I’m under the weather today, so I blame today’s post on my over-the-counter medication.

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Betty, Easter, 1954

Betty, Easter, 1954

“Is it cancer?”

“We’ll know soon.” The doctor felt the lump and blew smoke. He pressed against the growth at the base of little Betty’s spine.

“Honey, does this hurt?”

Betty didn’t look back. She concentrated on the jar of tongue suppressors in the glass cabinet. She braced herself against the examination table and bent at the waist. “No sir.”

“Not even when I do this?” The doctor pushed a knuckle into the fleshy part of the lump.

“No sir. I can tell you’re doing something, but it doesn’t hurt.”

The doctor pinched the spot. He grabbed onto what something just below the skin. He wiggled it left and right.

“That tickles.” Betty giggled and flinched.

“That’s a good sign. If it tickles, it’s not cancerous.”

“Oh what a relief” her parents said.

“You can get dressed, sweetie.” The doctor slapped Betty’s bare butt cheeks, but not hard. Ashes fell.

“Yessir.” Betty stood upright and pulled on her clothes gathered in a wad around her feet.

“She’ll be fine.” The doctor ground what was left of his cigarette into the bottom of a bed pan. A nurse pressed a pedal and a lid raised. She dumped the butts into the trashcan and put the bed pan back in place at the doctor’s right elbow. He put another in his mouth. The nurse lit it.

“So Betty’s fine? No surgeries or braces in her future?”

“Not from this.” The doctor talked to Betty’s parents through a haze of squints. “I don’t know what it is, but I’m convinced it’s not cancer. It tickles, so everything will be okay.”

“I still feel like we should do something. The growth is bigger than it was a few weeks ago.”

“For one thing, you can stop worrying. For another, you can start becoming emotionally prepared to have a daughter with a tail.”


“Here. Apply this ointment if it makes you feel better.”

Betty’s mother took the bright yellow and green tube. “Will it help?”

The doctor took a long drag. Smoke exited his nostrils. “Smear it on Betty twice a day. It should give you the feeling of control over what’s really out of your control.” He exhaled.

“Then it will help.”

Over the years, Betty grew, and so did the growth. That’s why they call them growths. Over the weeks and months and years, the spot just above Betty’s butt split, and the thing the doctor had wiggled when she was a kid poked out. On the tip was a tiny green-tipped sprout.

The doctor was correct. Over the next few months, the sprout resembled a tail. Betty’s family kept her in the house for the most part. Before long, the ointment took effect, and the parents felt better about having a daughter with a tail, or whatever it was becoming.

Then one day when the weather warmed, and the days became longer than the nights, Betty’s family experienced watery eyes and sneezing attacks. Until then, their allergies only flared when they were outdoors. This happened indoors every change of season until Betty moved out and started a life of her own.

Before that, when Betty had entered her teens and still lived at home, she became a full-blooming young woman, literally. Betty’s dating life was difficult at first. Most people found it awkward to date someone with a shrub-like thing, a treelet, that changed with the seasons. But that year, everything changed.

It was an early afternoon, and football season had just started. The mornings and evenings were cool and crisp, and everything was changing and about to change. That was the day when Betty and her rough-barked protrusion caught the attention of a handsome new high school transfer student. His family had moved to the area so their son could pursue his dream of becoming an arborist. The local community college had a well-respected program. He had planned to specialize in vines and shrubs until he met Betty.

“What first attracted me to Betty?

“Yes,” the reporter said. “What was it?”

“It was her eyes,” he said.

“Aw, that’s sweet,” Betty said.

“That’s a lie.” He grinned. “I’ve got a confession. It was your first display of full fall foliage.”

Betty laughed.

“I’m serious. Until that moment, I had not known that yellows and oranges and reds could shine like that. Betty radiated colors, like a peacock with leaves instead of feathers, or whatever peacocks have. I know about trees, not animals.”

“He calls me his little treecock,” Betty said. “See why I love this man so?” Betty rubbed his shoulder.

“Remember that night after the high school football game,” he asked his wife.

“You mean when it began to rain, and we ran under the grandstands to stay dry?”

“Yes. You stood so that your branches stuck out to catch the rain, because it had been such a dry summer. I’ll never forget how your hind parts glistened under the stadium lights.”

Betty blushed, but her cheeks were not nearly as red as the leaves from what had taken root around the base of her spine, just above her other cheeks. A dead leaf released and spiraled onto Betty’s lap.

“Oops,” Betty said. “Pardon me. Sorry about that.”

“It happens,” her husband said. “It’s part of nature.”

“But it’s embarrassing when it happens live, on camera,” Betty blushed again.

“Trust me,” he said, looking into the camera lens, “there will be plenty more where that came from.”

“Oh, stop.” Betty patted his leg.

“Does his obsession with my growth bother me,” Betty repeated the reporter’s question. “Not one bit. My husband is quite the gardener. Let’s just say he has a green —,” she turned and smiled at her husband. “He has a green everything.”

“Is she high maintenance? Nothing’s high maintenance if you enjoy the work. Early in the relationship, I had to bind her branches to control growth. That was hard. Sometimes, takes her share of frequent deep-soaking baths, and I’m stuck with doing the laundry and sweeping the floors, but we all make sacrifices to keep the relationship going, right?

These days, I just keep Betty pruned. Pruning not only gives her a nice, luxurious, high canopy, but it minimizes the stress on her lower back.”

“It’s true,” Betty said. “Without him, I’d lean backward much more than I do now. He’s good to me. Plus, we’ve got wonderful built-in shade.”

Betty repeated the reporter’s final question. “Does it hurt to be pruned? No, not the way he does it. I mean, I know he’s back there doing something, but it doesn’t hurt.” Betty took his hands in both of hers. “Sometimes it tickles,” she said. “That tells me that everything’s okay.”

Betty’s husband jerked away a hand and snagged a falling leave between his thumb and index finger. He was so quick and delicate, that, through the camera lens, it appeared as though he had made the leaf appear from nothing, like a magic trick.

He held Betty’s leaf to his nostrils, and took in a deep breath. He closed his eyes in pleasure for a moment, then put the leaf in his pocket. “Even her dead parts smell like life to me.”

“This is your favorite season, isn’t it,” Betty asked her husband. She beamed at him.

“It is, and you know why?” He looked into the camera. “Because, before long, with the help of a nice breeze or two, she’ll be completely bare.”

Betty covered her face and elbowed her husband in the ribs. The crew laughed.

“And with that, we send it back to you in the studio.”

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