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Beldam Woods

August 14, 2009

A problem occurred in the soil, an affliction concealed in the ground beneath their feet, spreading stealthily and unchecked. Whatever the plague it was killing the grass, leaving behind a patchwork of sun-baked dirt and far flung clumps of weed. Was it ground bees or grubs, or something far more insidious? Everyone had an opinion and no one knew for sure, not even the Experts of Lawn Care. Nate could envision a day when the whole tract of land called Beldam Woods, stretching from the old, historical cemetery on the north end down to Brighton on the south, was reduced to a barren, dusty wasteland. An embarrassment and an eyesore, it was merely a matter of time before its denizens too began to falter in their optimism and their productivity, for an ugly world will do that. When you’ve given it your all, tried everything you can and you still can’t solve the problem, then the problem becomes your new reality. “We’ll all save a lot of time mowing grass!” he chirped sarcastically, but none of the neighbors appreciated his humor. It was already taking hold, the muddled, muffled despair.

Nate harbored some fantastical theories of the occult. He wondered if the curse was trickling downhill from the cemetery itself, situated as it was on the highest peak in the Beldam neighborhood topography. Perhaps the spirits of the dead are wandering beyond the confines of their tombs, he figured to himself, inhaling the life from our gardens and grass like a succubus. Or maybe some contagion has leached from those moldering corpses en masse, entered the ground water and poisoned us at the root. It appeared to him that the nexus of the problem, ground zero, were the four short streets that composed their very block, tucked tight against the graveyard as a mother clutches her febrile baby to her breast.

The neighbors were noticing as well, and while none appeared like Nate to suspect the dead for their horticultural travails, all were grumbling and threatening to douse their yards in caustic pesticides in hopes of bringing back the green. They tested their reasoning out with one another over mugs of steaming coffee, commiserating at the curb on Amity Park, a small strip of public space, spillover from the cemetery, hemmed in by their homes on all sides, where they let their dogs and children run wild in the grassless dirt. No one wished to be the first to plant that flag upon their property, “Caution, keep off the grass.” Who would be the leader, they wondered?

“It’s not the lawn, per se. It’s the curb appeal!” The threat of plummeting home value was a popular refrain; economics trumped the environment every single time. Not that anyone was planning a move anytime soon. There was the occasional disruption, when out of nowhere there appeared a “For Sale” sign on someone’s lawn. The rest would murmur and surmise among themselves, take it all a bit too personally perhaps, incapable of understanding how anyone could want to leave this place, this hamlet, this agreeably curious little appendix dangling at the bottom of the labyrinth of streets that made up Beldam, alone like an introverted child on a playground, an idyll, a lost world stumbled upon by dog walkers and stroller pushers.

The Gilbert’s went so far as to dig up their yard with shovels, hauling great mounds of sandy soil and dead crabgrass away in the back of their rusted pick-up truck. The effort took weeks and kicked up a terrible storm of dust that swirled through the streets whenever a wind blew and coated everyone’s cars, their front steps and window sills, the faces, arms and legs of their playing children. The Gilberts coup d’ grace was the unfurling of a quarter acres worth of lush, green sod. They watered the new lawn vigilantly, but it fell victim to the Beldam blight just the same. Nate shook his head; if there were ghosts in the graveyard, he thought, they were surely watching this sad show, their spectral faces and wraithlike hands pressed against the chain link fence with the interest of those who have no place better to be.

Written late May 2008. Unfinished, of course.

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