Tree

by Nathanael Myers

We visited the old tree the other day. You have already forgotten. The walk along the dirt path and amongst the waxy-leaved rhododendrons takes longer now than it once did. The moss is thick and slick, and neither one of us are so sure of foot anymore. It was still there, hanging impossibly over the cliff’s edge. Tough, veiny seaside roots coiled around empty air before they plunged again into the hard, brown soil. The branches bent away from the ocean, like they wanted to hug the land, or at least hold onto the slim sandstone strand for another sixty years.
Sometimes I think the tree does not grip fiercely the thin soil. Perhaps instead the roots seek to find and grasp something heavy, some weighty matter to hug hard and pull it down until both tumble over the edge and disappear into waves or smash into sandstone rocks below, depending on the tide. Maybe the tree tires of holding on, unable to remember when the cliff was still a few inches away. The tree could be weary of its place rooted between soil and air.
I could still see the letters. They were faint, the blocky initials just ghostly impressions, yours and his. I showed them to you and your fingers traced over the scarred bark. I wondered if your fingers touching the tree’s bark would startle up a memory. If they did, you kept it to yourself.
I never knew why you stayed. Or why you didn’t go with him. In all our arguments, you never gave a reason to the why, saying it was nothing, a foolish mistake. Please forget it. Please forget it, you said again and again. I could not make myself believe you. It had to have been something to come out all this way, to walk up this narrow path, to sit high above the waves and carve the letters. Whose hand held the knife? Who did the cutting?
Friends said you had, in a way, already left me. That your actions revealed your choice. I thought about leaving. They said I had the right to walk away, that I could see the kids on weekends, that divorce wasn’t a big deal anymore.
I thought about the possibility of you and him together out here by our tree. I pictured the two of you doing what you and I had done every sunny Thursday evening the summer before we were married. The hurried, half-clothed sex. The excitement about breaking the rules, yet worried enough to rush knowing someone else might wander up the path. We often had an audience. Sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks below would bark and bark. You were so modest that first time, whispering “I think they can see us.’ Afterwards, we’d sit on either side of the tree and dangle our legs over the precipace and hold hands. The tree, snuggled between us both, our accomplice and confidant.
I don’t see Lloyd, you said after touching the weathered letters. I was taken aback. Who was Lloyd? That wasn’t his name. Was there another? Once a cheater, always a cheater. Isn’t that what everyone told me? She’ll do it again. I heard this from everyone. Once, even, from my mother.
Where is Lloyd, you asked.
Who is Lloyd, I said, grabbing your shoulder.
Lloyd, Lloyd, you said, pointing down.
I don’t know anyone by that name, I shouted. Do you mean someone else? Did you have an affair with someone else?
You kept pointing, insistently, jabbing the air. It has been so hard to read your thoughts these last few years. The doctors keep saying it isn’t Alzheimer’s, it isn’t dementia, it isn’t anything they can see. The MRI, the CAT scan, the bloodwork, it’s inconclusive. I can see it. You aren’t the woman I married forty years ago. I’m living with a stranger who speaks no more than three or four words at a time, who shuffles circles around the house doing laundry three times a day, even if it is only a single shirt. On the days you do not wear pants, I hide the car keys. You wander through each day in a dim fog, and I am not wind enough to blow it back out to sea or enough sunlight to evaporate it away. Isn’t that what the initials mean? I wasn’t enough.
You sat down slowly beside the tree and rested your head against the bark. I miss Lloyd, you said.
I got angry, of course. I shouted. I waved my arms. I slapped the tree, my palm still bruised. I said things I should have swallowed down. I have no excuse but that standing on a seacliff a hundred feet above the sounding waves invites bombast. There’s no good can come of getting mad at you. There’s just no point. You act on impulses you can no longer control.
Where is Lloyd? You asked, quietly, one last time and pointed down past your feet to the beach below.
My eyes followed the line past your finger to a large rock sitting above the water. It was fury that released the image from the fathoms deep decades of our past, and suddenly there he was. The fat, old whiskered walrus who bullied his way past sea lions to claim his spot on the sun-warmed rock. We named him Lloyd because we believed it to be a funny name. A fitting name for such a loud, belchy, grumpy animal.
I sat down on the other side of the tree that has cleaved us together and took your hand in mine.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry for not being enough all those years ago. I’m sorry for the other day.
Let’s look for him, I said. He should be by anytime now.

Φ

The elderly lady sitting next to you on the bus says that public transportation is the only thing she trusts these days. What do you trust?

The strike of your heart.
All the generosity we contain.
A mild cocktail of pills.