Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Sassafras Tree

by Pamela Hill

“Angel isn’t really dead, you know.”

I sit on the couch glaring at my sister, Gabriela.        

“It’s true,” she says. “He’s alive.  He must be a spy.”

I leap from the couch and snatch his photograph from the mantelpiece. “You know Angel died.” 

His eyes, full of life, stare at me from the photograph as I trace the image of his face with my fingertip. 

Gabriela rarely listens and rambles on. “You were married to a spy, Ana Maria.”  She points at the urn on the mantelpiece.  “No proof Angel’s in that urn.” 

My blood pressure escalates, voice rises. “Just go home.” 

She moves toward the front door then turns toward me. “I saw him at the church café.”

I return Angel’s photograph to the mantelpiece. “You must have seen someone who resembles him. I see his features in the faces of strangers.”

She leaves, and I snuggle under my quilt wondering if Gabriela needs more therapy to calm her overactive imagination, a term our parents alluded to years ago when referring to her illogical thoughts.  Gabriela has told absurd stories for as long as I can remember.  Still, I sit wrapped in a quilt all day thinking about Angel and wondering if he can possibly be a spy. He left for work one day and never returned.  The police said he died in a head-on collision.  I never saw Angel again, only the urn.

During dinner, I see his image at the table. I can’t eat nor drink as the lemon in my tea is too bitter. Washing dishes, soap bubbles become arctic ice floes running over the edge of the sink, and I shiver in the silent, frigid kitchen.

Night comes.  I lie disconcert in my room listening to the monotonous ticking clock, and the chiming, and now the ticking again.  I fall asleep but wake startled in the middle of the night.  What is that knocking?   I run to the door and fling it open where I am met by a crescent moon as a cool breeze ripples through my nightgown. 

I wander out on the deck and feel the breeze caress me.  Signs of a storm are gathering, and clouds begin to mist. I watch a cluster of sassafras trees sway on a hill just beyond the deck. I think about rain and how the grey-black clouds comfort me, somehow stabilize me, as a lightning flash reveals Angel’s face at the dark end of the deck. In the glance of my eye, I think I see him and run to that side of the deck and call out to him, “Angel.”  He doesn’t answer.  I imagine a deception in my sense of sight.  I wish to climb the hill and wrap my arms around the trunk of a sassafras tree and sleep within a cradle of aroma.     

Morning comes.  I’m about to leave for the church café and Gabriela shows up. “It could have been him at the café yesterday,” she says.

“Please stop talking about Angel.”  I wrap a pink mascada around my neck and leave Gabriela standing on the porch.  At the church café, I sit in a corner at a table watching and attempting to sip coffee, but my hands are shaking.  I want to believe Gabriela and linger.  I want her story to be true, just once.

Angel doesn’t appear, not even an apparition.  I contemplate Einstein’s consolation…a distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion. Is death an illusion? Is flesh nothing more than a prison?

I go home and kiss the urn, remnants of bones that are my past and my present - but not my future.  I’ll find a distinction in a returned kiss someday, a kiss, and arms that wrap around me as the blossoms wrap around me from the sassafras tree. 

Einstein also said… I never think of the future, it comes soon enough. I’ll go with that. 

1 comment:

  1. The intrigue drew me into this piece. I could see the crescent moon and feel the cool breezes. I sensed the grief, anger, confusion and hope. The ending left me with the sense that all would be well. Very enjoyable.