I once believed my father was a tree. At first he was a man; his gun rested on the carpet where we found him. It glistened between our distraught shadows falling over it, and I remember never having known before then that black could shine. The blood speckled it like a robin’s egg. It was all angles and ridges and gleam, and it reminded me of skyscrapers I had seen in pictures.
The tree didn’t become my father until after that day. It had been there all along, a black gum sentry over the back acres of our property. The heavy gales had distorted its branches until they fanned like the ridges of a crooked, dark crown. I called it The King. I climbed it often, gripping its bark with my calloused feet and flattening ants beneath my palms. When I was ten, and several months after we had found my prostrate father, I found a robin’s nest in the gnarled branches. The three eggs instantly provoked my recollection of the gun. Puerile as it was, my psyche permitted me no other explanation than that my father had inhabited The King.
I began then to devote myself to The King, weathering precious time beneath its canopy, splaying my dress in dirt and grass. I developed a number of hobbies to entertain us both: painting, infantile carving (only of the fallen branches), singing. I had little talent but performed with zest. The King applauded me with shuffling leaves, and together our music drifted along the fields, stolen by rural reticence, secret between us.
These secrets bore me further away from my mother, who believed secrets had killed my father. That was all she ever said about the matter. Even when I grew to understand demons, she still claimed with morbid innocence that secrets were responsible. This did not encourage her to reveal her own; after ten years of stifled misery, she eloped with her own private mysteries and never returned.
I became angry with The King for all it had caused. Though I no longer charmed myself into believing he really was my father incarnate, the association lingered. I grew allergic to its presence, with each glimpse of The King stirring a briny disgust in my heart. Eventually, enough of it pumped through my blood that my arms attacked at will, snapping what branches they could reach, whipping the trunk with harrowed switches. The silence no longer sang with me and so I ran, following another dim echo of my father to the city. When I arrived, the impression I expected did, too: the buildings glared with sunlight and geometric glass and metal.
I had not accounted for survival, only for escape. Thus, I failed to earn security of any form, and soon relocated to a testy stretch of blocks mere miles from poverty. Here, I discovered the Irishman. Never have I seen him, but his voice trembles over the noise of the bewildered city. Tonight, he sings as he usually does, following the damp dust of an urban rain.
The Irishman’s voice lulls me. I remember loving the rain when I was young, as it rose spry and warm in evaporated aromas from the field and deep soil. I hear in the reverberation of the song The King, shuffling its leaves into whispers, mingling with silence. The city silence is nothing like this; it is ravished by scuffed steps and creaking hinges and the train that goes by every night at eight-fifteen and the Irishman, the dear old Irishman, singing his song to the wind. There are no trees in this city. There are tall ruddy buildings flaking with old paint and skinny lamps ringing hollow when the drunk with the feathered hat knocks them with his fists. There are no kings or sentries or purple evenings, only brown and orange that used to be red and tired old shopkeepers dragging bars across chipped windows. There are skyscrapers and guns.
I close my eyes. With The King, I used to crawl up the nearest branch until it got thin enough to scare me, and from there I leapt. The grass grew taller as I fell and I landed immersed in a meadow that I imagined had grown just to catch me. I spent moments on my back, watching stalks of grass wave with each gust.
My shoe scratches on the concrete when I slide it forward, and suddenly the city silence is wanting. The Irishman has stopped singing. I can still hear the rattle of old steel tracks and the cackle of iron gates, but the melodic hymn has disappeared. I look down and the street is asphalt again, and leaping has become a very bad idea.