Wilted Willow

This is the last place Steve wants to be. Carol, Steve’s wife, spends an hour reading the back of all the different brands before presenting the cure she deems the most appropriate. “Look, you know I don’t like taking medicine,” Steve says. Strong in his belief that time, rest and good diet can cure anything, “Pills especially!” but she isn’t interested in his beliefs. Not in this matter at least. Not after trying for so long.

“Well, ya gotta try something!” She says. She grabs the little box of pills, some lavender bath salts and some oils before heading to the checkout. Adding to the order, she reaches for a cheap Harlequin Romance novel off the end of the aisle rack, nestled between condoms, disposable vibrators, chocolate bars and bubblegum. Steve eyes the comics while she pays. Does this happen to superheroes? The drive home is full of banter that Steve forgets the moment the words roll off her tongue. His verbal contribution consists of a lot of yups and yeahs, with the occasional ok, and that’s how it started today. Same as yesterday really, and the day before that, and the day before…

Spending the day working in the yard isn’t how Steve planned his day off, but at least he won’t have to be around Carol. Not that he is angry with her, or she with him—he hopes—he just needs something to take his mind off the situation. Transplanting the young tree was her idea. It isn’t getting enough sunlight—Mother Nature’s loving touch—from the other side of the house, and they both want a weeping willow in the backyard. It should look beautiful in about three or fours years, give or take.

The earth is dry. Regardless of how often it rains, which is rather often in Nova Scotia, the soil just never holds it. Keeping the yard medicated is almost a fulltime job. Always adding fertilizer, soil boosters, soil conditioners, bio-stimulants, and of course, constant watering to chase the drugs down. It requires a lot of patience and an equal amount of devotion to maintain, but Steve is always willing. And regardless of their current situation he loves that the end result brings a smile to Carol’s face. They are both longing for a weeping willow to relax under on summer days.

“How’s it coming along?” Carol asks. Her head stuck halfway out the backdoor of the house. Her tone suggests she is in better spirits than she had been.

“Well… I got it in but it’s a little wilted. Keeps limping to the side.”

Even from across the yard Steve can see her eyes squint like a vixen scorned and her brow rutted. “Well it ain’t gonna to fix itself…” and Steve concedes her good spirits are still taking a break for the day, probably off smoking a cigarette and drinking a café mocha under the neighbor’s willow tree, which is quite mature and all encompassing.

“Yeah, ok.” He waves her off and continues to work.

Her attitude is new to the relationship. It first popped up around the start of the month, and most recently earlier today at the pharmacy.

One thing is evident; the weeping willow really isn’t going to fix itself. Sure, it needs sun, water and everything else nature requires, but at this stage it needs a little more support. Steve goes to the cellar, which, of course, is decorated with every sort of tool known to man. It is well organized for a workroom, but that’s the way he likes it. Everything has a place. Everything. The thought of something not working, or in need of repair, would eat away until he fixed it. He must know exactly where everything is, and he does. Along the back wall is a massive cubby-holed shelf unit with an assortment of odds and ends in each holed-opening. He made the shelf when he and Carol decided to finally conceive. It was ideal for storing diapers, powders, blankets, toys and whatever else they saw fit, but that was almost a year ago and it hasn’t been needed yet. So, for the time being, it just stands erect along the back wall hoping to be used someday. Along the assorted odds and ends are some foot-long stakes and twine. Steve grabs both, along with the hammer his father gave him, and heads back to the yard.

The willow looks even more pitiful than ever. The peak of the four-foot babe sags to the point of caressing the dry soil that separates it from its roots. The tilled earth reminds Steve of the ribbed condoms next to the comics at the pharmacy and he chuckles to himself. He takes the hammer and pounds one of the stakes into the ground, about two feet away from the infant trunk, and then does the same on the opposite side. Without cutting the twine, he wraps it around the stake a good number of times and leads it up around the mid-section of the trunk, circling around and around, gentle, not to damage any of its delicate branches, and then does the same around the second stake before he finally releases. The once limp tree stands up tall and strong—albeit with a little support—and for the first time all day he feels a sense of accomplishment, and smiles.

“Carol.” He yells towards the house. The door opens and Carol poked halfway out, her wet hair drips on her bathrobe like rain watering a garden, her Harlequin in her hand. “Whadda’ya think?”

“Looks great!” She says. “See what can happen with a little help?”

Carol’s smile beams like a ray of sunshine, hitting Steve with all its warmth. His shoulders go light and he sighs, releasing a burden more heavy than he realized. Is this how Atlas felt when he finally lowered the Earth? His little tree is going to make it after all. He values his pride almost as much as his love for Carol and knows he can make her happy, like she deserves to be. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do what’s right.

“Alright.” He says. “I’ll try the pill tonight,” his subjugated tone holds equal amounts of acceptance and understanding, sprinkled with a hint of defeat, but nothing he can’t handle.

After years dreaming—a shared dream—Steve never expected the thought of conceiving a child to be so stressful. It was harder than he thought.



Adam S. House