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F IC T IO N & N O N F IC T IO N

NATURAL LAW Claire Foxx

By the time I was in seventh grade, the gum tree was either five years or six months old, depending on how you measure. It was planted five years ago in a square plot of dirt landscaped into the sidewalk in front of the Middle School, for the purpose of making the building look less penitentiary. Mostly it succeeded in this. It was a redbud, which is one of the friendlier-looking species of trees, with salutary pink leaves that would remind you of cherry blossoms except they don’t smell like anything. If you pinched off the little florets and rolled them between your fingers, the way most of us did while we waited for our parents to queue up in the carpool line, you realized there was nothing interesting about them. The texture was what you’d expect. The color muddied and came off on your thumbs like rouge, and then you were bored again, staring out at the parking lot, pretending you had better places to be. Eventually, someone chewed a thick cud of bubblegum the color of a pencil eraser and stuck it onto the trunk of the tree, probably without even thinking, on some kind of limbic pre-teenage impulse to do things that are not supposed to be done. It was not so much a gesture as a compulsion. But more importantly, it was the obvious destiny of the tree—and we all felt thoroughly embarrassed for not having realized it sooner, in all those years of plucking at the branches like shy kleptomaniacs. The gum tree became a sensation. If you have ever stared very closely at a pointillist painting, so that the individual pixels of color separate from the image, and all you can see is a wild, psychedelic abstraction of pigment, then you know more or less what the tree looked like. We stuck all the gum on the side facing the parking lot, and we didn’t leave any space between pieces so that the effect was of one solid, conspicuous, unidentifiable figure like one of those clouds that can look like anything to anyone. Certain people of the administrative persuasion considered this to be vandalism. The Middle School student body considered it to be the most and only interesting feature of our education. It was satisfying to look at, in the way ugly things can be satisfying when they are actually almost beautiful. It was the subject of multiple school assemblies, in which we were forbidden not only from gumming the gum tree but from engaging in any tree-related activities aside from the admiration of natural beauty, as God intended. But twelve-year-olds live for sedition. Besides boredom, risk was our only incentive. And we took the conspiracy seriously—to my knowledge, nobody ever got punished for adding to the tree because nobody ever got caught, and it was impossible to penalize all seven hundred of us corporately. It was not impossible to uproot the tree, so that when we came back from a long weekend the sidewalk was scalped bald, with the square plot of dirt recessed darkly into the concrete like a shallow grave, or a razed altar, or something far less evocative but equally devoid of vegetation. And it stayed that way. Eight years later, there is still not so much as a shrub—and there hasn’t been, and there won’t be because shrubbery could be construed as a form of negotiation, and the spirit of Middle School governance is nothing if not tough on crime.

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Profile for Ivy Leaves Journal of Literature & Art

Ivy Leaves Journal of Literature & Art — Vol 93  

The Ivy Leaves Journal of Literature & Art is an annual student publication at Anderson University in Anderson, SC. The journal has served a...

Ivy Leaves Journal of Literature & Art — Vol 93  

The Ivy Leaves Journal of Literature & Art is an annual student publication at Anderson University in Anderson, SC. The journal has served a...

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