Harry Barron

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There’s a Broken Tree In My Front Yard

I caught Jeff pleasuring himself last night.  We  had been sitting on the couch next to each other, just watching TV as if by ourselves.  I reached out every now and again to take a sip from my cup of lemongrass tea that was sitting on the table in front of us.  There was nothing else on the table.  I wished that Jeff would turn to me and smile and ask if I’d like popcorn or ice cream, or toast even, so I could watch him walk to the kitchen and make something for me and remember that, maybe, he still cared enough to slather a little butter on a crisped piece of bread.  Instead, he looked at me with his blue eyes when I drank my tea.  He squinted slightly.  I noticed he had a thin unibrow.  I could tell he was hopping that I’d burn myself.  I wanted to tell him he was getting fat and his second chin was beginning to show as if the underside of his face had somehow become pregnant.

He got up then and just stood there for a second.  He slapped his thighs and said, “Well, I’m going to bed.”

 And he walked into our bedroom as I told him I’d be in later.  I heard him hanging up his jeans in our closet even though I wish he’d just throw them on the floor.  The light that crept from under the bedroom door went out a short time after that.  I turned the TV off and drank my tea on the couch, and when I finished the tea, I put the teabag in my mouth and sucked on it until my mouth was dry.  The flavor had concentrated. 

I walked into the kitchen to put my cup in the dishwasher and drink a glass of water.  I saw the toaster, the light from a bulb in the ceiling above it reflected off its metallic side onto the black, plastic counter top, and I took out a piece of bread and made myself two pieces of toast.  When they were finished, I put them on a plate, walked them into the living room and left them uneaten on the table where my tea had been. 

Then, I went to the bedroom and opened the door and the light from Jeff’s bedside lamp paled the shaft he was massaging with his hand.  His eyes were closed and his head was leaned back against the headboard, his black hair pressed there, peacocked.  He was mouthing something too.  I stood in the doorway, and Jeff didn’t notice me. 

“Jeff!”

“Jesus!”

I’d never caught him like this before, and I’d like to say I was disgusted, but I was really more upset he hadn’t fucked me on the couch twenty minutes ago.

  He stopped and pulled the covers over himself, bringing his knees into his stomach at the same time.  He laid down, deep in the covers and turned onto his side to hide himself fully.

“Do you want me to leave?  Should I help you out?” I asked.  “There’s no need to be ashamed.”

He reached over and turned his light off.  I couldn’t see the blush reddening his face anymore.  I wondered why the light had been on in the first place.  Perhaps a performer needs his spotlight. 

“No, you can come in.  I’m finished.”

This wasn’t true, but I came in anyway.  I was tired. 

I undressed at the foot of the bed.  I turned my back to him when I bent down to take off my jeans and when I craned my neck to see him looking at me, he was pretending to be asleep, curled up like a hamster. 

            “Goodnight,” I said as I slipped into bed.  I tried to put my arm around his waist, but he pulled away.   “Did you make toast?” he asked.

Jeff had already left for work when I got up to see a car smashed into the oak tree in our front yard.  It was winter and the snow was falling in thin sheets that were being turned on their edge by the wind.  The bang of the car woke me but I hadn’t actually heard it.  Just that it ended a dream violently.  What I heard was a dog bark and then a silence, and a car door open. I walked downstairs to look out of a window next to the front door.

The road had been plowed a while ago and another layer of snow, no more than a half inch thick, had fallen, hiding a patch of ice that put the car into the tree in my front yard.  The driver was now kneeling behind it, catching his breath and rubbing his head with his palms.  He wore jeans and his footwear was under the three inches of snow on my lawn.  He had an old corduroy jacket on and his hat had a Steelers logo on the front.

I opened the door and asked him if he was hurt.  Just shaken he said. 

“I wasn’t going very fast,” he told me.  Another neighbor rushed out of her house and the man told her he was fine before she’d gotten down her driveway.  She went back inside to get him a blanket that he’d told her he didn’t need or want.  He asked if he could use my phone while she was gone.  I let him inside and asked him to take off his shoes.  He sat at my kitchen table and called a tow truck and I put a blanket over him and poured him a cup of coffee. 

“Thank you.  You know they should plow your street more.”

“I think they did earlier.”

“Well, they should do it more often because I could have hurt someone or a kid or,” he trailed off.  “Thank you though.  It’ll just be a little while, then I’ll leave.  I’m Mark by the way.”

“Do you want anything else?  Water?”  He wiped his nose with his sleeve and then took a sip of his coffee.  He held the cup there so that the steam would warm his face. 

“I’m okay.  The coffee’s good.” 

He started to laugh in deep bursts of air.  He coughed twice, and I rubbed his back. 

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “Can I have your phone again?  I forgot to call my wife.”

I handed Mark the phone and went into the living room and took a bite from the toast I’d made the night before.  It was soggy from the butter but the cool, stale crunch of the bread felt good when I bit into it.  I took it into the kitchen where Mark was on the phone.  I threw the rest of the toast in the garbage.

I could hear his wife on the other end of the line.  I tried not to, but she was yelling. 

“Where were you last night?”  I could hear her yell.  “Why weren’t you at home?  Now we don’t have a car!”

“I’ll be home soon.  I’m sorry,” he said.  He hung up and handed me the phone.  He pulled his hat down over his eyes and then took it off and ran his hand through his stringy brown hair. 

“Thank you again.  The coffee’s great.”

When the tow truck came, he offered me twenty dollars, which I refused.  He thanked me again, and I let him out.  I watched them put his car on the truck.  He stood behind the two working men with his hands in his pockets, staring at the back left tire of his crunched car.  He bounced on his knees in the cold.  I hugged my robe tight to my body and went upstairs to shower.

When I got back to the house later Jeff still wasn’t there.  I put the bag of groceries on the table and went into our bedroom.  I sat down on the bed and took off my heels and unzipped my skirt and shook it off onto the ground.  I was unbuttoning my shirt when I went to the closet.

The shirt Jeff had been wearing when I’d caught him the night before was hung nicely there.  The jeans too.   I let my own shirt fall to the ground behind me, and I took his jeans off the hanger.  I slipped into them and clung to the material near the front button so they wouldn’t fall to the floor.  They were so baggy and the cuffs rolled under my feet.  I went to the door where there was a mirror and looked at myself.

I liked the way I looked.  My red hair fell down to the top of my bra and Jeff’s jeans made me look skinnier.  I got close to the mirror and put a rogue brow hair back into place.  I went back to the closet and put one of Jeff’s shirts on.   I could smell him there on the collar, his musk was sweet and abrasive.  I hated it.  I went to the stereo and put on the Pixies.  Their guitar yelled at me when I sat on the bed.

I wondered what Jeff had been thinking of the night before when I’d caught him.  Probably his high school girlfriend or someone he slept with in college, or maybe a fictional women, some Angelina Jolie character.  I hoped it was Mrs. Doubtfire and that had ruined his time. 

I laid down on the bed and thought of the man from this morning.  The light coming through the window caught my eye and little dots of the spectrum colored my vision until I blinked.  I pressed the bundle of jean I still had in my hand into myself, and wished that man was still here.  I closed my eyes and the Pixies called me a bone machine when I put my hand down Jeff’s pants. 

The front door shut and I could hear Jeff’s hollow steps coming down the hallway and then his voice asking what happened to the tree out front and why the music was so loud.  

 I didn’t answer, but I pictured the tree falling into the street, taking power lines with it.  Our house wouldn’t be hidden, and neighbors would come out of the darkness of their homes and see me like I was through the window.  I stretched my legs out so they were pressed against the bed frame and I grabbed at the clothe of Jeff’s shirt.

Jeff stopped in the doorway when he saw me.  I would have liked to see him standing there.

“What are you doing?” he asked me.

I didn’t answer, nor did I stop.  He came over to me and pulled my hand out of his pants.  Then, he pulled the pants off of me.  I asked him to make me a bowl of ice cream.  He said, “later.”

When he laid on top of me and kissed me, wet, on the ear, I pushed him off.

“I’m not finished.  Would you give me a minute?” I said.

He got up and closed the bedroom door. 

“No,” I said punching the bed and getting up.

“What?”

“When I said I wasn’t finished I wasn’t kidding.”

“I know that, but I thought I’d…”

“I didn’t ask for that.”  I pulled his pants back on and opened the bedroom door, and he grabbed my arm and pulled me into him. 

“Take my shirt off,” he said.

I pulled my arm out of his hand.  His fingernails scratched me.  Lines of red streaked across my forearm.  There was a moment of pain, and I rubbed it with my hand.  He grabbed at me again.  But I walked down the hallway. 

“Where are you going?”

“Don’t touch me, Jeff.”

He followed me as I left the house.

“Where’re you going?  What’s the problem?”

Jeff’s boots were sitting next to the front door.  I put them on and walked into the snow in the front yard.  I got to the tree.

“You look like an idiot,” Jeff said from the front door way, pulling his blazer tightly around himself. 

“Shut up.”

I looked at the tree, where the car had struck it.  There was bark missing, and the exposed wood was a yellow, brown.  There were thin shards of wood jutting out from where the tree was most damaged.  I ran my fingers along them.  The thicker ones felt like playing cards, while the thinner ones felt like hair.  I ripped at a thicker one.

The injured area was much smaller than I had imagined it being.  I was surprised at how unscathed the tree was by the crash.  Some things are difficult to hurt, but I knew the tree was cold with itself exposed the way it was. 

“Come inside.  What’re you doing?”  Jeff’s tone was more desperate than he wanted it to be.

A warmth came into my chest with a wish that the tree would have fallen on our house and split it through the roof.  So, when Jeff came home he would have asked what had happened to our house, and maybe when I pointed at the tree laying in our living room he would have been able to figure it out for himself.

I leaned into the tree.  I ran into the tree, as a matter of fact. 

“You’re ruining my shirt.  Come inside,” he yelled from the doorway.  I looked at him and ran into the tree once more, and he slammed the door shut.