Assignments completed for my college creative writing class. Thought I'd post them, 'cause why not?
#1 Creative Non-Fiction
There were five public elementary schools in my hometown, all of which were built at different points in time in their own unique style. Later, though, the school district evidently had a change of heart and decided that it would really be best if they all looked as uniform as possible.
The three schools on the south side of town received the most extensive treatment, and thus all three have the same fake-stucco wall texturing (actually concrete) and are painted the same tannish shade of yellow. Of the two on the north, one, Helman, was given a similar look, but in bluish grey, and the other, Briscoe, retained its original brick exterior. Neither, though, escaped the landscaping makeover that left every school with a three-foot-high chain-link fence and a line of red ornamental plum trees.
I’m not entirely sure what the district was thinking, putting in those plum trees. You’d think they’d be a liability. The teachers would always tell you not to put the fruit in your mouth, that they weren’t edible, but you’d do it anyway, biting through the tough exterior and then wincing at the sour, metallic taste, something between lemon peel and blood. They were small, and hard, and hurt like the dickens if someone pelted you with one, and that’s to say nothing of the choking hazard, or what might happen if you slipped on one whilst darting across the warped asphalt surface of the basketball court. And I wouldn’t be surprised if their stones, like the pits of cherries, contained a lethal dose of cyanide or some other dangerous compound. Anyway, the trees didn’t provide much shade, and weren’t particularly attractive to look upon. It really is a wonder why they were ever planted.
They were probably cheap.
I originally attended Briscoe Elementary, until the district found itself low on funding and closed it, since—as an unmodified, early-twentieth-century brick edifice—it wasn’t quite up to earthquake code. It was later converted into a preschool, for apparently toddlers are more resistant to falling bricks than are older children. I, meanwhile, transferred across town to Walker (one of the yellow fake-stucco schools), a comparatively sprawling building set amidst a vast expanse of grass. Unlike at Briscoe, which was built with limited space on a steep hill in an old-town neighborhood, Walker’s grounds were nearly flat, and seemed to contain at least twice as much of everything. Twice as many tetherball posts. Twice as much sunlight. Four times as many baseball diamonds.
Twice as many ornamental plum trees.
For four years I played away my childhood on these grounds. The grass was ripe with four-leaf clovers. Or so I recall. Perhaps I only tricked myself into remembering finding them so often, for I have since heard that they are much rarer than my memory of those fields would have me believe. One year, it rained a lot, and one of the baseball diamonds flooded several inches deep, and stayed like that for at least a week. We pretended it was a lake and sloshed around in its marshy shallows, rapt in ungoverned games.
During one such improvised activity, I fractured my wrist while tipping over a soccer goal in order to capture a basketball within the ragged net. It was my left wrist. Sometimes, if I concentrate hard enough, I can still bring back the ache in it. It feels like salt and sadness.
There is a bike path that runs behind Walker Elementary School, parallel to the railroad tracks. It is well-potholed and booby-trapped with blackberries and star thistles. One winter evening when I was a sophomore, or perhaps a junior, in high school, a young man was walking home along that bike path from his job at the grocery store, as he did every night. A mere hundred yards from the school, a mere hundred yards from that vast green lawn that overflowed with lucky shamrocks, he was attacked and decapitated by someone wielding an actual, real life sword.
Winter in the Northwest is a near constant dusk. The steel grey sky may lighten or darken depending on the time of day, but noon in January is often only a shade brighter than five o’ clock. The colors of the world seem to fade away, like the tip of a washable marker when you run it under the faucet. But those trees would have stood out. If they ever lost their leaves in the winter, I don’t remember it. I cannot picture them bare. I can only imagine them as they might have appeared that day, red as blood, shivering in the stiff, colorless breeze. Flimsy sentinels watching over the empty battlefield, with their carpet of hazardous plums serving as the last line of defense.
But they can’t do that. They have no purpose. They are simply ornamental.