In the morning, as she is silently driving, looking at field and hill, the skyscape strewn, the new day sun, all that needs saying is very clear to her, just as – right before she falls asleep and in the minutes between the alarm being silenced and it ringing again – she knows that soon someone will notice and will articulate the theory in some way that is palatable and sensible and – my God – bound to be so beautiful it makes even the most jaded mind forget everything it ever knew and turns the world new again if its told the right way, the way it begs to be told.
She feels that this will happen, that it is already happening. Maybe it already has? Maybe it happened years ago and was overlooked or disregarded, deemed unimportant. She hasn’t heard of the theory, the explanation of why people even bothered to make shapes and sounds to tell stories to begin with. There are plenty of theories, and she’s heard some of them…but, she hasn’t heard the theory that she can’t help but to think of as hers, even though she knows that – like anything else anywhere near a truth - the idea belongs to no one. It isn’t even an idea. It’s not even a theory. It’s just something about the world and how it shows itself; it’s just something that is, or – at least – that seems to be.
She knows all of this in a wordless way as she studies the stark winter light in the trees at the edges of pastures, the edges of fields. It’s surprising to her, that she still thinks about this, and it is surprising to her that she would consider doing anything other than think about this.
She is caught between clarity and confusion, a woman in the middle, still watching the skies, but being very quiet now.
It used to make her lose her mind, the bigness of it, the beauty of it. Now, she just watches, wishing she could weep at the sight of it again, that she could believe in the way she once did. She knows though that she’s not cut out for that sort of believing, that her life has no room for it.
Still, in the mornings, it’s all very clear to her and she feels excited to find that she really never did forget. Then she pulls into the parking space at the far end of the lot and gathers up her bags, her purse and her lunch, the car chirps as she walks across the pavement and the door to the office scrapes at its threshold as she opens it.
By the time she gets off work, she isn’t sure of anything and doesn’t feel like saying a word. This time of year, it’s dark as she drives home and she can only think about walking the dogs and going to sleep.
For the past few days she has hardly listened to the radio at all. Even on the long drive to work, she doesn’t even think to turn it on until she is almost at the airport, with the fields and river sliding by outside the passenger side window. She considers the possibility of turning on the radio with a blithe detachment, a momentary observation that she has not turned on the radio after which she settles right back into the relative quiet in the car.
Really, there is a great roaring surrounding her, of engine and roadway, the hum of tires and heat pushing out from the vents. There is a crackling around the windshield, because it is cold and sharp outside. It’s as though the car itself is trying to recoil as she pushes it further and faster down the road.
Without the radio, there is very little to distract her from her looking around at scenery and considering her own thoughts, which haven’t been too pressing lately, but aren’t entirely relaxed either. She could just go on living like this, doing this – driving to work and back home again, going through the paces of walking dogs in the early morning and being fun with the children on the weekend, being a good mom, a fun mom…not a layabout or grousing or distracted or overly ambitious sort of mom…a mom who has something to prove…she doesn’t want to prove anything anymore.
She wants to be a fun mom, a mom who goes rollerskating and laughs a lot and is at ease with herself and in her life, free from the weight of all the questions that she’s been carrying around for such a long time, the strain around her eyes gone and her mouth not all pinched with silence.
She thinks that if she could just be that, if she could be at ease and forget, then she could go on living like this, driving to work and back home, walking the dogs.
The dogs get walked once in the dark in the morning and once in the dark at night, almost every 12 hours precisely. In the morning, it is bitterly cold and everybody should be asleep, but the street is already filling up with cars and trucks parking, sounds of last songs leaking out of the closed windows – mariachi and country, maybe a dim din of inspecific rock and roll.
This morning a man in a sports sedan was blaring a country ballad, “I’m falling, falling, falling in love with you.”
She wondered who he might be thinking about sitting there in the cold early morning, getting ready to go to work.
His face was lit blue looking at a phone, but she couldn’t see his features. She didn’t look for long; she was just out walking the dogs.
The men in hardhats move diagonally across the street, heading toward the middle school, where they are building a new middle school right behind the old middle school, on top of the field where she used to let her old dog run, where she and her children would pretend the old broken bleachers were ships, big blocky buildings have risen. The field is thoroughly gone.
The dogs she has now are little dogs, terrier mixes. One is old and will probably die within a year, and one is young and likes to bark at squirrels.
In the dark, a person might not even see that she was walking dogs, unless they were right in the middle of the sidewalk. Usually they were straining at their leashes toward the dark ground at the edge of sidewalk, where all the smells of earth and other dogs and fast food litter linger.
To some cars, she might just be a woman walking slowly and pausing as she made her way down S. French Broad in the dark of early morning. It wouldn’t be completely out of the ordinary. There were sometimes people out on the street so early. At least a couple of times a week, a man is waiting at the bus stop in the dark for the 6:30 bus, maybe going to work. She never says anything to him, or waves from across the street.
Nobody speaks so early. Everybody tries to be invisible in the early morning. Every once in a while, someone wants to stop and exclaim about the dogs or the weather there in the dark, usually an older woman who may or may not have been up all night drinking and who may or may not be on her way home. These women who want to talk make a great effort to be casual and friendly. The dogs never bark at them.
The woman cannot stand it when the dogs bark at someone while out on their walks. It is not fair to say ‘the dogs bark’; it is only the younger dog that will sometimes bark. The old dog never barks at people, or at squirrels, or at other dogs or anything at all, except for the woman. He barks to be fed or to be let out onto the porch or let in from the porch. He barks in the middle of the night if he has forgotten how to jump up onto the couch to sleep. She has to wake up and go downstairs to get him and bring him upstairs to sleep. He never, ever barks at people though. The young dog, though, she will bark at some people. Not all people, but some people, usually young people. She senses fear like she can smell the tracks of a possum in the leaves piled between the sidewalk and the street.
She hears the water in the pipes under the kitchen sink and barks because she thinks there is something in the cabinet. She does not understand the sound that water makes going down pipes, she can’t figure out what it is.
She does not bark at all mysterious sounds though, the young dog.
She doesn’t bark at the sound that the dry leaves make rattling on the branches of trees in the night. On the walk that the woman takes the dogs on in the night, (which is really only evening, just past 6:00pm, but this time of year – in the winter – it is so fully dark that it feels like night, and so she calls it night) there is a tree that makes a tremendous rustling in even the slightest breeze. The young dog never barks at this sound, though it is a very noisy sound, all those clattering leaves whispering together.
Sometimes the woman stands under the outermost branches of the tree, those that just barely reach out over the sidewalk, and just looks up and listens. It’s too dark to see the branches move. She can just barely make out a blurred difference between sky and silhouette.
More and more, the woman feels attached to the tree, feels like there is something special about the tree. It was a long time ago when she first noted that the tree picked up wind so efficiently that it seemed, almost, to be making the wind itself. She had been out walking the dogs and it was late afternoon and warm. The air was very still in the way that it sometimes is, with a sort of hush about it. The old dog, who has to stop and smell almost everything, engaging a drawn out process of discernment as to whether or not he ought to pee on a specific spot, was smelling around and the woman was being, as she tries to be, patient. She looked around, listened to the sound of traffic over on Biltmore, took a deep breath, stifling the reflexive irritation that she felt having to wait for the old dog to finish this pitifully doddering business of marking territory. She knows that he is an old dog, that he will die soon and that she ought to be glad to have him out for a walk, be glad to indulge him his careful, intent smelling and compulsive urination.
She looked at the brown of the tree’s dead leaves against the blue sky and wondered why all the leaves had dried up as they had. The tree looks to be a sort of oak and it’s full of dead leaves again now, just like it was on that afternoon that she first noticed it making wind.
Decades ago, when she was in middle school, she and her various groups of friends would sometimes talk about whether they had ever seen a leaf spinning independent of the wind or anything else and she has vague memories of seeing leaves do this, just hang there and spin as if moved by something inside the tree, by the tree itself. She doesn’t know if this is something that other adolescents ever talked about or if it is a conversation that she herself started, again and again, with different circles of friends over the years.
She did not see any leaves spinning on the tree that makes wind. Instead, they trembled, just a few at first, a barely perceptible shimmy, a shiver in the still air. Then, slowly, more and more leaves joined in the movement until the branches were being pulled to and fro in the great swirling that took over the tree, its leaves spinning and twisting until a great breeze moved out into the still, hot afternoon.
The sound that it made, that tree full of dead leaves in the wind, was beautiful, dry and rasping, a noisy whisper, like something deep inside, under the husks of bark, was straining to get out.
Since that day, the woman pays attention to the tree, watches it and waits for it to drop its leaves. For some reason, it never does. She doesn’t understand this, how the tree can hold onto its leaves, even when they are dead. She only sees the tree at night now, because she walks the dogs at night.
As she approaches Bartlett, the street that the tree stands on, she makes a point to notice if it is windy, if there is any breeze at all. Regardless, she begins to listen as she crosses the road, tugging at the old dog, hurrying him even if there aren’t any cars. She strains her ears and watches the tree, which is growing right on what must be the property line between two houses across the street from the church with the simple colored diamonds in the windows and white-washed stonework wall. The tree is enormous, standing 70 feet tall easily. Old ivy vines twist around the main trunk, but then stop short at the point where the branches split off, as big as trees themselves.
If there is any breeze at all, she can hear the air moving through the branches from twenty feet away. Whisper hush, this street has a secret. Whisper rattle, the wind is born here. Hey, hey, we see you there and we love you, love you, love you, whisper, whisper watch come closer, we’ll show you how we care. As the woman moves toward the tree, the sound of wind gets louder, full of clicks and crackles, creaks and sighing. She looks at the windows of the houses that the tree sits between, lit and curtained shining in the dark. Do the people who live in the houses ever hear this noisy, wonderful tree? Do they listen to it, does it get inside their dreaming as they sleep?
The branches are moving in a wild sway. If she stretches her arm out as far as she is able, the woman can grab ahold of the very tip of a tiny branch. It feels alive between her fingers, as if the movement is coming from inside the tree rather than outside the tree.
The dogs begin to tug at their leashes, restless now and irritated with the woman’s slowness, her standing in the dark and looking up. The woman holds onto the branch for a second longer and lets it go. For a moment she feels envious, wishes that she could live beside the tree. She pushes the feeling back, listens again to the sound of the wind as she heads back towards home.