The Slanted Tree, by Yvonne M. Eadon

When I was nine, my best friend Melanie and I would bike to and from school five days a week. We were blind to the daily habits of the weather, hindered only by sickness of one of the other of us. In late spring, the sun was still kind, and we were adventurous and full of joy with the taste of summer on our tongues. And in the spring, not broken from cold, not wilting from heat, the trees were more awake and alive than ever.

Trees of all kinds lined our path from school to home. The buds of crepe-myrtle trees were still unbloomed so that we could pick them off, squeeze them at the tip, and watch them burst into flowers that were limp with premature dampness but still rife with the richest fairy-colors, purple and light pink and magenta. The eucalyptus trees had romantic ribbons of bark that hung down from their branches like the hair of a princess or kelp flung from a dry ocean. The oak trees slew plump, silky acorns from their crinkled branches. The maple trees’ leaves flourished so lushly that sometimes we could cover both of our heads with one and have room to spare.

I loved all springtime trees, but one in particular was always more intriguing to me than the rest. Nearly every day, Melanie and I stopped at the street before mine and rode down to the end of the cul-de-sac to challenge the Slanted Tree.

This tree dominated a small no-man’s-land vacant lot. A melancholy storage shed in the far corner housed a sizable family of bees, and the overgrown willowy weeds and wildflowers that swelled in cloudlike clumps left small patches of dusty earth nearly bare, peppered with dead grass. This lot was entirely anachronistic in our groomed Southern California suburb. It looked, in fact, like the communal, fenceless, tactless yards of Louisiana, where my family went each year to see my grandparents. Something about the lot, and the grand tree leaning over it, seemed at once foreign and familiar. I wanted to own it, to solve its mystery and imbalance. Nothing would deter me from what I felt must be an inevitable conquering of the Slanted Tree.

“Come on! Let’s go to the tree!” I called to Melanie, who was a couple of yards ahead of me, as we passed the street. I stopped in the middle of the asphalt and glanced down its path, seeing the tree at the end, small from here, looking like a crooked streak painted by a hasty hand, gesturing toward the sky.

“My dad said he was buying me ice cream today!” Melanie yelled, continuing to pedal and looking back over her shoulder, her blonde hair whirling, tangled, in the wind of her hurry, “It’s hot and I want some.” She turned around and I heard her call something else, perhaps she was inviting me over, maybe just saying goodbye, and she disappeared in a blur of blue bike and dark blonde. This was the first time she had chosen not to accompany me to the tree. I wondered if I should continue to the lot without her. Looking down the street again, I noticed that the odd angle of the tree looked like a beckoning hand.
I rode down the street quickly, fixing my eye on the Slanted Tree. As I got closer, I imagined it was growing rapidly before my eyes, a sapling thickening into a trunk. Once I was there, next to it, I kicked my kickstand down and took off my helmet, draping it on the handlebar by the buckle. I reached out to touch the tree, laying my hand flat on its pale, thin bark, skinlike in its smoothness. Though the angle of the tree made it look deceptively easy to climb, I knew that the smoothness of the bark and the lack of handholds proved otherwise. Three thick branches sprouted near its top, and from those grew a smattering of smaller branches, from which a scant number of sickly leaves hung. I decided that I could take advantage of angle most if I simply scampered up the trunk, using my hands like another set of feet, until I was high enough to grab one of the branches. I let my fingertips drag along the spine of the tree for a few inches, over bruises of brown bark and scars of old vandalism, thinking there was nothing in the world as perilous as the relationship between the tree and me. Whoever would come out the victor was saved from all else.

I removed my hand from the tree, assessed the small skirt of roots for tripping dangers, took four paces backwards and a deep breath inward, and leaped toward the monarch of the land. Two strides later I was up, up, gathering power as I reached for the closest branch, reeling from the heady knowledge that I had never made it this far, had never enough power, had slipped, had hesitated. But now I was reaching for the branch, it was only an inch away, and I swear I could smell its dryness and its height. I was just barely there and I felt like a life-grown leaf myself, tender and flight-prone in the wind, when my weight suddenly overpowered me. I fell, hitting the hard-packed parched earth with dry finality, and was unable to take a breath.

My family moved away from that neighborhood soon after, but I can’t imagine the Slanted Tree stayed there for very long. Probably someone destroyed the bee shack and severed the tree so that a house might be built in that vacant lot, and the overall real estate value of that street would rise, now that the neighborhood “eyesore” had been removed. But maybe no one ever cared that much. Maybe they were too afraid. They saw the tree for the rotting Victorian mansion that it truly was, ghosts clinging to its insides and paint curling like tired bark from its façade.

Yvonne Eadon is a second-year Comparative Literature major specializing in French and Portuguese. She hopes to travel around the world in the future. Meanwhile, she occupies her spare time knitting, baking, and playing the harp.

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