065. The Neighbor. Lindsay Shortliffe

I never paid much attention to the eucalyptus across the street. Its trunk was but a piece of visual landscape in the dining room picture window, an object that I stared through more than at, while sipping morning coffee. The girls and I walked by the massive column on the way to the park. Its bark, a watercolor of cinnamon, gray, honey, and mahogany, hung in curling sheaths as the tree shed another skin. Kayla, the eldest, is unamused by any tree whose branches fail to reach down, beckoning her to climb, but Mila’s fresh eyes of discovery still found intrigue in the line of ants that scaled its roots, as she traced their march until they disappeared into the darkness of a mounded colony entrance. Intrigue fades fast for a two-year-old though, and soon we would be on to the grassy fields beyond, the trunk forgotten.

I couldn’t have told you the height of the tree. I never stood at its base looking up at the canopy of sickle shaped leaves and gumnuts. Its mighty branches, stretching skyward, didn’t exist to me. I never reached my arms around its base to consider how many embracing bodies it would take to encircle its girth. I never thanked it for the shadows it cast across the front yard in summer heat when the sun seared, nor noticed the soft earthy perfume released from its leaves crunching beneath my feet. It lived ten yards from my front door, but I never acquainted myself with it or considered the intimacies of our relationship.

The SUV is crushed beneath the tree’s limb. Shattered glass fans out around the car, and the metal twists and curls, looking no stronger than the tree’s peeling bark. The limb stretches across the car and onto the front lawn where the children’s bubblegum colored scooters were haphazardly discarded mere moments before the branch’s plummet. I clutch the girls tightly in my arms, shaking from the nearness of tragedy, unable to keep images of their crushed bodies from my mind. A crowd of neighbors has gathered round, having come running at the sound of exploding glass and thud of mass hitting the ground. Murmurs of concern hover in the air. Thank goodness no one was hurt. That branch is huge! What makes a tree drop a limb? It’s not windy today. Was there a warning? We gather beneath that tree all the time.

For the first time, I look up.

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