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It was you that broke the new wood,
Now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root-
Let there be commerce between us.
I am five again. I am a five year old with a backyard that looks like a moldering, festering, battlefield. Over the summer, the grasshoppers flourish and descend on our lot like in the plagues of old (the soft beating of their wing grows with their numbers to a dull drone that echoes in my sleep). From, there they embark on some sort of scorched earth campaign against our lawn, pillaging it, purging it of tender vegetation, and leaving patches of bare earth, like a series of filthy wounds devoid of blood, in their wake.
Shoots of fine new grass are too naïve for their own good. They spring up from the rubble and uncoil themselves, opening their feeble, lucent bodies to the sky, as they will themselves toward the sun, only to be brutally devoured by the ever-vigilant locusts.
Then again, they will perish anyway. If not efficiently butchered by the grasshoppers they face slow strangulation at the hands of the callous dandelions. Dandelions, which flourish where less resilient foliage falters. Dandelions, whose pollen hangs in the air as a faint mist, staining the four sides of our white house piss yellow. Dandelions, like the ones I pick for Anna, that I arrange for Anna with clumsy, sticky five-year-old fingers. Dandelions that Anna places in the blue-grey vase we call the trash.
I am five again and I have shimmied my way up into the vacant boughs of our paltry, anemic excuse for an elm tree. Its half dead from wood rot and the supreme wrath of the August sun has spared only a handful of leaves. They hang, scorched and brown, from rigid stems waiting for a false breath or a hiccup to send them spiraling gently down to earth, where they will meet their demise by a rake or an errant footstep.
I am five again, I am in our tree, and I am suddenly a prisoner to dread. I feel too close to the sun. I can feel my unblemished child’s skin burning and peeling off like petals from a bloom. My muscles are next and it continues until all that survives of me is clean, dry, five-year-old bones.
I am seized with a fear of falling, of colliding with the world in a sudden, violent moment. I think of the picture book of Greek legends that has long since disappeared to the cavernous depths that surely lie beneath my bed. I think of Icarus, the doomed boy who, like me, flew to near to the immense smoldering orb. I am feeling what Icarus felt.
I feel what he felt as his life was slipping away from him in the beads of hot wax that rolled down his back; forging trails on his skin before plunging into the sea below. Sinking where he would soon sink, as the downy feathers of his wax wings floated like little rafts above.
I have no wax wings. I asked Anna to make some for me once, but she pretended not to hear.
I am five again and I haven’t yet learned how not to want. I want a million petty things, but more than all of them I want Anna. I want her to be my savior, my defender, my champion. I want her to receive me as the ocean received Icarus. I want her to spirit me down from the rotting elem. I want so many things.
“Anna, please get me down.”
She shakes her head annoyed and, feigning her old familiar deafness, turns back to the screen door. Panic rises in me like something wild. Caged terror beats relentlessly at the confines of my chest and I feel my breath grow ragged as I implore her again and again to the same results.
Suddenly, I am sitting next to me; regarding my own desperation with a sort of perverse objectivity.
I see my mouth open. I see it form the dirtiest word.
I am back inside myself by the time she begins to turn. Slowly, she’s giving me time to contemplate the ramifications of what I’ve just said. I can’t help but notice how alike we look. The same lank ginger colored hair, the same hazel eyes, the same strong mouth. We are two of a kind save for the unsettling expression of contempt-melded horror that streaks her face as she searches out my downcast eyes.
I try in vain to correct myself.
“Anna,” I plead, “Anna help-help me.”
The tail end of it catches in my throat and I look to her.
“You’ll be fine,” she says. The tone is almost serene save for the strong aftertaste of bitterness that lingers in the silence. She seems to relish saying it, in watching me writhe as I whisper her name a hundred times over while my eyes well up and release down my red, sweaty face and snot funnels into my mouth.
I shudder and launch into a fresh appeal.
“Help me,” I heave, ‘p-p-please.”
I see something vaguely malevolent flash in her eyes and at once I understand. She never wanted this, any of it. Not the white house or the ragged lawn unraveling before her. Instead, she prefers to exist in a world of “could haves”. She could have been a writer, a painter, a gypsy, anything that didn’t bind her to someone else. She could have been anything but a mother, but those days are gone now. Her wax wings melted long ago.
She looks at me as though appraising an adversary, subtle satisfaction playing across her lips.
“You shouldn’t have climbed up there Wendy. I don’t know how you’re going to –“
The fall leaves me with ten stitches under my eye and a broken arm. I am five again and Anna tells the doctor she didn’t see.