Jeff revealed to Marlenka he had been bending trees as she was unpacking from her eight-week trip to Nepal. “I listen to the rustling and then I bend. It’s like playing the guitar. Sometimes it’s like seeing the future,” he said. Marlenka still carried with her the smells of everything and everyone at once—her boyfriends, her gurus, cockroach infested hostels and the overflowing sunsets she watched from speeding trains in the nowhere of the Russian steppes. Sometimes he wondered whether to others she smelled of the pine sap he always carried in the lines of his palms. He could never detect his own scent. She held each shirt as though it were a dying bird, love and disgust emanating from her cupped palms.
“It’s all laid out in my head,” Jeff said. “Paths and alcoves and secret destinations.”
She picked up all the dead underwear and dropped the pile into the laundry basket.
“You’ve been doing what?” she said.
The night was filled with chirping crickets. He moved his head to Marlenka’s pillow and felt her body stretch next to his. Marlenka was texting with her friend Beata, her face glowing blue. The wisps of her laughter tickled the air around him. He imagined the moon growing bigger than the sun. How beautifully the sky would darken around the softly glowing disc, rotating like a vinyl record. “I think the universe would play a waltz,” he said when she put down her phone. He thought she would laugh again, but she sighed and turned away from him.
The cold days and colder nights came. The trees dropped their leaves, huddled together and hissed at him. He backed off. In November he busied himself with writing, stringing words together and hoping they made sense.
“He’s writing his life story,” Marlenka said to her friends at a party.
“I have no life story,” he said when they were driving home. “Life is just words.”
The first snow started falling, otherworldly in the high beams. “I’m leaving tomorrow. I might even come back,” Marlenka said.
Everything she owned fit into her gray suitcase.
In the spring he befriended a thin, scruffy feral cat who had somehow survived the winter, and they started wandering into the woods together. Everything looked different after the snow melted. Each year more layers of the world were peeled away, and the freshness hurt Jeff as if it was his skin that had been rasped off. He tried to talk to the trees, but they just stared back. It was the cat who finally said, “Jeff. Listen to me, friend. You have a scratch on your forehead. Go in the house and stick a Band-Aid on it, and for the goodness sake, keep on living.”
Ania Vesenny lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. Her fiction has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Per Contra, Descant and elsewhere and is forthcoming in The Antigonish Review.