The Callow Tree
He didn’t love her anymore. Where there had been a great ache for her was now the slow drone of when he should burn the dead elm. Perhaps it was sad, perhaps it was to be expected from two adults who no longer lived life to the same ends.
There wasn’t anyone else, he would have been quick to add.
Her youth had faded slowly, dripping away like the tap he never found time to fix, until he turned and noticed her withered like fruit under a hot sun. She tolerated him, and he beared her, with a spousal grievance that infected the suburb on an epidemic proportion.
She was beautiful, still. But wasp like, sharp, stinging, venomous when challenged. The softness that had allured him thirty years ago was hard as bark, brittle and crumbling beneath her traditions and his modernity. She was a wife for a different era, a different time, a different him. Her innocence had thrilled him, but now left him feeling like a task to be endured, a reminder her of her barren state. She lay beside him heavy with sleep, rigid with anger. The sheets were always clean and pressed, the floors washed, the alarm set, his wife silent. She was dutiful if nothing else, he mused, as he hacked away at the cold grey soil that clumped between the dead roots of the tree.
Burnt it, James, before the snows come
And it would be done, now in this late October Saturday beneath a cloaked sky and the thick ash of bonfires that choked deep at his lungs. The old dead elm would be burnt and the garden would stand empty. There was no reason to destroy it, but there were fewer reasons to fight with her. It would be done, and now there was a hollow wound in the lawn, leaving him with a strange unease.
“It’s dead, James.” She said coldly over the casserole that evening, letting the spoon fall hard against the dish with the reminder that she had not forgiven him.
“I know, and now it’s burning. Anything else you want, my dear?”
“No, I’m glad you finally got rid of it.” She crossed her arms. “I have been asking since May.”
“And now it is done. Salt please.”
She passed it. It had started to rain, the wound in the grasses spilling as if bleeding from the assault. He watched the clouds move on down across the sprawling valley and swell to a blackness that mingled with night. The bonfire choked beneath the weight of the waters and slumbered in smoke that clung to the windows. To bed, he thought, leaving her to stare at her sewing on the dining room table.
“Why do you hate that tree, Alex?” He asked her, at the bottom of the stairs, immediately regretting his asking. “You’ve always hated that tree.”
She looked up at him, lips thin. “Of course I do, James.” She turned back to her sewing. “You planted that when you married me.”