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ONLY THE FRUIT BEARING TREES by Kate Gehan

The morning after a stormy night spent hiding in a windowless room while sirens announced a green sky, Nichole discovers the last plum tree has fallen on the soggy side of the house. She runs her palm along the fungus scaling the trunk and plucks at the earnest flower petals. At the bottom of the yard trapped against the fence, a large red bouncy ball swivels and shudders in a puddle. The taut plastic reveals a phone number written in black marker along with a smudged word beginning with a T. Nichole drops the petals into the grass and sends a text. 

Hi

She watches a goldfinch land on the fallen tree until her phone chirps.

You found me

Trish? Talia? 

Neither

Tom? Tony?

Time

The wind picks up and take the goldfinch with it.

I have your ball

Yes and you have time

Time for what? 

Whatever you want

Nichole thinks this is some bullshit. 

Do you want it back

Up to you

Some mom sharpied the return info on her kid’s ball and now the dad was is having fun with Nichole because his life has become a perpetual Wednesday. She prays to the bird, which now watches her from its perch a few fence panels away, that the dad won’t send a picture.

FFS just give me your address

Baby, let’s take it slow

From the putrid swamp of her yard Nichole considers the last of her fruit bearing trees, as it dangles its roots suggestively.

+++

Twelve trees flocked the property when Nichole and Ted bought the house. Their first loss was the gum—split in half by the wind. Nichole still unexpectedly weeps when she registers the reason for the abrasive light in the living room on fall afternoons. The spring Nichole miscarried the third time, the sour cherry and pear trees drowned in the soupy earth. The men who come to take everything away promptly sliced them up and shoved them into the wood chipper. How many trees were left now? She deliberately refused to count, in the same way she refused to compute a year in the future at which point she would reasonably be dead herself. Ted called it willful ignorance without understanding her means of survival.

Nichole had become defensive about the trees as the years passed and she failed to keep important things alive. A few days after another loss, she had shouted at a neighbor during a fire pit backyard hangout that her ash tree was not infested with the invasive emerald borer beetle. When someone muttered Nichole needed to face reality and cut it down to save the expense, she explained that at great cost the tree doctors were preemptively treating it. And then she turned her hot cheeks away from the fire towards the man who lived at the end of the cul de sac who was identifying constellations with an app. He told his small son all the clusters were not visible because of light pollution. Nichole had no interest in what she couldn’t see or how their little fire, their town, everything around them, was perpetually tilting away. She thought mostly about developing additional healing rituals, like positive energy chants to encourage growth while she massaged the soft new tips of her fir branches, or focused meditation in twenty-minute increments while she wrapped her body against the sticky trunks. Ted wasn’t bothered by the loss of speechless organisms but she did not believe in replacements. Nichole didn’t want to plant anything new—she wanted to save what was already there.

+++

She puts her hand on the hot red plastic ball, testing its pressure. The men always come after storms and soon a pickup truck hauling a wood chipper rumbles along, its wheels scraping the curb. Damage cleanup, damage erasure. 

“Hey,” a bearded dude jumps out. “I can clear that away for you right now. Sixty bucks.” 

She texts again.

Maybe I want to keep it 

Take what you want baby

What I want is everything

Nichole wants a repair man, a man to reassemble the plum tree, to glue it back together, wrap bandages around its weaknesses. She wants firm, gentle fingers to caress the hurt parts, pet the tiny leaves, whisper to the petals words of encouragement to flourish, to turn towards the sun. 

Cigarette in hand, the tree guy stares at her, chin up, his question still floating between them, a promise, a threat, an invitation.

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