Dead Wood

by Adina Davis

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They came for the tree in two orange trucks, one large, one small. Five men hopped out of the two cabs. They gathered on the sidewalk and looked up at the tree.

I watched them from my bedroom window. Tall as our house, the tree stood between the street and the sidewalk, a green splash among asphalt and concrete. From my window, I could see that the crown was bare, just dead wood, though from below it looked healthy. Its leaves nodded and danced when the wind blew. A woodpecker lived in it. Every morning, even that one, I heard his jackhammer echo.

“Elizabeth,” Dad said behind me. I felt his hand cover my head. Like the sun, his palm pulsed warmth everywhere in my body, out to my fingertips, down to my toes. I didn’t turn around.

The men wore orange vests and hardhats, blue jeans, work boots the color of sand. Headphones covered their ears. One of the men got in the bucket at the end of an orange arm and rode it to the top of the tree.

“Lizard,” Dad said. I was thirteen. Sometimes I hated being called my baby name. Other times, like that one, I liked it.

It was like a dance: the man in the bucket leaning out with his saw, the bucket dipping toward the branches, the saw severing a limb, the bucket bobbing away. Down on the sidewalk, the other men fed twigs into a wood chipper. It clattered and growled. I turned away from the window. Dad’s suitcase, a black rectangle on wheels, stood by the door.

He slid his hand down the side of my face and cupped my cheek. “Once I’m settled,” he said, “you’ll come every weekend.”

“I won’t,” I said. Late at night, when they thought I was sleeping, my parents fought. I’d lie in bed, humming nonsense notes against the hiss and spit of their anger.

“You’ll have two bedrooms of your own, one with Mom and one with me. How cool is that?”

“I’m not a baby. You don’t have to bribe me with bedrooms. Jeez.”

Dad tipped my face up. “You’re right. You’re not a baby.”

I scrunched my face against his chest. His arms gathered me. He smelled like smoke and cinnamon.

“Daddy,” I whispered and flung my arms around his waist. We stood, rooted. His heart beat against my ear.

The wood chipper stopped whining. In its sudden absence I could hear the tea kettle chugging downstairs in the kitchen. I imagined Mom like I’d found her the past few days, arms braced against the edge of the counter, staring at the wall.

“It’s time,” Dad said. His arms loosened around me.

“No.” I wove my fingers together. “I won’t let you.”

Dad covered my hands with his. I felt his fingers, so much larger than mine, so much stronger. I tightened my grip around his waist. He tugged and grappled but I hung on. I hung on so tight my knuckles hurt.

“Don’t do this,” he said. He wrenched my wrists apart and stepped back. Our breaths were as jagged as if we’d been running. I saw his eyes search for something to say. I turned away from him.

Outside, the tree didn’t look like a tree anymore. With all its branches lopped off, it was just a stump, weirdly tall. I wondered what would happen to the woodpecker now.

The bucket slid down to the ground. Just short of the sidewalk, it stopped. The man inside opened the door and jumped out. He started leveling the stump with his saw. Someone turned the wood chipper back on. It snarled, chomping the pieces the other men fed into it. I thought, it’ll be strange to look out and not see the tree. Then, after a while, it’ll be normal.

Adina Davis lives outside Boston, Massachusetts. Her stories have been published in Raving Dove and Night Train .

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