The takedown

The morning of the takedown was the first time dad said to Mara and me, “Don’t waste food,” and it had real meaning. We might regret not having that food soon enough. She was little and had burned her bread and didn’t want to eat it. Dad said the time of excess was coming to an end and people had to compete with each other and with wildlife for the first time in anyone’s memory.

We walked to the big hill, my sister and I each gripping one of my father’s gnarled hands. The people circled the great White Oak that stood with giant sheltering arms spread over the hillside, stretching some 120 feet into the sky. Mrs. Heiser arrived and the circle parted and let her in. “Quercus alba,” she said, and, shading her eyes with a hand, looked up to its crown. “All things must pass,” she said to the crowd.

“All things must pass,” they replied.

She walked completely around the base of the tree, running a hand along the rough bark. After completing a circuit, she stopped and stood with a palm resting on the bark, eyes closed. The tree was sick, beginning to show the early signs of the blight. “We must take her now,” Mrs. Heiser said. “so that we can salvage her wood.”

 “What does she mean, dad,” Mara asked.
     “She means that the blight hasn’t gotten deep into the wood yet, but it will. If we don’t cut her down, she’ll fall soon enough and the wood will be useless, even for burning.”
     “All right,” Mrs. Heiser said. “We’ve all done this before. If you don’t know what to do, now’s the time to ask because once we start, it gets dangerous. This beautiful old white oak was here before your great grandparents and probably would have gone on living if times had stayed the way they were.”
     “But they didn’t,” a man called out.
     “They didn’t!” the people replied in one voice.
     “They didn’t, and we’re the reason,” Mrs. Heiser said.
     “We’re the reason!”
     “We honor this tree by cutting her down and using her branches and boards, for shelter, for heat, for whatever may come.”
     “For whatever may come!” the crowd called out.
She strapped crampons on her boots and wrapped a strap around the tree, sliding her hands through loops at each end. With a  flick of her wrists, the strap went up several feet and she scampered up so that she was now about four feet off the ground. She repeated the process so that in a burst she stood hugging the tree some 30 feet overhead to where the lowest branches split out. She rolled up the strap and hooked it to a clip on her belt and continued climbing by hand until she stood at the point where one of the highest branches split off at an angle. She quickly attached a rope and lowered it. Without a word, someone tied a basket on one end and someone else put in a gigantic pulley with a handle on it.
     “That’s a winch,” the father answered without being asked. “Watch.”
     In a few minutes a man strapped a harness on, it was Mr. Paulings, the tooth man. He waved an arm, and called out, “OK, pull me up” There were two sets of winches, one at the top that Mrs. Heiser turned and a large one at the bottom with a big steel wheel turned by two hulking men. Mr. Paulings was up in a matter of seconds. The two hitched themselves to the trunk and walked out on the branch, and about halfway out, began sawing.
     This would have been quick work with a chain saw, but the community voted to use hand tools to minimize noise and the chance of rovers detecting us.
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Catching up with an old friend

The woman passes below my window, my perch in the connecting corridor suspended over 18th Street between two buildings, the Flamm and the Mercator. She’s walking eastbound on the south side of the street, sticking to the thin band of shade shiellding her from the summer sun. It’s not her red hair that has my attention, or her tight skirt that stops just at the knees. It’s the hurried nature of her walk. Gaits are a pastime of mine and hers isn’t the oh shit I’m late kind of walk.  It’s the kind of walk you have when you don’t want someone catching up. Short, quick steps and a quick glance over the shoulder. And there he is, about a half block away, a guy in spandex running gear and a jacket, a hand on the pocket.

If you’re like me you’re thinking that maybe there’s a gun in that pocket. Maybe there’s just a sandwich, an egg and cheese from Jonny’s truck just around the corner. It’s not worth guessing it’s just breakfast. He’s matching her pace, craning his neck around people. She’s looking back over her shoulder every few steps and he’s looking straight ahead. Not gaining on her, but not falling back either.

I grab my sportcoat and race down the steps to the street, coming out of the Flamm door just as the guy’s passing. I fling the door open and it makes him step to the side. I don’t knock him over. Hey, he says.

Hey, yourself, I say and reach out and grab his arm. I have his attention. Get off me, he says. Bobby, I say. Oh it’s you, he says and takes a swing. I see it coming and slide my head back. He makes contact, but it’s no big deal. I take a side step, and twist his arm around behind him.

Fear of _________

There’s too much air in the house,” Lydia said.  She took a deep breath and pinched her nose to hold the air in then all at once blew it out until her lungs were empty. Then she took long sniffling breaths until her lungs refilled, again pinching her nose then coughing the air out.

Archie looked up from his Sunday Times puzzle, which, after three solid evenings of work had little more than the top right corner completed. Sure, there were a few three-letter words scattered about – ego and fur – but the abundance of white space was beginning to agitate him. “I’m never going to finish another puzzle,” he said.

“Who are you kidding? You’ve never come close…,” she squeaked, and on the verge of passing out, took another massive inhale. “…to finishing even the Monday puzzle. Did you hear what I said about the air? There’s too much air.”

“Tourniquet!” Bob said, slapping his hand on the arm of his chair. “This changes everything.”

He glanced up at Lydia, who was holding her nose. Her face was getting red and a bead of sweat drizzled down one of her temples.

“Archie, honey,” she said, “I think I’m going to pass out.”

Her head pitched forward and Archie, quick as an ocelot, sprang from his chair and caught her an inch from the coffee table. He lay her down on the couch with her head on his lap and fanned her face with the Sunday Magazine.

She opened her eyes. “The air,” she started.

“I know. There’s too much of it. Why don’t I open a window to let some out.”

“Oh, would you?”

Archie stood and opened the window.

“Archie?”

“I know, darling, I’ll close it in a minute before too much air gets out.”

She sighed, contented, and picked up his puzzle. “Twenty-seven across.,” she said. “Anemophobia. It fits.”

“Well, look at that; it does.”

“Close the window,” she said.

The jelly bean conversation

Jelly Beans?

No thanx. I’m off sugar.

Oh come on. Have one. Just one won’t hurt.

No really. I’m not eating the sugar anymore.

These are really special jelly beans. They’re imported from Madagascar.

Madagascar? Bullshit.

Kids love ’em. You know, Reagan kept a huge bowl of jelly beans in the Oval Office.

And you’re saying that because Ronald Regan ate jelly beans, I should too.

Yep.

I should start eating processed fake sugar because some wingnut fascist did.

I think you’re being awfully hard on The Great Communicator.

Well, I have a headache.

That’s too bad. Long day?

It’s caffeine withdrawal. I’ve cut out coffee.

Why would you do that? I couldn’t do that.

And Archie, he don’t give a shit. He makes a fresh pot every morning. Drives me up a wall.

Archie’s coffee is the best. Is he still baking those amazing pies? The ones with pralines and burnt sugar…?

I wouldn’t know.

How long you two been together now? Eight, nine year?

Eleven. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

So what is all this about anyway? Why no sugar and coffee?

I just want to be better.

What do you mean? You got diabetes or something?

No.

The cancer? This some new age treatment?

I just want to be better.

How about a jelly bean then?