXDD46 Dixie Dream. It only takes a few drops of Dixie Dream, Kay. With a slow and steady hand, I poured two drops from the Dixie Dream orange sprout into the center of all the pots. It took hours. Linda was practically batty with laughter by the time I had finished. I did a complete job and watered every floral mouth that chirped. I felt proud that even though Mom’s plants were obnoxious, at least they help make a home atmosphere for someone–that is until you leave for college three years from now, dear Sis.
I turned out the lights, closed the door and Linda, and I came back up here in time to attend the Earth Day Festival.
No, Sis. You trust me and know I would not murder Mom’s plants. Not on purpose anyway.
Tell her I’m sorry as an oasis stuck in a desert with no travelers nearby to take a drink!

Sincerely,

Gregory Kavanshaw
P.S. Tell Mom I’ll try to send her one plant a month to replenish her Cincinnati Rain Forest.

                          —THE END—

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