Issue Twenty-Four - Summer 2014

The Pale Tree

By Michael Klecker

The boy and the girl sat alone under a black oak tree, their backs against a pale fallen branch, gnarled and shed years ago. It was still and getting dark and in front of them laid a long and forlorn stretch of prairie, a great Minnesota plain, broken only by a small creek. And in the distance, hills capped with trees. There were no clouds as they stared at a cold sky, a sky of pale dark, unmoving and unblemished and unbound.

Stars started to appear, like some bewildering birth, as if the sky were the bottom of some great and magnificent glass jar and somewhere near the top, someone was pouring these stars into this jar and they were spreading out, spreading across the bottom.

Then they began to fall, in great cascading waves, as if those stars were the final snowflakes of some remnant of a storm, shaking themselves from a cloud held to the edge of the universe. Those refuge stars, those indifferent viewers of events, those token imprints of forgotten empires.

This too shall pass. And so they waited, with those falling stars, until they dried up, leaving behind an empty and unbound sky above a flat, flat plain.

They sat and stared at that black bottom a long time on that Minnesota plain, until eventually a pale dawn slid through the curtains and he awoke, and she was not by his side.

Vibrate. Vibrate.

Vibrate. Vibrate. Two texts. Back to back.

The first one read: Charles. Will you meet me?

The Second: Today?

She always called him Charles. No one else did.

He had met her in a bathroom on a rooftop bar in Minneapolis. She had drifted in from outside because it was raining and those on the roof were huddled in the corners under the wooden eaves of the building and she was avoiding the rain so she slipped into the bathroom, but it was the men’s and he was standing there, piss coming out, and they just looked at each other. Later they would laugh and drink and leave, but for right then they just stared. Who is this person disturbing me? Who is this person I’ve disturbed?

He responded: Ok. Where?

Vibrate. Vibrate. Under the black oak.

The black oak. They had a picnic there, once, long ago. They kissed and their mouths tasted sweet with strawberries and sparkling pink wine, and bitter with dark chocolate. He never wished to return there. The place was perfect then and it will never be as close to perfect like that again so it is best to leave it there in his memory, as such.

He responded: Ok.

Two hours later and the tree was looming before him in the countryside of Minnesota. It had no leaves and looked pale and old and its knobby branches trembled at the sky. Before, it had leaves. It had many leaves, colored orange or light brown or tan or dark green or red. Now he will remember it only as having no leaves. These things pollute when you least expect it or most greatly expect it. Sometimes you know when a memory or a feeling or a scent is being polluted by something else and sometimes they creep up on you and, years later, you look back and that memory is a fetid pool and you think how did that happen but you know and you remember, vaguely, what it was like before the rotting and pollution, but it is only a faint whisper, a wasp under cloth, and by that time it is almost gone completely. This was one of those times. He knew the whole time it would be polluted.

The girl was sitting under the tree and looking beautiful and tired and quiet even though the boy was still in the car and couldn’t have heard. That pale tree sat next to a pasture, and in the pasture the small creek babbled babbled babbled over rocks and cows grazed by the creek and occasionally shit, and he hadn’t noticed that before but you see, pollution.

He got out of his blue car that was old and breaking down and walked past her new silver car that was gleaming in the sun. There were big singular clouds in the sky so occasionally it dipped out of gleaming and then back again quickly. This happened several times and the car looked like it was shimmering and made it look even more expensive than it probably already was.

Charles… She stood and whispered to him and it was the same voice he read her texts in. At least that hadn’t changed, he thought. At least, amongst all the pollution and cow shit and shimmering cars, her voice will forever remain the same.

Charles. I’m pregnant… Again it was in her voice, that youthful voice, but he slipped down somewhere inside himself and felt the pollution swimming and distorting the other memory, usurping it, absorbing it so this would be all that is left, the cow shit and pale tree and shimmering car. The cow shit and pale tree and shimmering car. The cow shit and pale tree and shimmering car. He vomited and added to that pollution.

Charles. It will be ok. I’m not going to keep it…

I know… He knew He knew He knew because before, when they were together, they had talked and she had said definitively and the boy did not want that but could never say anything because he is only a man, even though it takes half of him. It takes half of everything that he is and yet he could not say if he wanted that half to stay in this world for a time.

He vomited again. In the distance a crow sounded off in a tree. It sounded lonely but he grew up in the country and knew that there were more and he knew loneliness. It cawed again and he felt lonely.

Charles. I have to. I have no choice. Allen does’nt want… The rest the boy cannot hear. There was a pounding in his ears and only occasionally did he hear the cawing of that black bird in the tree or see the shadows cast from those mountainous clouds that rolled over them and around them and caused the car to shimmer.

He just says that if there is this it will ruin things… That word “ruin” stuck with him. Ruin Ruin Ruin Ruin and he imagined it would but it is himself, half of him, ruining them. I love her and half of me is ruining her while it grows and becomes stronger and here we are in a field determining its fate. This fate, a solitary note in that desolate field, condemning and damning, and the caw of the bird was added and on the wind it sounded like ruin ruin ruin and the brook babbled and the cow stamped its hooves and it became an orchestra and this pale tree conducted that beautiful and terrible proclamation.

I wanted to tell you in person. It meant a lot to me…The boy no longer heard the natural orchestra. He looked up and only saw the clouds as they rolled over and over and over again.

Vibrate vibrate. This time it was in his pocket and it hummed against his leg.

He took a step toward her. She took a step back. He must look crazed, he thought, like some kind of great and powerful bird with eyes wildly swiveling in its head. He looked at her and then the clouds and then the small dried cow shit next to his foot and then again to her and he cocked his head sideways as if he couldn’t quite hear her but if he lent his ear a half inch closer everything would become transparent.

Allen is expecting me home… She said it worried and afraid, and years ago they were under this tree and happy and never sad, and now they were discussing murder.

He stepped closer again. She moved toward her car and he reached for her and she tried to step backward but fell.

The way she fell looked odd, like sinking. His memory pollutes and the pale tree officiates and the dark crow in the tree sounds a trumpet call of ruin and the clouds wash and wash and wash the sky, creating small spots on this small ground they stand.

She landed and there was a small popping noise and it sounded like someone had cracked their knuckle but that was untrue, so it really sounded like the cracking of someone’s back and the boy looked down and realized that she had fallen on the pale tree’s branch, one shed long ago, maybe some relic from years past when bright and cackling lightning lit the sky and cleaved it from its body. Her phone had fallen out of her hand, had rolled down the gently sloped bank, had submerged itself into that small creek forever and more.

Before, in the unpolluted memory, they had sat their picnic blanket out before this log and rested their strong backs against it and had drunk sparkling pink wine with bitter black chocolate in their mouths and watched the cows move back and forth and watched the sun go down and listened to the creek so few feet away. That memory is almost all gone and polluted, the boy realized, and replaced with that pale limb, sitting there shockingly white and bald as she lay next to it half cocked sideways and not moving but her eyes were moving and she was clawing the dirt with her little hands and her wedding band was shimmering and this would be his memory for ever. The clawing, the pale limb, the crow in the tree caw caw cawing ruin and her flat flat stomach.

The clouds and their peaks lumbered toward them and away and they were in the center and one was right above them and it had cast a dark shadow and her car was no longer shimmering.

Vibrate. Vibrate. This could not bring the boy back. His memory is polluted. There is the tree and it is pale and there is the crow and he is black and there is the cow shit drying in the sun and there are the clouds and they are towering and they are towering taller, taller than anything he can imagine and there she was, looking at the sky and the crow was calling and the cows were shitting and the young man did what he thought was justified and left her.

Later the clouds swelled, pregnant with some great beast, some great and lumbering God of the air. Later still, they birthed across that dry Minnesota plain and the creek rose willing and the boy imagined the girl held on to that pale limb and stared up at the officiating pale tree and watched the lightning crackle in those pregnant swollen clouds and felt the water rise and carry the shit from the cows to the creek and feed the creek and all the while the clouds cracking open, splitting and birthing that rain and the crow in the tree calm and silent, and the pale tree officiating, and her, lying there, watching the rain and seeing the shit and feeling the water rise and maybe holding on to that dear pale limb that washed away with her.

Copyright 2014 Klecker