The Decision Tree
by James Greer
Low light slants through a bower of maple branches onto the roof and dirt-spattered windshield of a car parked on the red clay driveway. No wind stirs, and the mosaic of shadow slides by imperceptible degrees from the blue roof of the parked car to the tawny drive, crawling from there to the tips of the trees. Cinders of sunset spark on the windshield between buttons of grime. On the porch of the adjacent house, a large dog sleeps restlessly, its black ears twitching in the evening heat, next to a swing hung between white wooden columns. Through the grid of windows facing the porch, a woman stirring sauce in the kitchen presents an occasional profile, hair pulled back neatly and rubber-banded, brow flexed in thought. She stops stirring and lifts the spoon to her lips, one hand cupped beneath, bending her neck forward slightly to greet the upwards curve of the spoon-bearing hand.
My cigarette smoke rising from an empty chair on the porch mirrors the steam from the sauce, twining in the window, which reflects not only the warm light from the kitchen but the sun’s quiet death. The first few fireflies test their turn signals, harbingers of impending night. One buzzes too close to the sleeping dog, inducing a drastic shift in the stubborn flow of time and place: the dog yawns, and suddenly I’m in a dark room in a cold city with a streetlight blaring in my eyes. Impermanence, I have a feeling, is a self-inflicted wound.
It’s cold in here. The window is loose in its frame and rattles with every gust of wind. I can feel the wind through my sweater, slowly unraveling like the frayed edges of my personality, falling apart now that I’m alone, now that no one else is around to give me substance and meaning. Outside the glare of another’s perception, I’m afraid I have no real being. I’m an accretion of foreign fluid—the sweat and saliva I’ve sucked out of you and everyone else. That equals me. That’s my sum.
Without you I have no memory, and without memory people are little better than husks. I can no longer draw your face in my mind: I remember only plangent recombinations of light and shade, half-shimmers of reflected recollection, spangles of recognition—as if you were mirrored in a poorly-lit store window, at an oblique angle, on one of my memory’s byways or sidestreets. I’m starting to forget what everything looks like. My room is inhabited by phantoms of objects I’m sure I long ago lost, and the shapes of the few things that do remain seem to shift from moment to moment. I’m constantly bumping into my table and spilling books onto the floor, books I didn’t even know I had and certainly have never read, nor will.
Hunger and thirst are feminine. Ho fame, ho sete. Do you hunger and thirst after righteousness, or do you, as I do, simply hunger and thirst, in the most obvious and humiliating ways? A penny shines on my dresser, reflecting the tangerine streetlight outside the window. I want that coin’s brightness, its permanence, its lack of permanence. Everything.
Time’s been severed at the root, lopped, trimmed and sent spinning from space by a single brutal blow. Poor gap-toothed infinite, our silly sun, useless armies of stars in her fingerless hands. Garlands and garlands of two-lipped truths dangle from her neck. Who collects the residue of passion?
Liquid syllables spill down the phone lines, like wet diamonds, like a wild boar in a shadow forest. Message from a seasick heart. The sun in my blood goes supernova and gutters out. The moon, I’m beginning to think, has designs on me. The moon has a motive.
I’ve felt the lunar tug before, but never so strong, never so pure. Every atom in me vibrates with its light, and I lie unmoving, pinned to the bed, barely blinking. A jacaranda tree outside my window, spindly with age, bends in the moonlit wind, directing my eyes, my hands, my heart towards the image inhabiting the center of my mind.
I know what the moon wants. I know and resist with an automatic strength. I know because I can see her: sometimes she lies breathing quietly in the next room, her long and lovely fingers clutching the edges of a borrowed blanket. I envy that blanket’s easy embrace, and resent the rasp of sheets against my flushed skin. Lead-limbed on my glimmering bed, I smoke a stale cigarette, exhaling with effort, and imagine the shadows falling across her face. Shadow fingers, shadow lips, shadow kisses. I’m no stranger to the rapture of attraction, but this is different. This is a matter of tides, of gravity. Of ineluctable force.
What is love? Movement of the soul towards its essential nature. All words become one word. When you say the word your life begins.
If. L’if. Life. In the strange geometry of ardor, words are never proof enough.
Today and tomorrow, no more. Whatever pain you have caused in the past: redacted. Nothing ensues, transpires: happens. Sadness: no more. In the sky, drifting ashes mix with snow and become snow, and fall, in wet flakes, on the international date line. Let’s get out of the house. Let’s open the high oak doors and walk outside, breathing new air. The ice ages but we do not: no more. A blue jay carries an almond in its beak, hopping along the crooked fence. The warped and rotting boards of the fence bear the weight of the bird, and the falling snow, without complaint.