The Voices of Trees

Cultured Narratives, Fiction

She grew up to be what she believed a good woman to be: gorgeous beyond all belief, with cheeks sunken in to bare her zygomatic bones, lips painted a dark yet subtle color, hair bleached an unnatural blonde, dark makeup engulfing her brown eyes, and a body worked so hard and malnourished for just long enough to be an ounce thinner than healthy. She had also believed a good woman to be loved by a fine man, however ugly he may be.

Claire had followed through with these beliefs for the past fifteen years, but long nights and fights had torn away her love—twice– and she could no longer maintain her previous identity. Now she was a two-time divorcee without love, without identity. What good was her undeniable beauty when no one was present to admit it? Loveless. Lifeless.

Smoke swirled inside her black car and drifted out into the morning sky while the frigid winter air came pounding down through the window and into Claire’s weak lungs. She began choking on her smoke and coughing uncontrollably. Her delicate manicured fingers flicked the cigarette out onto the road. Claire kept her eye on it through the rearview mirror until it became invisible. It was so small compared to the cloudless sky above her.

After weaving through pines and week-old snow for what seemed like a millennium, she could finally see the log cabin that she would be inhabiting for the next month—whether or not she could bare the mental and emotional consequences.

It was family time in [what Denver city girls would call] the “suburbs” of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Yipee. Lord knew from past experience just how much fun the Alderson family could have while existing no further than six feet apart from one another at any given moment for an entire month. Once celebrating a marriage, and now a death (though unfortunately, this culture is not particularly keen on celebrating death), emotions within the log cabin would be in full swing from hormonal teenagers, men in mid-life crises, women suffering from PMS, and menopausal women such as Claire herself. Piling grief on top of this already-toppling tower of stress would not exactly transform the spirits of the Alderson family (particularly Claire’s) in a positive manner.

She had just begun menopause two weeks earlier and couldn’t get used to the sudden urge to fan herself like she had seen her grandmother do in church every Sunday years ago. Decades ago, to be more precise. She didn’t want to feel like a grandmother. Not yet. She had walked the Earth for forty-nine years and still hadn’t borne any children, still hadn’t set foot outside the U.S.A., and apparently still hadn’t experienced unconditional love.

Perhaps her mother had given her unconditional love at some point, but now her mother wasn’t here to lend a shoulder to cry on. Why did it have to be like that? At the time in her life when Claire needed her mother’s shoulder to cry on more than ever before, her mother could not be there for her. Didn’t she know that no one else in this family could comfort her in the same way? Evidently not. Now, she would never be able to know that her own death took a toll on Claire more than anything ever had.

In the four days since her mother’s passing, Claire had done nothing but cry. Good Lord, she could cry. God had never seen a child cry more than Claire Marie Alderson Greeley. But this reaction could not be greatly contrasted to Claire in her natural state of loneliness.

When in doubt, cry. When depressed, cry. When the sun no longer shines, cry. Cry, Cry.

When you want something more than anything, nothing will prevent it.        

Claire hit her brakes. That voice was real and seemed to be speaking directly to her. She felt a presence, but the radio was turned off and no one was around; she suddenly felt nothing but the solemnness of the pines surrounding her. Great, now she was hearing voices. She was hearing the voices of… trees.

She suddenly remembered that saying. It was her mother’s.

Tears emerged in the corners of her eyes and threatened to drip, but she stopped herself. She blinked.

Someone honked and flew past her car. She was sure they’d given her the finger. But how could she care at a time like this? At a time when she could hear trees talking? She gazed upward at the winding road in front of her, then at the strikingly bright blue sky. Slowly, she regained speed to her vehicle (subconsciously trailing along at thirty-five miles per hour). Going slow was okay right now.

Okay, she thought, What is it that I want? What could she possibly want? She didn’t have to think too hard at first; she wanted love. Real love. Without a partner and now without her mother, she wasn’t sure if she could find enough consolation in speaking with her cousins. She was an only child and had always been happy about it, but at a time like this, it seemed siblings would serve as an ideal source of love. Well, it’s a little too late for that, she thought.

Children? No, she didn’t really want children. Not really. But they would provide love, right? She had often considered adoption, but most times when she’d lie in bed straining her brain about this subject, she’d always come up with the conclusion that there wasn’t a true balance between the love of parents and children. Children were too needy and unappreciative. Parents always had to do the cleaning, the cooking, the driving, the changing of diapers, the paying of medical appointments, etc. Pets were also too much to handle. Maybe fish would be okay.

She exhaled a sad sigh smelling of nicotine and tobacco and whatever other toxic crap cigarettes are made of. That was another thing—she wanted to quit smoking. But Lord knew this particular week certainly wasn’t the time to do it. She’d have to wait until the new year.

She also wanted red rubies on her fingers. She wanted a double chocolate frappe loaded with fat and sugar and extra espresso. She wanted to feel the sun turning her shoulders brown. Now, what was preventing all of this at the moment? To name only a few: she was in debt, there wasn’t a Starbucks in any direction for three hundred and fifty miles, and it was a toasty eighteen degrees outside. And her mother was channeling the forest, or vice versa, solely to inform Claire that nothing—nothing at all—was preventing these things from happening?

Claire was oblivious to the various cars honking and flying past her on the highway, and she couldn’t have been sure how much time had passed before she realized she was ascending up the winding road called Harmony Lane that led to her family’s cabin. Almost there. Instead of tensing up like she normally did at this point, she felt a sense of calm flood her body. How strange.

She gazed up at the sky that now contained a few clouds, one of which was shaped distinctly like a guitar. There was no questioning this—Claire had seen and heard plenty of stranger things before (i.e. hearing trees talk) that made her believe there was something wrong with her mind, and maybe there was, but there was no doubt that this cloud perfectly resembled a guitar. This time she wasn’t just seeing things. It made her want to play guitar again, more than anything…

She remembered the way she felt when she used to play during her high school and college days. It had always amazed her how she could speak another language through a piece of old wood that used to be a tree. She would spend hours singing harmonies alone with her guitar and writing down the words the guitar spoke to her. She had begun to perform in bars, coffee shops, and for her friends at parties.

The talent came so naturally. Everyone who heard her would always gaze at her in awe. That feeling was like nothing else, yet so familiar… it was a light-hearted feeling, as if she were floating in the air and flooding her soul with happiness. She could taste happiness when she sang her songs and picked those acoustic steel strings with her bare fingers. Then when people were listening and watching, absorbing her words and the sounds her fingers could make, they looked at her like… they were in love.

And she was in love with them, too. She was in love with all of it: with her guitar, her voice, her words, fingerpicking, creating chords—all of it. She was in love. That was real love for her, and she had completely abandoned it and traded it for her worthless first husband Carl and a full-time manager position at a bank. She wished she could take back that portion of her life and just change all of it. Hadn’t she wanted those things at that point in her life, though? It was hard to imagine now, but she was sure she did.

The harsh truth hit her: she used to love Carl, but she never wanted to marry him (and this was also the case with her second husband). She used to want to be the manager of a bank, but she never loved the job. She realized now that happiness meant making choices that she wanted as much as she loved and vice versa. She realized now that she wanted to fall in love with music again, more than anything.

Just as she approached the log cabin, feeling more relieved than grieved, Claire  could not think of anything preventing this from happening.

Maybe Not

Cultured Narratives, Fiction

There’s a dream that I see

Sitting here alone on this parched New Mexican grass, surrounded by nothing but yellow in all directions, I dip my toes into the shallow stream below me and all I want to do is cry.

I pray it can be

The rancher who lent me shelter in his home last night after he found both me and my car broken down on the side of the road told me that the river would run dry within the next few years.

Across the land

The river is all he has to sustain his cattle, himself, and people in surrounding rural communities who depend on him.He said it’s because the earth is heating up and there’s nothing we can do to reverse the effects.

Shake this land

“Man caused this mess but men can’t fix it,” he said while we were drinking coffee at his table, basking in the already intense June sun.

A wish or a command

“What about women? I asked, jokingly.

“Women have a better chance than men.”

We’re just human

I lift my face from my knees, directly above the water. I’m crying, but not nearly enough. I want to pour out all my apologies to this stream. I want to repay the river with tears of replenishment, but human eyes can only produce so much water.

We all do what we can

So we can do just one more thing

If I had been as kind to the earth as this old rancher has been to me, maybe things would be different.

We could all be free

Maybe not with words

Maybe he wouldn’t have had to repeat the word “drought” every day.

Maybe not with a look

Maybe the grass I’m sitting on would be green instead of yellow.

But with our minds

These tears aren’t enough.

The turn of the tide is withering thee

I want to roll a grand piano over this stream and stand in the water, forcing sound out of it with my bare fingers and singing those words I wrote so many years ago, willing God—if he hasn’t yet lost hope in us—to resurrect this river.

Remember one thing

A dream you can see

If my words have any power at all, maybe he would cry tears of joy at the sound, and those tears would fall upon my shoulders, replenishing the river and our spirits.

Pray it to be

But I don’t have a grand piano with me, only my voice. I sing.

Shake this land

(**Inspired by the song “Maybe Not” by Cat Power. Italic lyrics are all part of that song, written by Chan Marshall. I first wrote this in my mind while half asleep.**)