'Treewalker' by Ali McGrane

I fell for the slack grace of it, the flounce and rebound, the rustling never-stillness, the fractured light revealing neither tree nor man but something greater than both. What a dreamer, you’re thinking. He’s just doing his job.

Here’s more than a dream though. The gift of bared limbs, echoes of bark against the pale sheets, the knotty promise of an outstretched arm.

So that’s how I think of him, Treewalker. He’d scorn it for sure, but I reckon you can hear the music and sway of a true name in those three syllables.

He has others. His parents chose Bream, after the fish.  They storied his birth that way – plucked from the water, gasping at the air, an urgent sheen to him still. To his friends he is BB or Bob. I sheared him to Bo, the sacred fig. He calls me his little Buddha.

We didn’t waste time. It was like the release of a mountain log jam; a tumbling end over end no power on earth could stop. He’s not one to talk of love but I know the signs. When I speak the word he applies his mouth to mine like sticking plaster over a wound.

I don’t see him for days on end of course; the trees can’t walk. I’ve grown used to this place. Some folk look at me strangely. I don’t try to fathom it. Small towns.

When he comes home I pull splinters from his palms, brush leaves from his hair, check for bruises and scrapes and apply what healing I can. He needs sleep then, before we get properly reacquainted. As he twines his fingers in my hair, pulling at the knots, I feel he is drawn to some essential treeness in me. Don’t laugh. Our roots entwined and so forth. I know. I’m a sucker for it.

He’s been gone a while this time. Three weeks and four days. He wasn’t sure how long the job would take and he packed plenty of supplies. There’s no use trying to reach him in the wild. I know that. The weather is warm and I walk every day under the trees by the river to catch a breath of him.

Still no word.  It’s never been this long. I am cultivating heartiness in the face of questions I can’t answer. The days are shrivelled, grey and damp, and my efforts bear no fruit. My skin is dry, my hair lank and falling. There can be no Buddha without a Bo.

Twelve weeks marked off. I don’t know what I am becoming. Unbecoming.

The months are dammed at my back. I wait beneath a shifting skein of branches, and watch the drift of seed to the fickle ground. My body is putting down roots. The rain runs off me and into my mouth. I am stiff and cold. I look for the coming of spring when life exhaled from the soil of dead leaves might sing me into the tree-borne air.

This is an edited version of the story first published in Fictive Dream on 2 April 2017.


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