On this day, when the sun picked through the clouds, the trees shed their skin like paper. The men and women in town called it disease, called it the devil’s touch. They said, Our forest will be undone by this fungus, this airborne rot.
To tell them of my wife who did the taking. To tell them how she gathered the leaves, already stronger than the limbs that once held them. The bark peeling and the knife cutting away the precious meat. How she stirred them into broth and drank deep.
I wanted to say, The taking of the trees has stopped the disease in her, has rebuilt her immunities, kept her veins from coming undone. See the color in her cheeks. See how red her lips. See how we’ve learned to kiss again, to sweat, to place mouth to shoulder and collarbone.
I brushed my hand across the oak that stood outside our home and came away with bark of ash and dirt, my fingers digging inches into the tree’s belly.
The felling, the crumbling as birds and squirrels and termites choked on that powder. She buried those cold bodies in the dirt, by the roots that dried and fell fallow and impotent. She said, We can hope the trees can feed and grow anew on fur and bone and carapace.
But each morning, seeing more of the trees cleared, bent backward by their own desiccating spines, buckling knees. The crops thinning, ribs tucked between fragile leaf and unseeded fruit.
The townspeople filled their wagons, set their eyes to some new plain. They said, The trees will be gone soon and the land will go with it.
Meaning she would run out soon. Meaning her body would rebel again, awaking to retching, her bones hollowing. Meaning we would have to abandon this land just like them, find some new trees to brew her elixirs, new forests to take from, to uproot.
Each morning we stood at our porch and saw more of the hills once hidden, once paled by the heads of trees. She dreamed of the staying we could do, the family we hoped to raise.
I want to teach our children of those hills, she said, I want to build a home.
How I wished to give her everything, every blood and bone and potion. How I wished the land a desert to have her whole again.
Included in The Best Small Fictions 2017.