"This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force." - Dorothy Parker

Homeland Security
By Rhoda Greenstone


Fecundity is cause for celebration. A thriving garden adds to the value of any home. But when the Naybors saw the amazing transformation of their scrawny little apricot tree, both went into momentary shock.

“Nora! Come quick! You’ve gotta see this! You’re not going to believe your eyes!” Guy called to his wife to come out of the house to join him in their small but well kept backyard garden. “Our little apricot tree has finally done us proud.”

Nora’s face appeared behind the screen at the bedroom window. She leaned her bony hands on the sill and gasped. “It’s a freak of nature, Guy!” In a second, Nora was circling the little tree, incredulous. Although its only leaves were sharp, serrated green tips pointing skyward from the very top branches, all of the tree’s remaining spindly branches were inundated with flowers, hundreds of flowers. One day before, the little apricot tree was totally denuded. Suddenly, fragrant, pink-edged, square white flowers dappled the tree from tip to trunk. “I can’t believe it. How could so many flowers open up out of nowhere, overnight, when yesterday the tree looked so sickly, we were talking about hiring someone to dig it up?”

It was true. Nora and Guy harbored the suspicion that the tree was a dud, yet said nothing to one another because each one believed the other had planted it as an anniversary gift. Two seasons earlier, Nora had spent a great deal of money hiring young men to uproot the puny tree where it had faltered near the fence, to transplant it outside the rear bedroom window where it might thrive on additional light and stretching room.

Yet the transplant really didn’t do much good. When the droughts of ’01 and ‘02 robbed the tree of nutrients and irrigation, the Naybors diligently watered and fertilized, spending beyond their budget, even ignoring the city’s injunctions, thus risking fines just so the little tree might have a chance. Thankfully, the drought came to an end.

Then the lengths they went to during the subsequent years of torrential rains were nothing less than heroic. Months of incessant, relentless rainfall and unseasonably frigid nights washed or blew or shriveled away the sparse, short lived blossoms that managed to sprout on the apricot tree. Nora actually cried when she stood in a pool of white petals beneath her stripped, besotted tree one April. But she was intrepid. Taking her cue from years of drenching, last year she cut up the plastic netting the spring bulbs came in, and made little brassieres for the few pink-edged, white flowers which Guy patiently tied around as many clusters he could cover.

Nora tried singing and prayers, even directing portable speakers toward the tree so Mozart could find its way out her bedroom window to nurture the apricots. Still, the unshapely tree remained ungraced with many flowers. A tree with less than a handful of blossoms to pollinate translates into very few pieces of fruit. The most the little tree ever produced was four apricots. True, the four were exceptionally flavorful apricots, firm, aromatic, and tangy. But the Naybors had to work so hard (and spend so much) to get four undersized pieces of fruit, they had pretty much given up on the gangly tree.

Until the miracle of the flowers. “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” Nora warned Guy, eying that glorious pink-edged white dress Mother Nature decked her in. “We better wait to see if the rains are going to do what they did last year.”

She ordered Guy to hunt for netting to protect the little tree’s flowers, but he went from garden store to hardware store to nursery, without any luck. Hangdog, he had to report to his wife, “I couldn’t find any netting anywhere.” Fatalistically they awaited the inevitable, but the only rains that came were gentle showers. The little tree’s fragrant white dress remained unsullied.

“Well,” Guy pouted, “The flowers came out way too early for any bees or birds to pollinate. Nights are too cold yet. So all these flowers won’t amount to much of a crop.” But as Nora stood before the apricot tree, both the brilliant lime male and the orange striped female hummingbirds from last year reconnoitered near her face. A fat honeybee flew over her shoulder then blissfully drew from a blossom.

Within days of the top-to-bottom blossoming, infant apricot heads popped out all over the scrawny branches. The new fruit was extra-large, and there were several sets of twins and triplets. Nora thought she could even spot some quadruplets up toward the top. The new apricots were colored a lovely pistachio with delicate peachy tips. In less than a week, the apricots sprouted white fuzz and turned a pink-tinged orange. “There have to be two hundred apricots here,” Guy sighed. “At least,” Nora sighed back.

The Naybors stayed awake until late. In bed they couldn’t tear their eyes off their apricots as they lay in bed. Hummingbirds weren’t the only creatures to return to their yard; last years’ fruit bats, which had just about ravaged the fig tree, were back. Guy sensed they were about to discover the baby apricots. He snuck out of bed to troll the internet in search of repellents. Nora was also concerned. She had already shooed away several finches-birds known to eat everything and anything, birds that had undermined her vegetables even when she was vigilant. She didn’t scold when she found Guy hunched over the computer monitor at 2:00 a.m.. “We have to do something or there won’t be any of these magnificent apricots left for us,” both agreed.

First, guy tried several scare-owls, which the website described as the perfect deterrents. Adding to the tree’s unsightliness, the gaudy plaster owls were top heavy, so they not only refused to stand at attention, the upsidedown fake birds bowed the already frail branches. Worse, the owls didn’t repel the finches, either; the real birds perched on the imposters, coating the fake owls with white and black droppings. Disgusted, Nora cut down the owls hoping the fragile, slender branches hadn’t been damaged.

Nora considered borrowing the cat from the kids next door. “Those poor kids,” she often commented to Guy, “ they’re not even allowed to go to school or leave the yard, their parents are so possessive.” The boy and girl were consigned to the yard where they played with their cat and one another, just on the other side of the redwood fence separating the properties. Nora pictured the gristly, spitting, gray cat that startled her when it glared at her from atop the fence., “On second thought,” she thought, “I’m too high strung for a cat, even on loan.”

The apricots grew. Their rich amber tinged with peach became nearly incandescent around sunset, so nearly each microscopic aphid jumped out at Nora. She groaned over each infested little leaf or apricot she hunted down. At night, Guy, armed with a slingshot and paperclips, dinged rodents and bats and tree toads, a soldier in the battle to save their glorious golden bounty. At the same time, he mourned the collateral damage of the small animals he had always enjoyed rustling around him.

In his zeal to defend his apricot treasury, Guy lay out pellets and traps around the tree. But Nora was horrified when she stumbled across two dead reticulated geckos, lizards she adored, which she believed lent a zen quality to her garden. So she ordered Guy to purge the yard of all poisons. “Now how are we going to protect our property, fend off the creatures who are trying to raid our little tree?” her husband wanted to know.

Then Guy fell upon the perfect product. A seed catalog was selling an electrified blanket, labeled Homeland Security, made from material that would let sunlight in but keep predators out. So he even paid express shipping to get it on the little tree posthaste. The product did everything advertised. The Naybors cloaked the little apricot tree with the mesh blanket that let in light, and when it was plugged in at night, the mesh drape emitted an electric shock zapping anything that tried to shinny the tree’s delicate branches. They averted their eyes because the cloaked tree made it look even more misshapen and unsightly.

By midnight, Nora was shaking Guy’s shoulder. “I can’t stand it! Wake up and do something! I can’t take any more bodies falling off our tree!” Guy assured her the animals were only stunned, that there wasn’t enough charge in the cloak to kill. Nora went back to bed. But she didn’t sleep.

In the morning, red-eyed and groggy, Nora tried to avoid the garden. She had plenty to do inside the house, even though it was her favorite weather. Turning the hallway corner with the laundry basket, Nora ran right into Guy. “What are you doing inside on such a gorgeous day?” both questioned simultaneously.

Some kids were banging at the front screen door. A dark-haired boy with badly scraped knees was holding the hand of a little girl whose wide set blue eyes looked similar. The children from next door wanted permission to go into the back to retrieve their ball. She didn’t think it was safe letting kids inside her house so Nora told them to walk around to the garden.

The children’s shrieks disrupted Nora’s laundering. The Naybors ran to the back-at the foot of the little apricot tree, the electrified drape had felled a large assortments of birds, small rodents, bats, tree toads, and the neighbor’s cat. The stunned animals resembled a scene from a B horror movie.

Guy and Nora understood each other perfectly. “I think we had better learn to live without Homeland Security,” they both agreed. First Guy handed the kids their ball. Then he freed the little apricot tree. Homeland Security went into the dumpster (not even the Recycle Bin). The cat took off on her own, making the top of the fence in a single leap where she glared at Nora as she used her broom to tickle some birds, two tree toads, a gecko and even a mouse to get them moving.

Guy enjoyed the garden until sunset reclined in his Adirondack chair, watching the sun filter silky shafts through the heavily laden branches, only flinching slightly when the tree toads and finches returned. Nora sprayed organic potions and hosed off as many intruders as she could, confident that without the carnage caused by Homeland Security she would sleep well again. The neighbor children never again had cause to fear the tranquil garden.

Plenty of the apricots ripened into rich orange orbs even after the birds, bats, and insects got their portion. There were even enough to fill tender golden turnovers they shared with the kids next door. The Nabors really couldn’t have eaten any more.

“The best apricots I ever tasted.” Guy announced when they were done.

“The best if you don’t count next year’s.” A zen-like smile crossed Nora’s face.