A Maple Tree, Chapter 4

Day’s crisp glow left the twilight to blur it around the edges, pink its cool hues and with a windswept hoorah it traded itself in for the night. A big moon hung blunt and silver in the deep majesty of that particular spring midnight. Bats fluttered around, singing songs like blind men on street corners, great inspirational songs that struck fear and awe into the hearts of passersby rather than pity all too often felt for the blind. The crickets swayed their legs, drawing long piercing chants into the howling deep blue of 1 o’clock. A single headlight, its twin long lost from the front of a 1988 Chevy truck, rust chewing holes through the bed and alcohol chewing holes through the liver of its driver, sped through the night in front of Annie’s house, cracking a gap in the silent dark of 3 o’clock. 4 and 5 found themselves quite content to listen to the wind rustle gently through the big Maple in the backyard and just after 6 o’clock the garage door opened, sucked up by a great automatic machine, powered by the fingers of the lady of the house.

Annie’s mother put her car in park, as it drifted slowly into an exercise bike that fell over under the slow momentum of the silver SUV’s bumper, crashing a sort of clunky clatter all over the dirty garage floor. She swore at the sound, for its potential to wake her husband and daughter, loud enough to finish the job if it hadn’t been done right the first time. Luckily for her, neither of them had heard her.

Her arms went bare into the trunk and came out lined with bags. Bags full of casual wear and business wear, and business casual wear. Bags full of makeup intended to be worn in a meeting and perfume intended for the hotel bar afterwards. Bags full of briefcases full of documents that no one ever intended to read but everyone was quite certain to take notes on and then file off in some drawer. Being the only representative for the entire west side of town for one of the largest paper distributors in the region was no easy task, and it involved an insurmountable amount of traveling. Once when Annie’s father was tired of saying goodbye every other day he said to his wife, “Gwen, I swear there’s an impression on every damn airplane going out of the city that’d fit your ass cheeks perfectly.� All that she’d heard was a faint mumble ended with the storm door slamming behind her.

Back in the present of her return, she managed to distribute her bags on various chairs, coffee tables and the floor between the front door and her bedroom, exchanged her business suit for a night gown and proceeded directly to the bathroom. She vomited profusely for about 15 minutes before returning to bed.

Gweneth, Annie’s mother’s full name, had never bothered to wake her husband during the night to let him know she’d returned. In fact, she hadn’t touched him at all, instead vying to wrap her fingers spider-like around her own stomach, a web of cold skin over cold skin, in an attempt to subside any further ventures to the lavatory. An hour after her head sunk into the pillow her feet again had the pleasure of tiptoeing back in that direction however, more out of concern for keeping those manicured toes warm than not waking her family. Or perhaps she just didn’t want her family awake so that she might not have to deal with them exactly this early, what with the sun just barely making it over the horizon and not quite yet surpassing the top of the First United Methodist Church’s steeple.

When Annie’s father came into the living room for the first time that morning, his wife was spread out on the couch, a cup of tea spilled on the floor and it looked as though she’d gotten sick all over her nightgown. He tried to gently lift her left leg back onto the couch and wrap her up in the closest blanket, but when he began to wipe away the vomit from her collar she woke up, startled, and swung her hand so that her wedding ring caught him in the glasses and sent the wire framed appendages careening across the room and into the far wall.

“Jesus, what are you doing!� she shouted, pulling her gown together taut over her chest and finding she’d just stuck her hand in yesterday’s dinner. “I nearly thought you were some room service bell hop coming to attack me!� she wiped her hand off on the blanket and stood up, noticing the spilt tea and shaking her head in disgust.

“Sorry, hun, I just was trying to cover you up, it’s a little chilly out is all.� She didn’t hear a word he said. Her eyes were perfectly situated on her face in the appropriate manner, but no one was looking out through them. She was clearly far from home, in a manner of speaking, but he couldn’t tell exactly where she might be visiting. “With all of the flying she does,� he thought to himself, “it’s a wonder she doesn’t just leave herself behind one of these times.�

“Look,� she patted her night gown down and walked into the bedroom, “we need to talk.�

Annie’s hair static clung to whatever nearby solid objects it could find as she swiveled her body south of the hips off of the bed and her toes kissed the floor for a good morning greeting. The staggering sensation she had in her head from a too early morning mixed with an eagerness to get going into a brand new day was matched quite nicely by the sway in her hips, not so much a sexy, show-off-your-curves-baby sway, but more of the drunkard-gone-for-a-walk type. Her spirit was all that was holding her up, and her feet might as well have been dragging her toes behind her as ethereal as she felt in the misty cotton mouth morning. Her door was a barricade, typically easily surmounted, but today the backdraft of heated parental anger was about to burst into the room.

As she opened the door she was nearly knocked back by the screaming sounds lightning and distortion crackling through her parent’s bedroom walls. She couldn’t make out any of the words exactly, but even muffled, the verbal grudge match going on behind those walls was certain to involve the thrashing of arms and the degradation of one and the other’s personal habits in order to prove a point. Annie laughed for a minute after realizing she could discern the muffled groaning of her father’s retorts from the stifled high pitch flailing of her mother’s relentless attack. She laughed again at the idea that she knew them so well that it was most certainly dad in the defense and mom swinging the club. Then she purposely frowned in order to amend for the horrible act of laughing at other’s misfortune, but forgot the whole event as she slid down into her daily breakfast beginning.

“Tea would be nice,� she said, looking up into the doorway as though someone was standing there, “would you care for some?� She slid her chair back and made it to her feet, “No, no, don’t be silly, I’ll put on some water.� A pause. “No really, no trouble at all,� and she danced across the hard stone tile and grout, lit a match and applied it to her own cigarette and then to the gas powered stove. While the water took its time bubbling and boiling she danced with her imaginary companion all over the kitchen, backed by the sound of her parents clamoring in the distance and birds contrasting happy as the sun whistle, until finally the teapot let out it’s great bellow, indicating it could take no more and that the game had begun. “I always win out, you weak-willed little thing.�

Annie and her tea made her way into the bedroom, forgetting that imaginary beau in the kitchen, only to have him reappear, reflecting in the big picture window that televisioned the outside world into the living room. Her lips crept slowly down, looming over the steam proclaiming heavenly aspirations and she was just meager moments away from having the first hot wisps of leaf and steamy delight roll over her kiss when her father came bursting out of the bedroom.

“I don’t know what to tell you Gwen, I’m…I mean, well—“ he was flush red and desperately struggling over his words. Annie thought it strange that a man so much the master over the written word would have such a hard time when speaking face to face.

“Forget it! Just, dammit, forget it!� Annie’s mother slammed the door shut, only to open it again in a moment, “And no, Annie doesn’t need to be reading that trash about how you can’t handle life!�

As her father, head hung in a murky concoction of shame and regret and remorse, walked through the living room and out into the backyard, Annie realized that she wouldn’t be reading any more of her father’s poetry. Not with her mother’s blessing, anyway.

Instantly her mind shot to the secret last chronicle she had tucked away so slyly under her father’s chair and her cheer went up like it was always meant to. She sat still, however, and finished her tea as the rising morning sun experimented with positioning the world’s shadows in an assortment of curves and densities. She sat there for nearly an hour, soaking in the good morning and wondering what exactly her parents had been arguing about, but only briefly. It first struck her, after hearing what her mother had to scream before practically smashing the door closed so hard it nearly became a permanent part of the wall, that it was an argument over whether or not she was able to read her father’s work. That realization quickly wilted into one of the most depressing and guilt laced feelings of Annie’s life, but she quickly floated above the idea, balloon-like, considering the context and inflection in her mother’s words. Still, she was left to wonder what could cause them—her parents who hadn’t spoken a word, harsh or nearly otherwise, in years—to go barrels blazing into the setting sun before noon could even show its zenith crown. Eventually her mother emerged from the room exhausted, said hello, using as few syllables as possible, and made her way out the door, into her car, and down the suburbian street.

Up Next: A Maple Tree, Chapter 3