When lightning struck the old tree, it didn’t wake them. But in the morning Elise knew to go to the window and look out at the elm, split in half as if God’s cleaver had descended neatly, cleanly dividing the tree they planted the year they bought the house.
Elm trees are neighborhood trees, he had said. Our children will play in the shade of this tree.
And climb it too, she had said.
He paused in the planting. No. Too hard to climb.
Not for our children, she’d said and laughed.
He chided her for her competitiveness, and then pointed out she could never beat him. He'd won the prize, he said, getting the best deal in the marriage.
She'd held the little tree straight as he filled in around it. Think of how an elm grows, he said. Arms raised up, no spread branches to climb. We should have gotten an oak or maple if that’s what you wanted.
Well, I want this, she had said and meant every bit of this: the patch of sun on their square of yard, her young husband kneeling before the hole he’d dug, scooping black soil around the ball of roots, then standing to tamp the dirt down, planting the first tree in their new garden. They’d also planted flowers that day, black-eyed Susans, cone flowers, bleeding hearts. The flowers spread so fast, she’d had to rip them out and still they came every summer until their tree shaded the yard so thoroughly that the garden was reduced to impatients and hosta.
Sun was her first thought as she stared at the newly divided tree, we'll have more sun and flowers again. The left half dipped across the fence into the next yard—too mangled a confusion of branches to know if the fence still stood—and the heavier half fanned to the right, taking that stretch of fence to the ground and cloaking the Peterson’s yard completely.
“Yes?” he said—still in bed, rolled over on his back, looking at her stare out the window, ignorant of the split elm, oblivious to the power of lightening, to the charge of electricity that would preoccupy him for the next week. She could already hear the chain saw and see the troop of men hired to clean it up, him in the lead. She’d have to insist he get help without saying he was too old to do it himself and, eventually, he’d agree.
But now he was lying on his back with the pillow folded under his head, grinning at her and about to tell her to come back to bed, just for a moment, where it was warm, where they could each feel the other along the whole length of their body before splitting for the day.
© 2012 Kathleen Coskran