R. A. Duffy
For me it seemed god-given good fortune, that September, when we qualified for the mortgage. I nurtured a vision for our new home— to grace it with a fragrant grove whose image had come to me in a childhood dream. In our first weeks I set about placing plum, peach and apple trees— gangly slivers barely chest high— throughout the quarter-acre behind the house.
Then my boy Assad joined me in scooping out a furrow under the back fence. Lining it with rocks, pebbles and sand, together we diverted the stream that ran along the weedy meadow beyond. The flow spilled gently in, filling a rocky hollow and sliding across the ridge of stones and packed clay that we had placed at its far end. There it left us, dropping under the fence to join the ditch running parallel to Route 46.
In spring our little pool was home to cattails, froglets, dragonflies and speck-like fish flashing silver as they swirled amid its rocks. We had red-winged blackbirds, darting swallows and sometimes a bluebird. Our backyard grove became my refuge, as I had dreamed it would, from the noisy roiling world beyond. My heart fluttered like a bird in my chest when one day, barely two years later, I saw in a momentary flash that our trees were taller than any of us and studded here and there with developing fruit.
Friends from the mosque came regularly to my backyard grove to visit and marvel, as well as neighbors and other engineers from work. Some brought sitting pillows in the evenings, others lawn chairs. Many carried fat candles. For a precious decade, or nearly one, our group would pass frequent evenings in fellowship and open-hearted discussion.
And then, abruptly and painfully, my refuge was shut to me and my circle. Today it is a wizened, weedy scar, the birds gone, its glittering fish long dead. My trees, untended, are nearly barren. I am dispossessed, set adrift by a wife of twenty-three years turned mute brooding stranger. My gentle, patient Alia has been bundled off by our wild-eyed son to the warehouse mosque he now embraces. She has taken up the head scarf and a bitter distrust of non-believers (although she has diligently observed their practices concerning divorce and division of property).
Alia refuses to see me without the censorious presence of Assad, who upbraids and berates me. He promises that our new land will be repaid in its own blood. For what? I ask. I hear nothing cogent in his answer; still he claims his brothers and he have assembled the means to gore the infidel. My imam has visited Assad at his job and heard him repeat this, standing in his building's parking lot, although lower in volume and phrased earnestly to convince. He has known Assad since he was four, and I see in his eyes that he is heart sick, although his words pass it all off as the angry unburdenings of the young, soon to pass.
But some nights I dream that I have engendered this bristling whirlwind. My work friends are right: I should take action before it's too late. So I lift the phone and dial. I need help from those who know more than I about these things.
former academic, former ad agency vice president, is a writer of several decades experience, all of it in nonfiction forms. The Grove
is his first published work of flash fiction.