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Tree by Matt Leibel



One fine autumn morning, so crisp, so utterly green and fresh-smelling that it turned nature into a kind of drug, making the very inhalation of autumn air into a sensation, an absolute fix, a tree uprooted itself from its sidewalk planter and began to flutter upwards, floating like a balloon, at the caprices of the west wind. As it rose, its branches swayed, its leaves twitched nervously. Dirt-clod besotted roots trailed from the trunk like the dangling wires of an airborne engine. Sara, an aggressively freckled 6-year-old with auburn hair that almost outshined the sun, thought the sight of the tree sailing above her front yard was not the most normal sight she'd ever seen in her hitherto limited life, but certainly not the most bizarre. This was perhaps because Sara had, the night before, while patching together a mosaic of sleep between coughs for she was a sick little girl, always with the coughing, no doctor had yet nailed a diagnosis, though many had been paid handsomely to try, dreamt the ascent of the tree and it wasn't a religious thing, the ascent, in her dreams, nothing about Jesus, for Sara's family were Orthodox Jews, and what she understood to this point was men with curly sideburns, intense, serpentine mumblings in an incomprehensible tongue coming from behind the other side of the curtain, sickly-sweet grape juice and wistful, jangly songs from another time. Sara had dreamt of the tree hovering above the house, unsure of what to do, or where to go, and this was exactly what the tree was doing, just hovering. And as Sara watched the tree, sitting Indian style on the grass in her pajamas in her front yard, watched it watching her--it was a little scared, frankly, she thought--the tree had no idea where it was going from here and was helplessly searching for guidance from a child, as she locked eyes with the tree, and the tree had eyes, hidden in the bark , secret eyes like the eyes of an owl, she asked the tree why it had decided it no longer wanted to be planted in the ground, and the tree spoke to her in a language Sara couldn't understand. She asked the tree what was it running away from, and it shocked Sara when it came out of her mouth, it sounded so adult, that question, she was parroting something she'd heard Mom say, Mom was asking it of herself, hysterically, and Sara had only inklings of what it meant, but in the case of the tree it was something Sara genuinely wanted to know, the tree was so beautiful, beautiful just like Mom, right there on the ground, and the tree answered in a dreamy tone of voice and in a language Sara could not understand but which sounded oddly like the mumbled, slithering tongue of the bearded, tasseled men she saw through the curtain, praying rapturously at Synagogue. The tree gave its answer to Sara's question and started, haltingly, to descend toward the ground, toward the big, gaping hole in the sidewalk planter from which it had risen. It fell about halfway to the ground and stopped as if in fear and hovered, bouncing in the air for a few minutes. Then the wind picked up a bit. The tree was swept higher and away from the house, as if caught in a powerful tornado. Sara ran down the street, skipping and jumping, reaching her hands skyward as if to catch the tree, to yank it to the ground. And she ran and she ran for about fifty houses, over ten blocks, until she was breathing so hard she thought she might explode, and the tree in the sky went from big tree to small log to little tiny toothpick to dust speck to nothing at all, gone to become a spaceship in the stars, and she thought there were so many more things she needed to ask it, even if she couldn't understand its answers at least it could understand her questions and she needed to be understood. It was getting late, she was far away from home in a neighborhood she barely even recognized, maybe one time from pressing her little nose up against the window in Mom's car when they'd driven through it on the way to school, to the hospital and that made her nose feel so cold, cold like it was this separate part of her that was like a penguin's nose or something, and now she'd gone too far, too far away from home and she was worried that maybe she'd become untethered, she'd start to float away with the uncontrollable current of the wind, and she started to walk back, down the street lined with thousands of sidewalk trees, lined up like great green dominos that God could tumble on a whim if he wanted to, and as she passed them along the way, Sara could hear the trees whispering leafy-mouthed secrets to her, and even though she couldn't even recognize the language, she understood, she understood.


Matt Leibel is a freelance copywriter based in San Francisco. His fiction and reviews have appeared in magazines such as Pif, The Barcelona Review and The San Francisco Bay Guardian. He is currently working on a novella based on his experiences working for a toy company. His short-story "Hotel" appeared in Issue #1 of The Cafe Irreal.


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