by Billy Saefong
“Lucky” Lo Chen found a notice from the county police department in his mail. He opened the letter and found two leaves of paper. Lucky had two weeks to get rid of the marijuana he was growing in his backyard; he had way too many plants. The second page was a black and white photo of the backyard taken from a helicopter. What a stupid mistake for having so many out in the open like that, but he found fortune in them, so why stop when it was going good?
Lucky left the letter on the kitchen table, on top of the credit card bills from an assortment of retail stores. He cracked open his stainless steel smart fridge, and started making breakfast for him and Sunny. It was the start of spring, and the clocks were adjusted so that six in the morning was darker than usual. He looked out at the backyard through the kitchen window. In previous months, the plants were tall and full. They were majestic, even, and they were his to nurture, and cultivate, to grow. To create something from nothing, to plant a seed and watch it bloom, these were the natural skills Lucky was born with, and it was filled him up. A bird landed on a branch outside the window, and Lucky listened to it chirp against the crackling of eggs in the pan. The early sun hit its feathers revealing a hint of blue and red, but Lucky did not notice.
Lucky grew cannabis for a few years after his wife died. He knew the risks involved, and ramped up his inventory year after year. He could have faced steep charges for possessing so much. His buddy Manuel got him into the idea, and the two moved the finished product at volume over the years. Both men grew, but only Manuel transported it. During this time, Lucky learned to rise before the sun, and tend to the garden before the heat tarnished the plants. The homemade irrigation system was compiled through a bit of ingenuity, and numerous trips to Home Depot.
His wife, Sandra, used to plant azaleas because it reminded her of home on the east coast. She also enjoyed cultivating an edible garden with cucumbers, peppers, and cilantro; useful plants that served more than just the eye. “Always try to save a buck,” she’d say. After her death, it was all just green to Lucky.
Sunny dropped her backpack near a chair, and tied her shoes at the kitchen table.
“Hey, grab the rice, please,” Lucky said as he began frying a small bowl of chopped sausage. It sizzled, and Lucky switched on the freckled overhead fan.
“Hey, dad, is it okay if Monica came over, like after school?” Sunny took the plate of eggs from her dad, and set the table with bowls of rice.
“No, Sunny,” Lucky sat down with the rest of the food.
“But why not?”
“You know why,” Lucky, still in his pajama bottoms, got up again to pour himself coffee. “Hey, you remember what day it is?”
“But we won’t even go in the back, we’ll just stay inside, or in my room and stuff.”
“Sunny, no’s no, okay?” Lucky sat back down. “Now come on, say grace.”
“What? Why me?”
“Because you never do it, hurry up,” Lucky said.
“Ugh,” Sunny closed her eyes, and she was a little annoyed now. “Thank you Lord, for the, uh, food on our table, and um, the trees, and the air, and thank you for letting my dad let me have friends come over today. Amen!”
Lucky looked at his daughter and tried not to laugh. He shook his head.
“What?” she said, trying to keep a straight face.
He gave her half a smile before gripping a piece of sausage with his chopsticks. “Still no, Sunny. Also, do you remember what we have to do today?”
Sunny searched for the answer, and when she came upon it, she seemed to sink in her seat. “Yes.”
“We visit your mother’s tombstone the same day every year, don’t forget that.”
Sunny’s fork clinked against her plate as she ate. Lucky knew it weighed on her, it was easy for him to read her face. “Sunny, in a couple of weeks, you can invite as many friends over as you want. Okay?”
“It’s okay, dad, it’s whatever,” Sunny placed her dish in the sink.
“No, seriously, I’m getting rid of everything in the backyard.”
“Oh my God, really? You said this last time.”
“Yeah, yeah, this is the last of it. I promise.”
“Wait, did you get in trouble? Do we have to move? Are you going to jail?”
“Uh, what, no, no,” Lucky thought of all the possibilities in his head. “Don’t worry about it, just go to school, you’ll be late. And don’t forget to come home right after.”
For the next few days, Lucky called all the favors he had and got help from those who were willing. His brother, and cousin came to help for a short period, but only Lucky’s mother stayed with him for a week, she even helped harvest some of the buds. She worked out in the shed, surrounded by cannabis, with an old bandana around her nose and mouth, and her graying hair tied in a thick pony tail.
Sunny liked to bring her grandmother and Lucky hot tea when it was getting late. One time, grandma sliced her finger pruning a plant, and Sunny searched all over the house for a bandage.
With the help from his mother, and close friends, Lucky packaged all of his plants, uprooted the hoses, and collected remaining material, and sealed them in rubber tubs. He had just a few days left to clean up everything.
“I’m glad you’re finally getting rid of all this, Lucky,” his mother said, concentrating on the plant in her hands. Lucky and his mother sat in the makeshift shed late in the night, with a single fluorescent light buzzing above their heads. “I don’t have to worry about you, or Sunny, or what could happen. I’d stay up all night just thinking about you two. I read about these two kids, barely older than Sunny, maybe about the same age, who were shot and killed because they knew bad people doing this. Your father and I could have helped you after Sandra passed away. You didn’t have to do all of this.”
“I know,” Lucky was never good at talking to his mom, he was never really good at talking. He remembered a time when he was just a boy. His mother, who worked in the fields, and knew only the most basics of mathematics, sat with him, and worked out the problems in his homework. Now, she sat with him in the shed doing the same thing. He kept his eyes on the bud in his hand, and continued trimming the excess bits. His stomach felt empty.
“You have a nice house, a beautiful daughter, all these things, TV, car, but you always look so sad.”
“You always say I look sad,” Lucky tossed the bud into a pile, and grabbed another plant.
“That’s why, that’s why maybe you haven’t remarried.”
“Oh geez, mom, it’s not a big deal,” Lucky’s face grew hot. “It’s nice right now, just with Sunny and myself. It’s okay.”
Lucky’s mother sighed. “Okay, but she needs a mother, she’s growing, and big. It’s very hard, I know. Trust me, I know.”
Lucky’s conversation with his mother always weighed on him. He went into his bedroom and in his closet, he opened a safe. The safe was fairly large, and it was packed with cash. The sight of this filled him up. He had been working so much that he had forgotten the fruits of his labor. And seeing now again, brought some closure to his heart. Between the safe, and his savings account, he must have had enough to buy Sunny a car, and send her to college. But he always wanted to give her more than he ever had. Lucky dipped into the safe mostly for groceries, gas, and paying back favors, some of which still needed paying.
A car squeaked its way up to the house. “Hey, hey,” Manuel waved, and walked up the driveway. “How you doin’ mija.”
“Manny, how are you?” Lucky said as he finished with the flowers.
“Going good, going good, was in the neighborhood, thought I’d say hi to my favorite little girl”
“Manny, dad scared the heck out of me, I had a heart attack!” Sunny gripped her shirt as she said this, her round little face was still a bit white.
“You’re 12, you’re too young for a heart attack!” Lucky said.
“Close enough,” Lucky grinned. “Hey check this out,” Lucky held a small garden snake out to show Manny, and Sunny shivered.
“Dad, stop! Why do you still have it?” Sunny ran into the house.
Lucky set the snake back into the garden, and pulled off his gloves. “So, what can I do for you, Manny?”
“I’m thinking about buying some land, a little bit up north. Grow on private property, be easier than doing it at home.”
Lucky nodded his head. “How big is it?”
“Big enough for two,” Manuel smiled. “Think about it.”
“I can’t, everything’s packed up, that’s it.”
Manny bit his lip, and shook his head. “Lucky, Lucky, Lucky,” he said. “You sure, bro?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I’m sure. It’s been what, three years? You helped me a lot, Manny, but that’s it. They’re going to do an inspection tomorrow, got the call today from the county.”
“Sounds like you made up your mind, then.”
“Yes, yes I have. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time.”
“Okay,” Manny shook Lucky’s hand. “If you change your mind, give me a call.”
A police officer showed up to the door the next day, and Lucky greeted him, his heart pounded a little faster than normal. The two men talked a little bit about the notice, and the two went out back to check on things. It didn’t seem like the police officer was very interested in what he was doing, perhaps it was just an easy gig to check on a pot grower, than say, to patrol downtown. It was the first time Lucky had seen his backyard since he gave the remaining plants to Manuel. As far as the officer knew, the plants were gone, and that’s all they asked for. But seeing the back yard empty, except for mounds of dirt, and Sandra’s azaleas among the overgrown grass near the fence, Lucky felt his body lose sync with itself. The officer checked in the shed, and mentioned something about a “felony” if they found any “intention to sell,” but all Lucky could focus on was the single fan in the corner, collecting dust, alongside the one light that hung from the ceiling. He could still hear his mother say “you always look so sad.” He followed the officer to the edges of the backyard, and they stopped when they came to the orange tree that peaked over from the neighbor’s yard.
“Oh boy, looks like you got the short end of the stick here, Mr. Chen,” The police officer said.
“Sometimes the oranges will fall on our side, or I’ll grab a ladder, or a broom,” Lucky said. “My daughter loves them.”
“California has the best oranges, I always say,” the officer said with his hands at his hips, looking up at the tree.
“Yes, yes, my mother used to harvest a lot of oranges.”
“Yes, she came over to the states, and you know, lots of war where she came from,” Lucky looked up at the officer, who was a head taller, and an arm wider than he was. “That’s what she knew how to do.”
“Mr. Chen,” the officer said, facing Lucky.
Lucky looked at the officer, and felt sweat creep down his back. Everything was gone, that’s all they asked. “Yes, sir?”
“We appreciate you cooperating, and the neighborhood does also,” the officer shook Lucky’s hand, and then picked up an orange off the ground. “Mind if I?”
“Oh, oh, it’s not even my tree, I’m just,” Lucky didn’t finish his sentence.
Lucky watched the police officer drive down the street and turn out of sight. Sunny was still at school, and the house was quiet, and cold. Lucky put on his sandals and started a pot of coffee. He noticed the red azalea flowers that poked out near the fence of the backyard. Lucky slid open the glass door, and walked towards his wife’s favorite flowers. He crouched down, and touched their petals. They were withering. Lucky found the watering can Sunny used to play with when she was little, and filled it all the way up with water. He watered the azaleas, watching hundreds of tiny drops of water crash onto the flowers. He did this until the can was completely empty.