Toys for tots and baseball cards,
broken hearts and battle scars,
wedding rings and sordid trysts,
abandoned dreams and bucket lists.
“Okay, now you go.”
“Tell me something you’ve never told anyone.”
“Sometimes I wish I was an entirely different person and that I could forget everything and start over. Sometimes I wish the world was easier. Sometimes I wish I’d leapt for the stars, lived on the street, wandered the halls, walked a razor toward death. Sometimes I wish I was a user, an abuser. Sometimes I wish I was the negative of myself.”
“What stopped you?”
“Where are we going?”
Caragana trees cast dappled, compound-leaved shadows on our feet. It’s too early in the year for leaves to crunch beneath them; only damp, dark soil exhales an earthy smell as we skirt the edge of the school yard hoping Mrs. H doesn’t see us sneaking off. I followed his floppy brown hair and chocolate eyes outside the moment the brass bell rang. A mischievous smile plays on his lips, “I’m going to show you something.”
After we pass behind the shadow of the dark, brick building, we stop, the sound of squeaking swings in the distance. There’s a line here between schoolyard and farmer’s field, delineated only by a wide band of dirt barely touched by weeds. We’re too young to think about the compounds here that keep that soil so clean. All we know is magic, imagination, and who just had the best fruit rollups in their plastic lunch kit.
“Here. It’s right here.” I follow close behind him as he slides sideways into the caragana trees, littered with yellow blossoms we pull off and suck the nectar from, giggling at what we think is honey in our mouths.
The dense bushes give way to an open spot where an old maple stands. Our skinny legs and arms are branchlike in comparison and we’re certain it’s the biggest tree we’ve ever seen. The roots raised from the ground threaten to trip us if we’re not paying attention. He slides around the side, rubbing up against the rough bark, cotton fibers of a Transformers’ t-shirt catching audibly as he pushes along the trunk. “This is the spot!”
I peek my head around; he’s pointing a slender finger at the side of the tree near the base. Broad and flat, I don’t see anything out of the ordinary.
“The spot for what?”
“The trap door. We can open it. It will take us down there and no one will know where we’ve gone.”
“I don’t see it. You’re silly.”
“No. Really. Come on. You just have to want it to be there. You don’t want it bad enough. It knows.”
“How can a tree KNOW, Curtis? It’s a PLANT.”
He sighs, heavily. “It just DOES.”
“This is stupid. You’re stupid.”
In the distance, the bell starts its ring.
“I’m going back to class. This is dumb.” I turn on my heel and start to stalk off, pushing through the bushes. After I clear the yellow blossoms, I turn to see if he’s behind me. He hasn’t made it through yet and I’m torn between running for the schoolhouse and going back in. The bell is almost done ringing and I’m not the sort to be tardy. My desk at the front is waiting.
“Come ON! We’re going to be be late!”
No answer. I thrust my upper body through the bushy legumes, my mouth open, about to yell…
He is gone.