The Dead Tree
by Lee Ann Petropoulos
There is a dead tree by the neighbor’s house. Too close for comfort, really. With each strong Midwestern storm that blows through, the neighbors hope and pray that the tree stands, that this is not the storm that brings it down on their home. The skeletal nature of it casts a long shadow, a seeping anxiety, and tempers their laughter. They know it is not a matter of whether the tree comes down, but when.
The family lost a child last year, a sweet little girl with huge eyes and a ready smile. She had been sick for years, leukemia stealing her away from them a little piece at a time, until finally there was no more to take.
After the funeral, family and friends congregated at the neighbors’ home, the gathering presided over by the dead tree. Branches clicked against one another in the chilly breeze, providing the percussion to the sighing of the dry grasses. The overcast sky matched the mood of the mourners. They seeped out of the gathering quietly, softly, wandering back to their warm and cheery homes with no dead trees in the yard.
Winter will come again and strip the rest of the trees bare. The neighbors will watch and wonder if this is the year that an ice storm brings down the dead one. Their friends will ask them again why they don’t have it cut down. The neighbors will never be able to explain the love they have for that dead tree, the one that played such a beautiful dirge for their daughter.