The Girl in the Tree, Chapter 12
The sun cracked its light up over the horizon, rose and declared zenith all before Annieâ€™s eyes had managed to twitch open. She found herself sleeping in a pillow made of drool and her father nowhere to be found. By this time he must already be off to work or chores or whatever he had to do on this day, the name of which Annie had no idea. She laughed at herself for being completely oblivious to whether or not it was Saturday, Tuesday, Monday or when, and then laughed when she not only had to think twice about what year it was, but how old she was. Itâ€™s easy to confuse yourself when you donâ€™t check a calendar daily, and you donâ€™t have anyone asking you why youâ€™re fifteen minutes late for wherever you really should have been.
Annie reached for a cigarette, took a look around and, through the blurry swaying vision that was her waking experience, noticed that her father had left a gift for her. A black book was laying on the coffee table, with a cup of tea that had cooled down over the last few hours and a note that read â€œEnjoy.â€? She scooped up the book, slid deep down into the couch and began reading.
Soon the evening news would be on but Annie was still scrunched up into the cushions of the couch and the pages of that book. She hadnâ€™t moved from the spot all day, so inanely propped between intrigue and captivation that, though she had lifted the mug of cold tea into her hand several hours ago, she hadnâ€™t taken a sip of the smooth brown liquid all day. She had been swimming through her fatherâ€™s past, recognizing bits of herself in many of the lines and so much more about her father in-between them. Sheâ€™d never felt this way about anyone before, not even her father from two days ago, but now that sheâ€™d read so much of his work and had the long night with him just hours ago, well, she was captured under a veil of mystique and longing, the fabric just thin enough to see a silhouette behind but incapable of making any definite observations.. Longing to know so much more about this person who had been in her life the entire time but did such a convincing job of having the world see him as a normal everyday Joe rather than the brilliant lyricist he was. She read on and on and on, right into the sunset where, before her father had ever returned, she fell asleep.
When Annie woke up the next morning she looked around quickly, half expecting to be back in the dream world from before, trapped back inside of the Long Haired Manâ€™s head. After some careful inspection she realized that she was, indeed, in her own home and that nothing had happened. She was certain that at some point she wouldâ€™ve been transported back to that magickal reality, but shrugged it off as her own silliness that it hadnâ€™t happened.
â€œOookay, Annie,â€? she joked to herself in an English accent, because she found them funny and couldnâ€™t manage to talk out loud to herself without using some funny voice, â€œnow youâ€™re disappointed that you arenâ€™t crazy.â€? A â€œteeheeâ€? that could have come from the snickering throat of a thirteen year old girl in love with her teacher followed, and Annie rolled off of the couch and down into the kitchen for a good dose of granola and tea. Her belly grumbled slightly, more of a â€œthank youâ€? than a warning that she hadnâ€™t eaten now for over 36 hours.
A large black stone bowl filled up with rolled oats and honey and all of the other goodness that nature was so kind to make and the good people at the cereal factory were so happy to roll up and ship off, for a profit, sat in front of the sleepy benefactor of her fatherâ€™s previous dayâ€™s generosity. She decided to forgo reading the book today, in light of the fact that she hadnâ€™t been outside in nearly two days and didnâ€™t want her poor skin to start dripping away the brown and leave her milky white lonely.
She hopped up into her normal chipper, happy-go-lucky self and, without shoes or shower, made off into the outside world. The day was singing summer already and between the sun in the sky, the glint off of passing cars and the twinkle in the neighborâ€™s dogâ€™s eye, she wasnâ€™t sure which diamond to chase. She vied for the pooch.
â€œHey Paulo, hey boy!â€? she called out and whistled. The big brown lab came charging at her. She stood completely still, one hand outstretched at hip level. Paulo, the pouncing, musclebound beast that he was, came charging with all of the force and determination of the Big Bang falling back in on itself and just as he reached her she lifted her hand into the air. Paulo leapt as high as he could, his head reaching for her stars and his hind legs still traveling forward, causing him to loop-de-loo tail over toes and let out a mild yelp as he skid across the grass. â€œAha, Paulo, got you again.â€?
â€œOne of these days, Annie, that dog gonna catch up to yer tricks.â€? The voice came crackling out of the smoke damaged throat of Gino Lilliato, Annieâ€™s neighbor since before her memory kicked in and the owner of old Paulo.
â€œNow, Gino, he likes it!â€?
â€œOh, I know it, donâ€™t I. Nobody he likes, nobody but you, missy.â€? Gino laughed and put down the garden tools heâ€™d been using to root up his vegetable garden. He plucked up a flower, making sure to pull the roots and all along with it, and walked very slowly, limping just a little, perhaps on purpose, to where Annie stood. Paulo sat down on Annieâ€™s feet, his tail wrapped all around her ankles.
â€œHere you are,â€? he said, handing her the flower, â€œroots and all. I know hows you arenâ€™t liking to kill the things, now are you?â€?
â€œWell, Gino, you know I donâ€™t mind plucking their heads off,â€? she patted her hair in hopes of discovering one of her flora victims. Theyâ€™d all fallen out over the course of the last two days. â€œBut I do love when you bring me new flowers to plant.â€? She bent down and scooted Paulo out of the way like a sack of potatoes blocking her view of the back of the cupboard. He clumped over in respect of that analogy. She reached her fingers into the soil, still loose from the other nightâ€™s rain, and dug a little hole. She plopped the rooty flower right down in and filled the whole back over. â€œThere, perfect.â€?
Gino laughed, â€œRight here in the middle of the yard? You make me crazy, missy, you make it all crazy.â€? He gave the plant a little nudge to make certain it wouldnâ€™t be leaving its new home any time soon, and headed back for his garden. â€œWatch out for Paulo, you hear?â€?
â€œIâ€™m taking him so that he can watch out for me, I thought.â€? Annie grabbed the dog by his scruffy whiskers and gave him a little tug. Paulo barreled up out of his lazy position and made an honest attempt to be her best friend, whether she was man or not.
The two skipped down the street, over cracks proving Grand Canyons to ants scurrying along with lettuce and leaf and under the tight wire circus show of robins on telephone wires above. The sky was separating itself quite nicely, right down the middle, giving Annie and old Paulo a clear view of where they should be going. Of course, neither of the two companions could agree on what it was the sky was showing them. Annie was convinced it was the moon they were headed for, Paulo thought the park. After the old big brown lab had made a bolt for his destination of choice, Annie was forced to chase him through two blocks and under a passing rig before she managed to grab onto his leash. She tried pulling him back up toward that silver craterous satellite, but he proved twice her weight and three times her stubbornness. She eventually surrendered.
â€œFine, weâ€™ll go to the park, but Iâ€™m not having any fun once we get there.â€? Two hours worth of Frisbee throwing, chasing each otherâ€™s tails and belly rubbing (mostly Paulo doing the rubbing) later she realized that sheâ€™d gone back on her word.
â€œHa ha, Paulo! You are the sweetest time,â€? Annie fell back into the grass, each blade sticking up between the folds in her clothes and trying to get a lick of that salty warm sweat dripping from her pores. It was a good day to fall asleep in the grass, and as the giant melting hot fur and flesh that was Paulo came crashing down over her like a blanket made of bolts she almost left herself slip away.
Somewhere between the groggy haze of fighting to keep yourself awake and the distant allure of daydreaming through a schoolhouse window, Annie found herself walking through the blurry black edges of a dream. She was dressed in long flowing garb, a dress made of silk and sunshine wove in and out of the threads. The sleeves hung down far past her hands, to the very floor beneath her, and he was lost in all of the fabric. She could see a figure silhouetting out of the distant horizon, he almost seemed to be horseback at first, but upon closer inspection, as he drew further from the sun and closer to her own position, she could see who the Long Haired Man was. He walked up to her, straight up to her, almost into her, took her hand and held it between his. No words were said, he just smiled and as his eyes and cheeks twitched out operas worth of drama and emotion for her. She leaned to kiss him, but his lips fell to her forehead instead of joining with her own. He left go of her hand and walked past her. She couldnâ€™t turn for all of the dressâ€™s fabric, and before she could manage to her father came over the horizon next, in a similar fashion but much more quickly.
â€œAnnie, itâ€™s okay. Youâ€™re so inquisitive. So curious. Thatâ€™s a good thing,â€? he began to fade away, somehow getting smaller and more transparent but simultaneously his spirit grew stronger and stronger. â€œJust donâ€™t let it overwhelm you.â€?
He was gone.
Annie came back to full consciousness with Paulo licking her face. Heâ€™d somehow managed to get his leash woven all through her legs and between that and having all of his weight bearing down on her torso, she was quite helpless to fight him off. Instead she just started licking him back and then tickling his belly. He flopped down over on her and stuck his legs into the air.
â€œOh no, dog-o, weâ€™re heading home.â€? She pulled her legs free and scooted the brute up and off of her. They danced together down the street for blocks, passing many strangers who, regardless of how they felt before seeing her, were smiling after sheâ€™d gone by. Annie turned the corner and looked up at the great old brick building that was all too often just a backdrop for her strolls, but today, it was a revelation.
â€œAha!â€? she squealed and then pulled Paulo over to the libraryâ€™s steps. A huge flight of concrete stairs elevated the doors from the street, but Annie and her companion scaled them like a beetle up a twister. â€œOkay, Paulo, you wait here for a bit, okay?â€? She tied him to the railing at the top of the stairs. The landing had ample shade and a hot sunny spot if he so desired.
â€œTake a big fat nap, okay?â€? Paulo looked back at her in agreement, almost as if to say â€œWould you expect anything less?â€?
Annie burst into the library with all of the fervor and invigoration of the Crusades. She began leafing through book after book, looking up and down shelves and all through the card catalog. Finally, she found the one she was searching for.
â€œOkay, here it is.â€? The book was thick, paperbound, a maroon cover reading Complete Writerâ€™s Guide to Getting Published she tore out one of the back pages and jotted down some of the names of publishers and their contact information on it.
â€œThere, this will do just fine.â€?
Up Next: Making Age for Grace