To the Trees
She went to the trees, all bruised inside and blinking too much. Trunks were the struts, keeping sky from turning all cement and rumbling down her throat, a lump forming again there. The red on her hands had turned crusty brown, so she scraped them wincing over the spruce bark. Then they were sticky with sap, sticky again. She blinked away the stains and she wanted to touch her face. To see if it was still there. But instead sobs flowed up and banged against the lump in her throat.
She screamed out, forced her hands down the bark, too hard and too fast. Now, at least, some of hers could mix with his. She grabbed at the front of her shirt, fouling it further, but gripping it helped. She could feel the softness in her bones solidifying into concrete. She could feel the lump turn into resolve. The red and brown blood barely visible on the sharp edges of the bark reminded her of something. She leaned in. The tree whispered something. Not in the air – she felt the spruce filling her jaw with strength. Exact a like cost. Even the scales.
Turning away from the treeline, and back to the setting sun, her shadow was shrouded in clouds. But blazing orange and pink edges. Willing it to turn red and emerge, she forced her feet to carry her back to the farm.
A deer nosed its way through the pine needles once her long shadow had walked off. At the mark on the tree, it communed with the spell of mixed blood and a shiver went through the frames and i-beams of the forest.
The sheriff had questions; too many, and you could see in his eyes he knew it too. They all tumbled out anyway. Jostling shoulders and rude. “When does he usually take lunch?” bumping up against “What color was the ski mask?” and ”…Could you identify the suspect’s voice in a lineup, Kay? Ma’am?”
She pretended that the questions were floating dancers. She said what she could around the lump, and he closed his notepad. Face red, he gestured from the porch and the ambulance bumped its cold cargo out onto the road. Past the treeline, it was gone. She still heard it in her skull, and it muffled his farewell. The sheriff had to let himself back out, with a perfunctory “ma’am” murmured that was not a question, a statement, or a polite gesture.
Then she forgot it. Her clean hands clenched the fresh shirt and she stood there in the dining room staring while darkness sloshed in.
Three days limped past. She gathered her mind like kindling, finding the dry bits, the twigs not soaked in red misunderstanding. Waiting for the wind to say when the time came. She knew it had to be before the service.
Finally enough fuel gathered in her gut to fire her feet. She didn’t want to, but she knew she had to go to the barn. Wringing the shirt like it was wet with the stuff stopping her, she went. Stepped around the darker brown patch in the dirt; shook. Grabbed the shotgun, put it in the truck. Put all her doubts in the ground. She stared at the spruces, silently imploring them to keep holding the world up. Keep holding when she couldn’t come back after.
Then she was at her mother’s house. Didn’t remember driving. Middle of the night. Reach under the rock, take key from worms. Open door, red everywhere equals resolve.
Standing over the bed after. Dropped the iron lump that solved it to the ground. Rubbing at her faded bruises, trying to explain.
Mother, I told them it was a man in a ski mask, but I guess now they’ll figure it. I’m sorry, sort of.
Her bruises ached.
That wasn’t your choice. Just because he was that way and I couldn’t hide it from you long enough.
Somehow I loved him. And you. But… you didn’t give me a choice.
She stood there, even when the red and blue lights arrived. Stood there, done with hoping. Sometimes, there ain’t nothing left to hold the world up.