Absentia

Absentia

Spring comes
when blossoms run
in high winds
from the tree’s pink fists

It is then I think of you. San Francisco five years ago, when you began to disappear. The breeze blew across to the bridge, its stunted red ladders climbing out of the water. We had argued about something or nothing and you would not take my hand. Staring out at Alcatraz, a little rock from here, I remembered reading about the Harts family who lived there until the seventies. Their mail was delivered by helicopter from a US traffic reporter. Perhaps we needed our own island. Acres of space between us to fill with our noise. Or mine, as a year from then you would stop talking completely. I shiver in the heat of the day.

I wanted to hold you up to the light to reveal more than your pale skin betrayed. Unlike a leaf, in which a network of secret veins is illuminated, you were transparent. I tried to drag your tongue into conversations, laying out breadcrumbs of shared memories. Your voice did not sound like it used to – it was as if you were underwater, or calling from afar. How long had it been this way?

Yosemite. We walked together amongst the trees, the tallest in the country. Trunks older than we’ll ever be and six times the height, at least. But even they could not inspire any roots to ground you here, or elsewhere. Alien body on foreign soil. Where do you belong? In something you cannot have. Perhaps that is what you sought. Transient as a scrawling in the sand, destined to be swept out under the surf of tides.

In the evening, we sat around a fire with old friends and I realised they were as wonderful as I never forget they were. The neighbours in our forest, who pass us messages through the tips of branches with underground fingers that stretch. We laughed so hard we disturbed a flock of birds. A feather fell and I placed it in your hair. Poor little pilgrim with a runaway horse.

It takes a lot to severe these connections, those that grow as we do. But you were bent on becoming rootless. Alive through some unknown miracle.

Old as tree rings. The rings that once bound us together, marriage, chains, chainsaw. These details that could not hold you to the world, spider’s strands so delicate and almost unbreakable. Now, when people ask me how you are they find it hard to remember your name. Or anything about you. You have wilfully erased yourself. Your shadow flickers over me now and then, like seconds of static in the radio.

I received mail stamped in bold red RETURN TO SENDER. There were almost twenty letters and I don’t remember sending any of them. I opened envelopes of dead air packed in between lined pages. I stopped after the first three and tore up the rest, fed them to the fireplace. There’s snow outside the window of the cabin. Lake Tahoe looks like a dark iris.

In Canada, the forest burns. The trees scream silently under the blaze. Cars drive on the black tongued highway, walls of fire flanking their sides. Perhaps you were never really here.

Years later, the phone rings. I question hello into the receiver. I wait, an exhale on the other side followed by a whisper. It’s nearly inaudible, but I know it’s you.

I clutch the receiver until my knuckles burst white. At first I’m too embarrassed to speak, but then a dulled rage is unearthed and I yell why now? Why did you disappear? Loathing the effect you still have. I wipe tears away with the jumper full of holes from that Yosemite trip. You say nothing, of course. I stop talking, my quiet removing the words I said in surprise. I listen harder. Waiting for you to begin.

Image credit: A giant sequoia in the New Forest, Hampshire.

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