Illustrated by Lakshmy Mathur
It’s been four months since you left.
You kissed me here, beneath the white birch trees when the sun began to bow away. You told me stories of everything that lay ahead. You said that every mark on every tree was the note of a song unwritten. You placed your hands on my face and whispered a melody that told me there was nothing that could hold me back.
There’s an ashen fire that still burns, as much as I’ve tried to put it out.
We wandered the woods ablaze, you holding my hand tightly as leaves fell all around. You tugged and pulled, clutching tight at first. I made a joke and you laughed. You told me people shouldn’t live where you can see your breath in the air. I wanted to tell you something you’d never heard before. We walked a long way until we heard Dad shouting for us to come back. There was a storm coming.
Dinner was yet another chance for you to sweep everyone off their feet. You had too much to drink and kept sneaking out for cigarettes. Later we sat in front of the fire, glazing our eyes white hot as it popped and cracked and muttered to itself.
You played the guitar, singing the songs Dad loved but also the ones you said you wrote for me. The chords, raw and torn free might as well have been painted onto the smoke scented house. They were good. They were beginnings all jumbled and splintered but I could tell you’d put them together. You liked that I knew.
Dad nodded and smiled and said what a difference you had made.
Then, there was a moment when everything felt right. I caught you smiling at me sideways, halfway through some story that made my eyes roll but made Dad laugh out loud. For just a second I pictured you at the head of a table, years from now, leaning back, eyes shut, tummy full. Sometimes pages fall out of a book to the place that you want.
I could have floated away.
Later we fought. A silly little thing that swept higher till you shouted and cursed. I was wrenched up and strung.
You were asleep in an instant while I sat and stared and wondered. I watched the world outside swept up in a storm. In the morning the world was painted still and then you were gone.
I haven’t heard from you. Sometimes I picture you singing on a street corner or wowing the crowd on a stage in a bar or holding a pretty girl’s hand. There are times when I hum the chords and jot down the melodies yet to begin.
I’m going to school next year. A special exemption. Who’d have thought I’d make it, right?
I’m a little scared. It’s been a long time since I’ve been around so many people. Dad says there is plenty of time. At breakfast he asked me to go to the woods and find some branches for him to carve.
So I’ll go walk between the trees and clear my head of all the silly things we did. Like when you made a snowball and put it in the freezer saying you’d toss it at me on a summer’s day. Perhaps it’s still there.
Today I will wander. The sun will be bright and new. I will make my way through that dappled light of golden spires until I find the white birch trees. I want to lie on the earth beneath and listen to them as they reach ever upwards to the sky.
I will have these trees and I will have the notes of our songs and I will close my eyes and I will think of days ahead.