Saturday 18 June 2022

'The Things We Count On' by Anne Howkins

He stole away with her heart, wedding-day slinking from her bed before dawn, leaving a sorry note propped against the cherry blossom posy she was to carry down the aisle.

She built a bonfire, threw everything that was his or theirs, onto it, tossing the cherry blossom onto the pyre as a sacrificial offering. She kept the tickets for their Tokyo honeymoon.

When she returned, a cherry tree was rooted tall in the ashes of the bonfire.

Now, every morning she wakes to a tree clouded in spun sugar pink, inhales its honey or vanilla scent. The pink might be as pale as the icing on a three-tier cake, or garishly fluorescent, echo of the high-lit tracks she left inside wedding magazines.

By mid-morning, the garden is wedding confetti-petalled, knee deep pink, until the mounds of petals disintegrate, seeping joy, hope and love into her dandy-lioned gilt lawn.

At noon, the branches sag heavy with ripening purple-red fruit. If she bites into a cherry, there is only bitter sorrow on her tongue. Blackbirds and thrushes haunt the fence and hedges, impatient for the ripening. Squirrels bicker on the shed roof until her cat sends them scooting.

By evening the fruit is gone and the tree’s naked arms are open wide to the sky. The lawn is ankle deep in stones spat out by the squirrels, shat out by the blackbirds and thrushes. Squelching barefoot through the burgundy guano, pits grate between her toes. As she gathers a handful of stones for counting, she thinks of his mouth slurping bitter-sweet liquid from her cherry-juice-soaked feet.

She counts the way she did when she was six… tinker, tailor… the way granny taught her… solder, sailor… but no matter how many stones she collects… rich man, poor man…her counting always ends on thief.

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