A Maple Tree, Chapter 3

A few footsteps after she’d come out of the dream, Annie found herself standing in the bathroom, looking at herself in the mirror. Her eyes darted back and forth, up and down inside of their sockets, glowing green, bright flashing green, the green seen on the blurry backs of grasshoppers as they make their first jump for the season, darting through and splitting apart any other color or hue in their way. Those eyes had been good to her. Without them how would she know the difference between sitting at a stoplight and being on your way? They had shown her the ugliness of the naked male body, her first boyfriend undressing before what was supposed to be their first time. She used them to watch the sun rise up over the Manzanno Mountain Wilderness, a great sequoia encrusted mountain in New Mexico, where she had camped for two weeks with her father when she was only six years old. Those eyes had shown her the distorted twists of her first puppy as it lay scattered all over the road, shortly after the dog had come a little too close to the giant rubber rolling pin tires spinning under a passing SUV. But right now they were looking into and through her, investigating what might be the source of the dream she had just pulled up out of.

She thought that she looked funny in that dream, after she had assumed the identity of the long haired man, gazing up at her flabbergasted self staring back at her, arms the color of honey, dripping out from her little white blouse to pour her sticky sweetness all over her skinny legs and blending into the wooden table underneath her as though one of the great old masters had painted the scene personally.

Then she thought about how the long haired man looked. He was lanky, though not skinny particularly, perhaps toned would be an accurate description, but it was more that he was just perfectly fitting. The meat wrapped around his bones and in turn was wrapped in clothing to make him seem to have no seams, no difference between skin and cloth, lips and cheeks. “If I looked like him, I’d knock all the ladies on their asses,� she said, smiling, to herself, followed with a kiss on the mirror and a spin on her heels, she slipped into the shower to get started on what promised to be a good new day.

Hot water running over human flesh is one of the most amazing concoctions available on this planet. While the liquid itself burns just enough to get the attention of the nerves, those sinewy tendrils so ready to tell the brain the many stories of the body, it sizzles and floods away the dead skin from the previous day. All of those crusting epidermal flakes, in their last fleeting moments stopping to wonder if what they’ve seen over the day was equal to that of those they replaced. Each new day’s worth of bacteria an entire civilization, raised and burned between the rising of two suns.

Annie stood very still, letting the steam fill the air and blur over whatever trace of her the mirror might be trying to hold onto, the water rhythming down over her eyes, kissing all around her lips and dropping over every inch of her until she was completely and immaculately immersed, the water outside of her body longing to meet its kin on the inside. Annie often thought that if the human body is made up of 75% water, then if she were to get wet enough, she could liquefy the remaining 25% until she was as fluid as the rain. Then she could slip down the drain and start her way off into the ocean, where she could get evaporated up into the clouds, sitting up there just until they decided to dump her back down into her salty sea home. She was sure that she could do it, but avoided an attempt until she could be certain that she’d rain down into her self again, and not end up as half an Annie here the other half stuck up in her tree.

The long haired man kept creeping into her mind, popping his head out from behind every image as they flashed, thousands in the course of her shower. He rode on the back of a pony that Annie had once taken around a circle at the county fair. He was the tobacconist where she bought her favorite cigarettes. His eyes peered out of the closet where her boogeyman once stood. Everything she thought about ended up being polluted by his murky image, which hadn’t faded in the least though she’d been awake for nearly an hour now. He was familiar to her, but she didn’t know why. Then she heard her father yelling something, indiscernible over the hum and the rush of the shower and separating walls, which was so startling to her that it immediately replaced the image of the long haired man with that of her father, to the point that she was unable to remember what the boy from her dream even looked like now.

“Oh, daddy,� she sighed a desperate puff enough to break through the milky misty steam filling the room. “Why wouldn’t you keep writing? What made you stop? If it really was me, then what about having a baby kept you from finding your own time.� She thought these things to herself and found her lips falling into a sort of frown, which for her was simply a straight line, but her lips were lower than usual. “Well, if it was because of me that you had to quit, I suppose I’ll be the one to help you get published,� and she decided that she would spend the next couple of weeks trying to get his work out to agents or publishers or whoever it is that you send these things to.

After separating the excess shower water from her body’s own supply, via a nice thick towel and the violent shaking of her head which sent little drops of oxygen-mixed-hydrogen splish-splashing all over the bathroom walls, she made her way upstairs, into her father’s study. Books of all sorts lined the walls: some self help books, some technical manuals, a half completed encyclopedia, even a few comic books. Mostly though, those old shelves held books on philosophy and religion, all written by authors doing their best to figure out what separates the living from the alive, all trying to discover the secrets of their own existence, who they are and who they would want to be. Unfortunately for them, as dreamers, if they ever got to be who they wanted I’m quite certain they’d still be disappointed.

Annie rocked up onto the tips of her toes and reached as high, as long as she could, extracting several black books, one at a time, all full of her father’s writing. She fell back into his recliner, wrapped in a towel as she hadn’t given even half of a thought to changing before diving into this treasure trove of a telescope into her father’s past. Her own past, as well, she hoped, assuming that something would be written about the way he felt for her or some small speck of indication that it wasn’t as horrible an experience as she was beginning to play out in her head. She cracked open the cover to the first book, it smelled sort of like chocolate, chocolate covered raisins, but it was more powerful than that. It was the sort of feeling you get when you first “smell� Autumn, or when you open a new pack of cigarettes on your way to your favorite band’s concert. The first poem, practically fading off of the page, read:

Where I’ve come from here
Is far from where I’ll be
The question only is
“Who will be there with me?�

She reread it a few times. Poetry, she thought, is a silly bowl of Jell-o, hard to hold but tasty once you get it off the spoon and into your belly.

The bucket’s red with paint
And similar with age
Washed halfway down a drain
To an unimaginable space

Handmade baskets line
The bricks of basement walls
A boy enters upstairs
While below the Spider King crawls

The boy is thick with grins
From donut charity
The spider dims the basement light
A midnight rarity

She was impressed. A magickal sort of feeling came up through her fingertips and danced around her shoulders, so she continued:

Princess in her cap and gown
Skipping stones for two
Pictures talking on the wall
Best of wishes to you all

The music’s short
But jingles on
The night is good
But lingers along
Morning crème brulee memories
The picture box you’re treasuring
Of all the dead photos you’ve thrown away
You forced yourself to make this one stay

A cup of tea for in my head
A much tread rug for a carpet
A floating feeling in my lung
A drowning singing in my sung

A brand new star begins again
The music shifts to alter in
A weekends worth of paper and glue
To reassemble all that you
Can manage to resemble
After collaging the “who you will be� with the “who you knew�

Annie smiled again, a big, ear licking smile as she sank further into the chair and even further into the books. Hours passed and syllables went dancing their way through words, nouns and verbs, sentences and simple thoughts so amazing that she might as well have been a sketch on the page for how captured she was with the writing. The rest of the world became nothing more than an old wooden stick, holding up this giant bound book, large enough to crawl right inside, for anyone who wanted to. And as the light bulb lit up a warm halogen glow above Annie’s head she realized, anyone who read it would most definitely want to.

Suddenly, Annie’s father waltzed into the room, unaware even of her presence at first, but once he saw what she was doing, he was shocked, coated in embarrassment and only the slightest tinge of anger. She, in turn, was thrown, dropping the book in her hand and knocking the rest off onto the floor. She quickly, and without him noticing, slid one of the books under his recliner.

“Annie, what are you, um, doing?� he felt a little uncomfortable as her towel had loosened itself over the course of her reading and she was working to adjust and affix it to cover the parts of a young girls body that her father has long ago decided to ignore all together, let alone see them in their rawest state.

“Nothing,� she pulled the towel tight and looked at the recliner, making certain it completely concealed the hidden book, “I was just reading your stuff, it’s really good you know!�

With that statement, all of his anxiety suddenly stepped out and he was left with only slight confusion, mixed proportionally, as was appropriate, with excitement. “Well, I’m not certain you should be reading those…things. I mean, there’s stuff in there that I…well, I was a much different person back then and didn’t have the responsibilities that I do today in as much as…�

“Dad, it’s fine. Nothing in here is offensive or anything, I liked it. I like it. A lot.�

“Well, even still…you shouldn’t be reading it. I don’t know.â€? He started scratching the back of his head, his thinning hair standing up as though he’d been charged with enough static electricity to cover the earth in helium balloons and alter its orbit around the sun. Summer in February for all.

“Look, your mother will be back tomorrow, I’ll talk to her and if you still want to read them and she says it’s okay, well then—,� he finished the sentence even as it was only half completed, as was a typical custom of his—assuming that people had gotten his meaning and seeing no point in continuing to exhaust his voice, as though he had a certain amount of words he was allowed to use in any given day and was doing his best not to get charged for going over.

“Okay,� she very nonchalantly picked up the books she’d knocked over, save for the one she’d hidden, handed them to him and made her way out the door and towards her own room, leaving her father standing there with a stack of his memories and nothing to feel but embarrassed. Then he thought about how he never used to get embarrassed in the least when people would ask to read his writing.

“Am I embarrassed for the words,â€? he asked himself, “or because they’ve had to sit here on the shelf for all of these years?â€? Then he let a smirk dart up either of his cheeks at the realization that talking to yourself is a sign that you’re still crazy enough to be interesting.

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