No More Boys
With the black birds, I came into the valley. Across the trees, I wiped my hand. On my fingers, from the bark, a dead rot, nothing indigenous. Ruin and only migrating birds belonged, so I made my way toward the center where I felt needed, with the disease still on my index and middle fingers.
Four minutes. I found myself wiping my hand off in the backseat of a local’s unlocked sedan where I slept until I opened my eyes because a diminished sun in the gray clouds let me and I watched the trees through the window. The leaves white underbellies, the same sick color as their faces. No good natured sun-kiss because the green died before I came and the forest had given up.
Leprous leaves falling.
When I shut my eyes again it was only to imagine the illness spreading through the vines to the trunks, down to the roots. Those roots would spread and cover distances I’d later walk, but for now I knew a need when I felt it. My father a druid. My mother a commune hippie, later a prostitute. They wrapped my baby feet in leaves when I was born and let me nurse from the women there, who, when I finished draining them of their milk, left me in the tall grass to stare at the giant sycamores so I could learn what I needed to say when talking to the leaves and the dirt and the sun, and the…it doesn’t matter because the man who owned the car I slept in closed his driver’s side door with a bang, so I said, “Freeze?” and the sick man put his hands in the air, as if to say he were bad and that I needed to help him if I wanted to heal the dead trees and their kind and the ground and the sky, and oh forget it, but it was important. This man in the car, the trees dying, a terrible town in a small valley rotting away, and the leaves rained down covering his windshield telling me it connected because it wasn’t Fall and when someone says, “Freeze,” no innocent soul sticks his good-natured hands above his head as if the police had him surrounded.
“It was only a matter of time,” I said from the backseat.
“It’s not my fault,” he said without turning around.
“It is, at least some of it,” I said watching a woman come to the screen door of his house to wave goodbye.
“My girlfriend,” he said, “she’s having a baby now.” The woman at the door was not pregnant and I began to say so, but the man at the wheel turned on the car and said, “That’s my wife and I don’t care.”
“So, take me to your girlfriend. She needs us,” I said and he pulled the car out of the driveway. By this time, he knew I wasn’t the police, but didn’t bother to yell because I offered healing. I told him it wasn’t normal to be sick or white like a torn trout out of stream, but I don’t think he understood. I mentioned the pale withering grass to him and he kept driving, pushing seventy-five miles an hour until we came to a road lined with dead trees. “She lives at the end of this.”
“She’ll sleep with anyone won’t she?” I asked and he drove a little faster but nodded his head. “How many babies did she tell you?” The young man grabbed for a water bottle on the passenger seat and passed it back to me and I drank the vodka.
“Six. All boys,” he said.
“And all of them stillborn?” I asked?
He didn’t answer. When the man behind the wheel reached back and took the bad water bottle from me, I knew why the trees died and the surrounding valley seemed sick. Trees love children and their leaves are their tears and a forest can have a favorite and when that child mourns so do they—especially if it’s for children.
The house at the end of the road came up quick. Dead forest. No leaves. Spring. When he stopped the car, I got out. My feet landed on the ground I didn’t want to touch and as soon as they did I collapsed because of the pain in the soil. The man stood me up, wiping the earth and dead bark from my chest and stared, taking me in for what I was and wasn’t. “Let’s go in,” I said before he could judge, “the baby needs us.” All I could think of was the pregnant woman inside who had been born here, surrounded by the trees, how somehow she meant a lot to the them, enough so her pain killed them. Whatever wasted away their bark and drained their leaves involved her and her babies, maybe this baby, so I washed my hands with what was left of the vodka, hoping I could fix it and that this time the woman inside would have a girl.
“Her name’s Trixy,” he said.
“Great, I’m Far Away Dog and you are Scott McEwan, neither of which matters,” I said and he stared at me. I didn’t tell him how I knew his name was Scott because I didn’t care or know if he understood what the trees said to me, but it didn’t matter anyway because I gained my balance or at least a toleration for the pain and made my way to the door of the house which appeared boarded up for a storm that never seemed to come.
Until it came.
The moment we closed the door two things happened. One I knew would, the girl stationed on a makeshift delivery table of her own making, in a small bedroom, she propped herself up revealing a natural absolute, beautiful in pain, dark hair, darker nipples, unmarked skin, little goodnight star eyes. The second thing. The storm, a driving force showering her patchwork home with epic and rain. That was my doing. I asked the trees that weren’t dead to die already, to exchange some roots for spring awakening. And down it came in rivets pumping life into everything it didn’t drown. The window I opened let it in, and although the man Scott cursed and tried to close it, his girlfriend screamed because the rain felt good against her hot skin and it kept her from passing out like she had at the two hospitals, like she had in the junkie’s van, like she had in some guy named Steve’s apartment, like she had in the back of her grandmother’s house, so she didn’t have to come to, have her eyes flutter open only to recognize the blurry face of yet another someone telling her baby boy had died somewhere between her last conscious gulp of air and her failure to push despite modern medicine and so much goddamn love and effort.
It took rain and a stranger staring at her spread legs, telling her exactly what I said, “When your daughter plays outside, she’ll look like you did in the forest here, pretending she can hear the trees, understanding they have feelings, that the ground beneath her feet is sacred not because it’s under her but because it’s alive.”
The woman shook her dripping head and cried, but the tears and the rain made it hard to tell how much of what, and I knew it was okay to leave when the little girl came out slick and wet and stayed that way because the rain pelted her babyness and the man Scott cried over her as he wrapped her in a towel. He left the window open, choosing to trust nature and took his daughter to the far side of the room for warmth, and the blackbirds landed on the dripping trees outside and I didn’t see them flap their wings, so I knew it was time to make my way down the toward the dead trees edging the valley—to leave and let them grow without me.
And I did.
And it rained.
And I left the valley for another.
BIO: Christopher teaches high school English.