The Tree and the Sky

It took Marcus six tries. He threw the rope as high as his strength allowed, only to see it tumble to the bleached grass below in a tangled heap. The fig tree cast long shadows, its thick branches extending out, concealed in places by dense leaves.

On the final try the rope looped over the branch, and he sank down on his haunches. Sweat drenched his singlet.

Marcus climbed the tree, wrapped his legs around the rough surface and shimmied upwards, using the depressions in the trunk as footholds. He crawled on all fours along the branch until he reached the rope. Muttering under his breath he formed the knot, fumbling with the rope. At the edge of his vision the sun descended. The clusters of deep green leaves, the ochre branches and his forearms were bathed in apricot light.

As he worked, the words of people he loved danced in his mind. Words of rejection and love intermingled, were the same. He no longer knew why he was there. All the reasons joined in a miasma of wretchedness. His wife was gone, taking the children with her. Once she had treasured him. These days her disdain was clear—he was worthless, irrelevant. All she cared about was his ability to provide child support. The week after she left he was made redundant. He pressed his palms to his face, pain needling his chest. Emotion wedged in his throat.

Light filtered through the gaps in Marcus’s fingers and he opened his eyes. He squinted at the deep gold sun. Wisps of fuchsia and butter yellow bled around it, streaked with cobalt. The rope slipped from his hand and he sat on the branch. High in the sky, the indigo of night encroached. As night comes, I go, he thought, unable to look away from the sunset.

At that moment something soft brushed against his arm. It was Yala, his cat, stippled black and white. She purred as he stroked the underside of her chin, and climbed onto his lap, settling herself into a half moon. The opalescent sky and the smoothness of Yala’s fur beneath his fingers lulled him.

A breeze rustled the leaves and they whispered, forming a protective cocoon. The wood supporting his weight was a friend, steeling him. Yala’s body vibrated with pleasure. She was passing him joy like a baton, as was the tree, as was the sky.

A fog lifted from his mind. He remained there until the sky darkened, lit by a sliver of moon. Yala’s work was done. She sprang up and looked at him. He saw the glitter of her eyes before she leapt away.

Marcus felt his way along the branch and found the trunk. He hugged it close, shuffling his body down its length. Peering down, he saw the faint delineation where the base of the tree met grass, and let go. A clumsy landing left him sprawled on his side. He rubbed his stinging thigh. I am alive, he thought and chuckled. I am alive.

 

This story was published in The Flash Fiction Press in November 2015.

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