I can’t find my good pen. It is nine am on Saturday morning, and the sky is a bright, bird blue. The boys are all asleep inside. Thomas hugs Stella, his black and white Great Dane with both arms, and Ariel lays on his back on the black couch. If I smoked cigarettes regularly, I’d be smoking one now. I feel like I need something to suck in hard and take the jitters out. I put on coffee, pour hot water into the French Press, and go back outside to the red cement stoop. The gnarled tree stares back at me. And the patches of brown on the grass scream for water.
Back inside, I stand under the shower and let the water pelt me in the face. I turn and aim the shower head at my back, right above my hips. Last night they ached uncontrollably, but Thomas says it was just a side affect. A heightened sense of pain, of worry. I sure was worried, and I’m worried now. I turn back and cry into the water. Not a sob, but a soft pout. And my hair drips into my eyes.
In the guest room I dig out clothes from my hamper. A purple cotton shirt, and long jean shorts I cut yesterday from my aunt’s old Marc Jacobs. The shorts are way too big for me, which I like. I’m able to pull them down below my hips, my bones visibly jutting out on either side. I hold the clothes up to my nose before pulling them on, and smell the leftover scent from yesterday’s work, and think, today will be the same…might as well be.
Stepping back out into the tiled living room, I take a look around. After three days of my being here the house is a mess. Hair is stuck to the floor. Dishes of melted ice cream sit on side tables, and Stella’s fur is simply everywhere.
Thomas is generous because he knows I’m broke--he and I have a funny relationship now. He suddenly loves me so much and is never afraid to say it. In the past couple he's become sentimental, and I’ve become a little hard. I’m not as carefree as I once was, but when you’re filling out unemployment checks, what does it look like to be carefree?
The dream of four hundred bucks at the end of the weekend doesn’t stomp out the weirdness I’m feeling. It’s like I’m in Prague again, that uneasiness I used to get in the morning walking down to breakfast. Those yellow walls that were constantly being painted in our dorm, like they wanted to make the place happy. Like Communism never existed, and the luxury of new paint proved it. Too bad Zola would disagree. Yellow is the color of death, he said. I don’t want to smell like that now. Like yellow walls.
“You know I feel sick every time I come here.” Thomas and I are standing in the back yard watching Stella chase after an oversized ball. He nods his head. I squint my eyes and breath deeply, swallow hard. My throat hurts.
I stare at a tree in the corner of Thomas’ back yard. It’s light brown, like chaffed wheat, rotting away in the middle of spring when it should be flourishing with life.
“What the heck is wrong with that thing?”
“Oh, yeah.” Thomas blinks slowly, his long lashes poking out from light brown eyes. “See that chain around its trunk?” I nod, spotting the flash of metal carved deeply into the tree’s thin, dry trunk. “It choked itself.”
“Who would be stupid enough to put a chain around a tree trunk?”
Thomas shrugs, calls Stella and walks back into the house, leaving me staring at the tree. I think about when I used to work for Terri and Ross in Camarillo, doing odd jobs around their property. Their house is in the old part of town, a section most people don’t know exists where kids still ride horses after school and walk to the neighborhood pool for mid-day summer swims. The first task Terri gave me was to climb the oak tree in their back yard and saw swing ropes off one of the limbs. “You have to watch these things and make sure the tree isn’t suffocating,” Terri said. She was Buddhist and Vegan and super concerned about her plant life. “Just don’t cut too deep,” she said, handing me the saw. I climbed the tree with my bare feet and sat straddling a branch. It took me two hours to saw that swing off. By the end of it I was covered in dirt and sweat and sap. Who would use a metal chain? It’s like they wanted the tree to die.