its limbs swag, its leaves curl. Fault lines in the trunk, rotting inside. It once offered blotched shade, the only big oak for fifty-plus miles, drawn from old blood. In a hot wind I can hear the branches crack, tendons fracture. Those anxious leaves, they clench their bird-worried hands: tender, supplicating ornaments. A thing to give birth to flame, torn and ripe, this blasted cremains of summer. A fine scratch of lightning would gut this place entire. And why do I think of fire? It’s an excuse to burn down our history, no motives supposed, and leave the hobos to sort through the ashes. Jeremiah sits beside me, nodding.
“A fine idea, Charlotte,” he says, but I can tell it is only out of spite.
“I will think upon it, Jeremiah.”
“Hand me my jug, and we’ll discuss it at length. Think of the ashes and the dust. No one will know. Lightning is such a vagarious creature, not deliberately mean-spirited, but not deliberately kind, either. There are worse ways to leave.”
“There are never good ways to leave.”
“Ah, but there is one. Alone in one’s bed, with the comfort of a cawing woman to issue peace to the suffering. You wouldn’t know about that, would you, dear? The suffering is not by the wound, but by the cold rumination of the one who gouged the flesh.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be that way, Jeremiah. I would have shot you back of the head if you had the foresight to turn away from me. But you could not take your eyes off your property. Even when I pulled that trigger, you were waiting for it. You expected it. You must have.”
“I expected you to crawl to me in pity.”
“I did pity you, and I do. Pity for the waste, and the remorseless feelings you had for me.”
“Pity? You won’t garner any from me when I come back ’round. Burn it all, my dear. Burn it all, and I might find forgiveness for you.”
“I never will. Neither burn it nor tend to your mercy. You deserved what you were given, and I am glad I was the one to give it.”
“Burn it all,” he said, and I awakened to the scratched black surface of the sky. The wind had returned.