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Telford and Quinn and the Ficus Tree


“Where are we taking the plant?” Junior asks.

“Not we. I. Where am I taking the plant? I’m dropping you off at Ruby and dropping the ficus at Quinn’s. She loves house plants,” Telford says.

“Oh man! I need to go home, man.”

“If you bum a ride you go where the driver says. Your place is in the opposite direction.”

“I thought you and Quinn were done. Watchoo see in that bucktoothed little girl anyway?”

“Show me a physically perfect woman and I’ll show you how fast to run the other way.”

“You mean the way I need to go?’

“Shut up Junior.”

“I imagine with the buck teeth she can maybe, you know, do a job on your knob.”

“Be careful Junior. I allow you certain indiscretions because you’re a friend and also because you don’t know any better.”

Junior looks at Telford unsure if he has been insulted. “What’s a finka?” Junior turns to examine the potted plant resting comfortably in the plastic pot on the back seat,  leaves bouncing happily as the old Buick rolls over pocked city streets.

“Ficus not finka. A common house plant also known as a weeping fig. Native to southeast Asia and Australia.”

“How do you know shit like that?”

“I read. I look shit up. I listen. I pay attention, Junior. We exist in a deep sea of information. I am swimming laps around you. You, Junior, are drowning.”

“I pay attention,” Junior says, looking wounded.

“Nothing you learn goes to waste even if it doesn’t seem important at the time. Even the name of a house plant. Names are important. They are specific and distinctive. A ficus tree is a houseplant but it is not a rubber tree, though related I think. I’ll have to look that up. People’s names, especially first names, are not scientifically anchored but still say a lot about you. Some argue that a person’s name influences their destiny.”

“I never heard the name Telford until I met you.”

“It’s a rare first name. As is Quinn. At least for a woman. My parents endowed me with a certain uniqueness from the get-go, name-wise. Telford is an old French name referring to the iron piercing profession. Not relevant because my family is Irish and aren’t piercers but an interesting name nonetheless.”

Junior is captivated by the ficus tree, draping his big arm over the seat back so he can talk to Telford and keep an eye on the ficus at the same time.

“Your name on the other hand…,” continues Telford.

“What’s wrong with my name?”

“Junior. Has anyone of note ever had the name Junior? I mean as a first name.”

“My real name is Frank. Like my father. I’m Frank Jr.”

“Use Frank. Junior rocks on the front porch, whittling and picking his nose. Lonely, dark, inbred Kentucky hollers are the images I get.”

Junior scowls not at Telford but at the ficus and its shimmering leafy smile. He feels upstaged and mocked by arrogant vegetation.

“Where’d you get the, the, uh, tree?” Junior asks.

“Ficus, Junior. Bought it for a buck from some bum walking down the street. Probably stole it off somebody’s sun porch. It looks like it needs a good home.”

###

“Frank Jr., here we are.” Telford pulls to the curb. “The Ruby.  Because it’s on Rubicon Avenue. A descriptive name but also evocative because it’s a woman’s name. Double entendre.”

“What’s a tonday?”

Telford ignores him.

“Tel how am I going to get home?” Junior says from the curb as he leans into the open passenger window. He imagines the ficus waving goodbye.

“First of all, never call me Tel again. I’ve told you that before. Secondly, I can’t solve all of your problems.” Telford pulls away.

“She’s a little bucktoothed whore,” Junior yells at the exhaust.

###

In less that an hour Telford is back at Ruby. He carries the ficus into the bar and sets it on a stool. A trail of leaves from the back seat of the Buick to the bar. He orders a beer, a whiskey and a glass of water. He takes a drink of the whiskey, a sip of the beer and pours the glass of water on the ficus. The plant slurps the water down in a single gulp.

“Why’d you bring the plant back?” asks Junior.

“Quinn isn’t home.”

“Why’d you bring it in the bar?”

“Leave her in the car to get stolen? Anyway, she’d be lonely. And she needed a drink.” Telford asks for another glass of water and dumps it into the pot.

“Me too,” Junior says.

Telford sighs. “Get Junior another beer. On me,” he says to Nick the bartender.

Telford likes Ruby. He likes the old tin ceiling. He likes the cheap simulated wood grain paneling, brick laminate and linoleum floors. He likes the cracked bar stools that spin so you can turn to see who walked in. He likes the regulars who show up as soon as the bar opens at 7:30 a.m. and who hang around most of the day spending their pension or welfare checks or the proceeds from a sale to West Side Pawn. He likes the lack of pretty people in suits or dresses asking for fancy cocktails. He likes the pizza cut into little strips with a unique taste from a layer of Swiss cheese under the sauce and toppings. He likes the prostitutes and transvestites though he has never made use of either. He likes the beer served with a juice glass topping the long neck. He likes Ruby a lot, a little less now that Quinn no longer tends bar. But he likes it a little more too for the very same reason.

“You believe in reincarnation Junior?”

“In what?”

“You know. That you come back after you die as something or someone else. Like a tree or a sparrow. Maybe a ficus tree?” Telford looks over at his squat, shedding friend.

“I don’t know. Do you?” asks Junior with one eye on the plant. Junior has always feared wrong answers.

“Not really. But it’s fun to think about.”

“I s’pose.”

“Would you rather come back as an oak tree or a sparrow?” Telford asks.

“What?”

“Suppose you could choose your reincarnate, your new form, but those were your only two options.”

“I don’t know. A tree’s bigger.”

“A tree is bigger and you’d live for about a hundred and fifty years but you wouldn’t have much fun I imagine because you’d be stuck in one spot your whole life. And the sparrow would shit on you out of spite for its own terribly short life span.”

“So a bird then.”

“And yet to be solid and stately and part of a cool, tranquil forest. Your leaves tickled by gentle breezes.”

“So a tree then.”

“I’ve always wanted to fly. Under my own power. I don’t like airplanes much. And the long life span of an oak tree is not guaranteed. You could just as easily end up as a coffee table.”

“So, which one? I’m confused.”

Telford pays his tab and rises to leave. He puts a twenty on the bar in front of Junior. “Don’t drink it all up. You still have to get home.”

“I can walk.”

“It’s a long walk Junior. I can give you a ride but it has to be right now.”

“I’ll stay.” Junior says. Looks lovingly at the twenty.

“Your choice.” Telford gathers the ficus in his arms. He looks at the leaves on the floor, shrugs and walks out the door. The door tinkles when it opens.

Twenty minutes later Quinn arrives at Ruby. She doesn’t walk, she glides. Her feet never seem to touch the floor. Her shoulders thrown back. A presence larger than her 110 pounds. Quinn suffers from high self esteem, a quality she shares with Telford. It makes their relationship thrilling but frequently untenable.

Quinn looks at the floor, sits down beside Junior and asks, “Who made the mess?”

“Telford,” Junior says. Quinn terrifies him so he usually says nothing at all or musters false bravado. He is still thinking of trees and sparrows.

“Has Telford turned into a tree?” Quinn asks with a smile that frames her endearing overbite.

“He might,” says Junior. Or more likely a sparrow, he thinks. “He bought a fukus tree. For you.”

“A what? Nick, I’ll have a gin and tonic.”

Junior knows he fucked up the plant’s name but can’t quite fathom how. So he goes for broke. “Maybe we could, you know, go over to my place and hang out. We’ll talk about carnation and trees and sparrows.” Junior is angling for a ride and an insight into the mystery of Quinn. Or more, although seduction and romance has never been Junior’s strong suit.

“You’re out of your mind.” Quinn takes her g and t and moves away.

“I could buy you a plant,” Junior says, motioning toward his remaining $15 on the bar.

###

Telford arrives home at dusk, the failing light accenting rather than muting the details of his small apartment. Like a drawing in charcoal. A tiny physical realm that he embraces one minute and escapes in desperation the next. The quality of the light and the cool temperature foretells a change of season. Telford can see it, smell it and feel it. He places the ficus on the kitchen island and drops into the old leather club chair that he inherited from his grandfather through his father. Someday he will pass it on but his progeny is non-existent and his living relatives few and unworthy. Most likely he’ll just leave it where it is forever.

The ficus looks out onto the empty street from its perch. Telford should assemble dinner but his appetite has failed him as it so often does. Without lifting the lights against the encroaching gloom he looks at the potbellied stove vented through an old disused fireplace. He thinks about cherry or apple firewood aromas and a glass of Scotch or Port of which he has neither. He wants to bask before the hot cast iron stove with a book when the season is willing. He reaches over and pulls the chain on the lamp. Wishes he had wine, cheese and crusty bread. A meagre meal he could tolerate. Indecisiveness and a form of existential paralysis grip him on evenings like this. Shortly he dozes.

Quinn enters like the ghost Telford sometimes imagines her to be. Wordlessly she approaches. He smells her before he can fully comprehend her form. Not perfume. An honest, authentic scent, like yeasty bread, that never fails to arouse him. She hikes up her skirt and straddles him. Gamey naked sex on his lap. Takes his face into her palms. Leans forth and presses her warm, moist mouth to his own. Mingled meaty lips and tongues. She never closes her dark, almond shaped eyes during their lovemaking. His own personal Hun he likes to joke.

Light on his lap. Fumbles at his belt and zipper. Inserting deftly when he is presented. Slow, slippy – slidey. Her fragrant syrup coats him. Palms pressed on his shoulders. He pulls her forth for the perfect angle for lubricated friction. He leans forward. Captures a small breast in his mouth, licking at the puffy areola and small stiffened nipple. A shuddering spasm under his ministrations. He has learned that her orgasms can arrive even without penetration through such tender attention to her many erogenous zones. Quinn seems to have more zones than most women. Her releases are predicated by rhythmic breathing. He hurried to catch up but so fascinated by the bundle of nerves and moisture and heat on his lap that he found it hard to concentrate on himself. Her eruption complete, she slips to her knees and finishes him with her mouth, his seed bubbles forth on her chin.

A word has yet to be spoken. She rises and moves soundlessly to the bathroom. After the flush and wash, on to the bedroom. He finds her atop the covers still clothed to the degree that she is ever clothed. Asleep and snoring softly. Telford undresses her, then himself and snuggles to her backside with his arm draped around her small but supple waist. Pulls the loose sheet over them.

###

He awakens with the breaking dawn with an ache to relieve himself. Her side of the bed is abandoned yet an echo of her remains. He sits at the kitchen island with the ficus. Notices a partial bottle of red wine that had escaped his attention the evening before. A few days old but drinkable. Despite the early hour he uncorks and pours.

“Coupling pleasure and procreation is a brilliant scheme,” he says aloud to himself, “without the pleasure, sex would be pointless work.”

The ficus leaves shimmer in the gathering morning light.

I wouldn’t know. My woody nature exempts my kind from such concerns. Are you talking evolution or intelligent design?”

“Let’s not bring religion into this. The church’s perverse and warped attitudes on sex. I’m fascinated by the impulse to breed wherever it comes from. The joys and disappointments.”

“You’re concerned aren’t you?’

“About what?”

“Something sent you down this path? A leaf quivers and falls.

“Okay. Maybe a little. She doesn’t practice birth control.”

“Religious reasons? She wants to be with child? She is of the age when such impulses dominate, you know.”

“More a matter of not interfering with her natural processes and rhythms, she claims. She’s a wholesome girl. A wholesome and horny girl.”

“Spiritual. A hippie. The everything happens for a reason type?”

“More about personal control of some type, I think. Whatever happens, she would know what to do.”

“Which would be?”

Telford doesn’t respond.

“She’s complicated. Beware of complicated beings. Stick with trees.”

Or sparrows.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind. Yes. Quinn is complicated. You don’t know the half of it.”

“Nor should I. I only met her yesterday. We didn’t even talk.”

“Plenty of time for that. You’ll get along famously. She’s well grounded. Like you. Fucking Quinn is one of the great joys of my existence. Great joys I’ve learned rarely last.”

“Ah. There’s the heart of it. Nothing lasts. Fornication. Orgasms. It is all fleeting and doomed from the start.”

“Blow jobs. Cunnilingus.”

“Anal sex. Hand jobs.”

“Menage-a-trois. Rim jobs. Hey, how does a ficus tree know of such things?”

“They’re carried in the wind.”

With the sparrows, Telford thinks. It is fully dawn. He stifles a yawn.

“You need to either go back to bed or shave and shower.”

“Yes. Time to get a move on. Do you need a glass of water?”

“I’m fine. Thank you.”

###

Showered and dressed, Telford examines his watch. It’s almost 8 a.m. He picks up the ficus. Stares into its expressive leaves.

“Want to go to Ruby?”

“Sounds good to me.”

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