by Ali McGrane
I fell for the slack grace of it, the flounce and rebound, the rustling never-stillness, the fractured light revealing neither tree nor man but something greater than both. What a dreamer, you’re thinking. He’s just doing his job.
Here’s more than a dream though. The gift of his bared limbs, echoes of bark against the pale sheets, the knotty promise of an outstretched arm.
So that’s how I think of him, Treewalker. He’d scorn it for sure, but I reckon you can hear the music and sway of a true name in those three syllables.
He has others. His parents chose Bream, after the fish. They storied his birth that way – plucked from the water, gasping at the air, an urgent sheen to him still. To his friends he is BB (Bream being cast off at school to thwart the bullies) or Bob. I sheared him to Bo, the sacred fig. He calls me his little Buddha.
We didn’t waste time. It was like the release of a mountain log jam into a fast current; a tumbling end over end no power on earth could stop. He’s not one to talk of love but I know the signs. When I speak the word he applies his mouth to mine like sticking plaster over a wound. My mistletoe man.
I don’t see him for days on end of course; the trees can’t walk. I’ve grown used to this place. It’s not unfriendly, though some folk look at me strangely, even after all this time. I don’t try to fathom it. Small towns.
When he comes home I rub his back, pull splinters from his palms and brush leaves from his hair. We shower together, and I check for bruises and scrapes and apply what healing I can. He needs sleep then, a good eight hours, before we get properly reacquainted. Which is more of a raft in still water these days if I’m honest. But as he twines his fingers in my hair, pulling at the knots, I feel he is drawn to some essential treeness in me. Don’t laugh. Our roots entwined and so forth. I know. I’m a sucker for it.
He’s been gone a while this time. Three weeks and four days. He wasn’t sure how long the job would take so it was a ‘see you when I see you’ kind of goodbye and he packed plenty of supplies. There’s no use trying to reach him when he’s working in the wild. I know that. The weather is warm and I walk every day under the trees by the river to catch a breath of him.
Still no word. It’s never been this long. I am cultivating heartiness in the face of questions I can’t answer. The days are shrivelled, grey and damp, and my efforts bear no fruit. My skin is dry, my hair lank and falling. There can be no Buddha without a Bo.
Twelve weeks marked off. I don’t know what I am becoming. Unbecoming.
The months are dammed at my back. I wait beneath a shifting skein of branches, and watch the drift of seed to the fickle ground. My body is putting down roots. The rain runs off me and into my mouth. I am stiff and cold. I look for the coming of spring when life exhaled from the soil of dead leaves might sing me into the tree-borne air.
Ali McGrane lives in the UK and is an emerging writer of short fiction and poetry. She has studied literature and creative writing with the Open University and works part-time in a university library. She was longlisted for the 2013 Fish Flash Fiction prize, and has poetry pending publication in Ink Sweat and Tears.