Blight by Rachele Ryan
We walked home under a goldenrod moon. The meeting had gone well and Christine held my hand. It was September, that last warm month when the insects moved. Our street was dense with trees and the moths hovered between the branches, their wings’ pumping audible as they grappled with the air.
I gave her hand a squeeze. “You feel good?”
“As good as one could.” Her face had a relaxed look, gone soft where before it was tense.
“You know I’m happy to go to as many of these things as you like.”
She only nodded.
“I want to help,” I said, “in any way I can.”
She smiled at me, but I could see she was tired. “Please stop.”
“Sorry. I only want to be reassuring.”
“Don’t worry. You assure.”
“Are you sure?”
“Sure I’m sure.”
We reached our twig-and-leaf-strewn lawn. The porch light cast itself across everything. Here were the scattered objects: a rake and shovel, a yard glove, the parked car on the street. The wind blew and there was a soft quake among the trees.
“How about some coffee,” she asked. Her voice had a childlike quality, high and soft.
She stopped at the door and looked out at the sky. “I’ll bring it to the porch. It’s such a warm night.”
I sat in one of the chairs. Christine moved behind me in the kitchen. There were sounds of the kettle on the stove, the clink of cups and saucers on a tray. The night air held out expectancies, and I felt for their course.
When she came back she was holding a letter. Her brow was furrowed and she wrung her hands.
“They’re coming Friday,” she said, and sat down.
“The tree people. They’re going to take down our oak.”
It was the largest tree in our yard, an ancient beast. I was proud of its impressive size, the way people stopped to admire it when they passed by.
“It has to go?”
“So they found it.”
We had had neighbors complain that the tree looked sick. There were signs on the leaves: a soft decay, a white powder that appeared. They were wary of contamination. It could spread, they told us. Someone had called for an inspection.
“These things happen,” I told her.
“There is little or no reason for this to have to happen,” she snapped back. I reached for her, but she moved away.
“Don’t,” she said and drew her sweater about herself, as though chilled. She began to fold the letter in half, then again, until it became too thick and she could no longer work it. Then she sighed.
“I guess I’ll have to buy curtains now. Unless you feel like waking with the sun.”
“I wouldn’t mind.”
We listened to the gentle movements of nighttime traffic, of the wind through the leaves, the soft rustle, the swish.
“So you don’t care?” She had turned to me. Her eyes were drawn.
“You love that tree. It doesn’t upset you that it has to go?”
“It’s what’s best.”
She was crying now. The rivulets on her cheeks shone brilliantly in the porch light. “Yeah, and what is this best?”
“We’ll be fine, Chrissy.”
She shook her head. “Fuck these stupid meetings. There’s no point in going anymore.”
“Don’t be like that. They help. You were in such good spirits tonight.”
“Soon I’ll be some titless freak and you’ll want nothing to do with me and then you’ll never see me in good spirits again.”
“Don’t talk like that.”
“Don’t you think, after everything, after all this, that I can at least talk however the hell I want?”
We sat in silence. I looked up at the giant oak, the branches that extended over our house. In the moonlight they were like the arms of a mother, reaching out, out.
“It’s only one tree,” I said after a while.
“Only one tree,” she repeated. She looked down at her chest, encased in the soft silk of her blouse. She placed a hand on her left breast, the one with the growth. She swore the skin was darker there, that she could see the sickness emanating from beneath her skin. She undid her blouse, opening it to let the light in. Her skin was white, glowing, her breasts low and full. She took my hand and placed it on the heavy flesh.
“It’s only a tree,” she said again.
“And the rest will be fine?” Her eyes were not looking at what grew in the yard but at my face.
“There’s no need to worry.”
“I’m worrying, Jack.”
I buried my face in her chest and she cradled my head. She smelt immensely human, the source of her energy pushing outwards with each pump of her heart. The constant thud was comforting, necessary. How soft and warm. I inhaled deeply. I was crying now, too, and my tears wet the silk of her shirt.
From inside I heard the noise of the kettle shrill. For a brief instant we both tried to ignore it, but the sound was soon unbearable. Christine untangled herself, her breasts swaying as she stood, unbalanced. She folded the two halves of her shirt across herself, pushed her hair away from her face.
“Milk?” she asked me. She knew the answer and disappeared inside.
We grow old on our words, retreat to unnecessary murmurs. Eventually our bodies overtake us, become too familiar for things said. Just feel, here, here, the spot of warmth. The breast, the heart. Look, it is beating, beating.
Inside, she was speaking. I turned my head, to better let it in.
Rachele Ryan is an MFA candidate at the Warren Wilson College Program for Writers and has previous work in The Black & White Journal for the Arts and The Medulla Review. She lives and work in Brooklyn.