Sunday, June 19, 2005

SYNTHETIC SHEEPSKIN

The flagstones on the back patio had recently been hosed off, so everything was dark and wet and fresh smelling, like all the dirt had been churned up. Mr. Netty clumsily stepped out through the open screen door balancing the tray of drinks, the ice cubes clinking threateningly. The soles of Mr. Netty’s feet slapped against his leather sandals, which announced his presence from a long way off. Mrs. Netty, who had only recently returned to her seat after having gotten up to inspect what she feared to be a disease on the underside of her ferns, scooted the photo album to the edge of the table to make room for the drink tray.

“It’s how they reproduce.” She informed Mr. Netty, who heavily set the drinks down. “Lon said those spore thingys or whatever they are, that it’s not a disease, but the way that the ferns reproduce. Who would have known that? I guess it’s cleaner than it could be.” She helped herself to a tall, sweaty glass of iced tea.

“Is that so?” Mr. Netty sat down on the chair next to his wife, the cushion nearly sliding out from underneath his narrow rump.

“It is so.” Lon replied. He leaned way back in his chair so only his face out in the sun, out of the shadow of the huge, tassel fringed umbrella hovering over them. He was wearing a pair of white linen shorts and although the expression on his face appeared casual—tranquil even—something subtle about his posture suggested that he might be uncomfortable standing up too quickly, for fear his shorts had wrinkled under him unattractively.

“So if we just let them have at it, we’d soon be in a jungle of ferns?” Mrs. Netty inquired. She smiled broadly and took a large gulp of her iced tea, betraying her complete ignorance of horticulture or indeed of any living thing.

“Now, I’m no expert,” Lon’s teeth were unnaturally white, “but I don’t think that’s how it works. Not exactly, at least. They’ve got some natural mechanism in them that keeps them in check.”

“Like a bladder infection.” Mrs. Netty quickly said.

“Like impotence.” Mr. Netty hastily contributed.

“Like the need for sleep.” Lon said.

The three stared at one another awkwardly and drank their drinks in silence.

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