Storyglossia Issue 17, December 2006.

A Tree in Winter

by Kate Shaffar


The only leaves still visible were the ones which would rather hang shriveled, and be pried from their branches by force. Like me. Like the old man, hanging on for dear life, not wanting to let go.

On the other hand, my husband would be the first to jump limb in the hopes that he'd be picked up by some child, preserved for all time in a book somewhere—pretty and intact.

"He was like that oak in winter," I said as we sped along the highway, pointing to no tree in particular. The girls were in the back seat sleeping, my breath condensing on the window because he wouldn't turn the heat on.

"I wish you wouldn't say things like that."

"He was prickly," I persisted. "Sharp and mean and naked. It doesn't mean I didn't love him."

"You don't get to say that. He wasn't yours."

What he really meant to say is that I had no right to talk about his father. Which might have been true if he had been the one who took care of him. Sat by him day after day, while he was ranting endlessly about how lenient people were with children nowadays, especially me. Or maybe he could say it, if he had cooked for his father, or wiped his ass once over the last six months. Which he couldn't say.

What he should have said is that while I'd earned the right, I'd lost the privilege. Lost it when he fell out of love with me, because we certainly laughed about what a putz his father had been before he got sick.

I would have felt worse about his rancor, but it seemed natural enough then—not something I gave all that much thought to anymore.

"I hope you kept it simple."

"Pine box," I repeated, "small plot in Woodlawn, only a few people, the rabbi."

"I really hope you didn't fuck this up."

I was sure there'd be something that wouldn't meet his specifications, but they'd meet the old man's for sure. I was the one who actually asked him what he'd wanted.

My husband drove on, switching lanes relentlessly; doing some kind of dance I would have called weaving, if he hadn't trained me to think of him as a good driver.

"I wish he'd died suddenly. We had too much time to say goodbye."

He really wished he hadn't had any time to procrastinate his farewells. A rare deadline he wouldn't be able to extend. Because my parents died suddenly, simultaneously hit by a car and never regaining consciousness. Somehow he resented me for that too.

I felt I should do something. What, I wasn't sure. Being passive takes a toll. I wondered what he'd do if I asked for a divorce?

I reached tentatively across the leather seats, absorbing their coolness along the way. I watched as he spied the movement of my arm. I listened to his sharp intake of breath as my hand met his thigh.

He jerked one arm from the wheel. Would he strike me, now? Had he lost that much respect for me? The car was slowing, careening for a moment, moving its way off to the shoulder.

He slowed. I listened to the crunch of gravel as he came to a stop. Taking my fingers, he put them to his lips. He was searching my eyes, looking for something. He found it, or at least caught a glimpse. He sobbed then, heart rending, mind numbing tears and I leaned into him and held him.

"I know, I know," I murmured over and over again.


Copyright©2006 Kate Shaffar