The orange tree was a perfect fan of brilliance outside her window. She depended on that tree. It had been a deep lustrous green when she moved into the apartment—the one clean, cool presence in a dingy efficiency. She never pulled the shade or bought a curtain because of the tree.
“You need drapes,” her mother said the one time she visited. “Either that or move.”
Piper had pointed to the tree, said it was her spot of beauty, and curtains would block it.
“It’s only an maple,” her mother said, “and maples are diseased. Maple wilt. You can have the drapes from your room if you want.”
Piper laughed at that, a true laugh from the belly at the thought of her childhood “drapes:” Doc, Sneezey, Goofy et al standing around the bed of sleeping and, perhaps, dead, Snow White.
“You chose them,” her mother said.
“I was five.”
Her mother wouldn’t be coming again. “It’s too depressing, and I choose to be happy,” she said. She had stopped there, didn’t say another word—literally not another word—but it was one of those up-to-the-brim pauses where they both knew the unsaid words were and you do not. I choose to be happy . . . and you do not. Her mother had never liked her, and one dutiful visit was enough for both of them.
The light from the tree bathed her small space in a cloak of color. On windy days the color waved over her. On still days she found herself standing at the window drinking in the beauty of the living tree for minutes on end. A meditation on the life of one tree, she wrote in her journal.
And now the leaves were falling. Not many—the tree was still lovely, but the color was going and the foliage thinning—the ribs of branches still spread to the sky, but the street had as many leaves as the tree, and the rest would fall.
Soon her window would show only the tree’s skeleton, proud, strong, but bare nonetheless. Would she cover the window then? Her mother wouldn’t be back, and she met friends only in coffee shops. Nobody saw the space she lived in.
She was standing at the window—well, it was hard to be anywhere in that small place that wasn’t near the window—when a burst of wind shook the tree to its roots, and all the leaves flew off, coating the ground in orange. The tree was still there, hardly moving in the wind, and not going anywhere.
© 2012 Kathleen Coskran