“…A Failure to Communicate”

She turned away from the window to light the cigarette she’d kept in a plastic bag hidden in an old purse with a wooden match from the candle drawer. In the utter darkness of the house the yellow flame burst brightly until she sucked deeply and shook it out.

“Fuck!” she whispered when she saw the red glowing dot of the tip reflecting back from the glass. Could he see it? She palmed the butt next to her thigh and squinted trying to regain her night vision. There was nothing. More correctly, she could see nothing. But he was out there.

Beyond the lawn and the rhododendrons, across the property line and beyond the subtle rises that she knew to be remains of Civil War trenches that existed undisturbed in these woods for 150 years. “If you didn’t know they were there, you might not know they were there”, said the locals. Over the old stone foundation of a house gone before she was born was an oak tree. It was probably there when the old house was built and stood powerfully if charred by a lightning strike on V-E Day-or so said nosy old always-in-your-business Millicent Fenwick at the library.

“It’s a four by eight sheet of three quarter inch exterior plywood”, he had intoned when she asked him if it would hold him. Those numbers meant nothing to her, she wasn’t a builder but neither was he. Still, he said “It’s a four by eight sheet of three quarter inch exterior plywood” in such a way that she guessed she should be impressed. He had taken this sheet of plywood and somehow wedged it between the three large main branches of that old oak about ten feet off the ground and “stabilized it with three two by four struts screwed right into the trunk.” She stared at him and he repeated it; more than a few times. Could just have well been speaking Mandarin-she didn’t know or care what a fucking strut was.

“Hear your husband’s building a tree stand back off the old Warner place”, Mrs. Fenwick had said, taking the cards out of the back pockets of the books she was checking out. “My husband Elmo, God rest him, used to hunt those woods. Got more than deer back there, you ask me.”

Her eyes adjusted and she could see beyond the yard into the black of the woods. She even imagined that she could see the top branches of the oak drawn against the silvery starlit night. She hadn’t minded when he moved from their bedroom to the spare room. That was a lie-it bothered her-but it had happened gradually. One night a week, then two, always a perfectly acceptable reason: he had to get up early, his back was a little off, he “felt a good snore coming on…” Then it had become semi-permanent.

Getting used to that wasn’t easy but at least she could still hear him breathing and rolling around and, at three a.m. precisely, getting up and walking to the bathroom. Sometimes he would veer into what he had begun to call “her” room and slip into “her” bed so that they could get into some of their nighttime business but that wasn’t happening anymore.

Because now he had taken to sleeping in a fucking tree.

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