There was a pit in the centre of the garden. A narrow marble coping encircled it. We’d stand on either side of the coping facing one another and put our hands out and lean into one another.
The garden was beautiful, remember? Long paths of golden shade through old-men trees, baby-pink flowers, wisps of water sliding everywhere.
Remember how the trees would hug you and you’d feel safe and snug in their boughs, the leaves rattling around you in the breeze?
We had the best dreams. You would be me and I would be you and we’d stand over the pit on the marble coping, leaning in. Then we’d count down from ten.
I remember thinking what careful artist had made you. What fine lines in your smile. What smooth edges and delicacy I wanted to trace with my hand.
We’d wake up before we reached one.
In the summer, your parents sent you to stay with your grandmother. The garden was a short walk from her house. They aren’t very warm, your parents. Not especially loving. Busy with work.
Remember how you didn’t tell them about us? How you wouldn’t tell your grandmother?
You have been growing restless. I don’t blame you. Once you become aware of it, childhood is an unendurable length of time.
Next year is your graduation. I’m especially proud. You have plans for university, botanical medicine, geological studies, astronomy. You feel as though all these doors are opening up in your life and you want to run, arms out, through each at once.
We want a grand gesture. It is farewell. We want it to mean something, be a capstone to your childhood, our summers spent together, in that lovely green place. A camp fire, breathing the smoke of certain leaves you know about. Make your fingers and lips tingle.
“Let’s sleep in the dreaming trees,” you suggest. “I’ll be you and you can be me. For old time’s sake.”
But I hear the pit talking to me. It buzzes my bones; I say, “Let’s play the leaning game.”
“It’s too dark.”
“There’s plenty of light still. Don’t you trust me?”
The ritual is to look into the pit first. The coping is translucent marble, smoking inside with grey swirls. It’s about two feet high. I remember when it was as high as your chest. You have been coming here every summer for that long.
Of course, this pit isn’t deep. You would twist your ankle if you fell, but that was it. It was more the trust, the nervous flutter in your stomach, the intimate feel of our bodies straining against one another, socketed in palm to palm over the pit. And you were a kid, and then you grew up, and it was tradition.
Tonight I look over the edge, and I don’t see the bottom. I guess it’s too dark. A heavy sense of trouble weighs at me.
Your fingers are cold in mine. Cold as darkness. WE lean and push and I feel your arms tremble. Feel the electric tension? Feel the static moving between us? We could make lightning, you and I.
Because you’re older, taller, our hands are above our heads now. We hardly lean at all. We’re so close our noses might be the keystone to this arch.
Then, in your eyes, I see a sudden glimpse of your distaste. You’d really wish you were anywhere but here, with me. You hate me. Find me disgusting. I’m the yucky left overs you’re forced to eat to be polite. The inane television shows always playing. The maddening snores. The terrible smells. The stink of a failing body. I am a zombie you visit out of some sense of duty that you pretend is love.
And the marble crumbles, churns under our feet, grates like gravel. “And you push back to get clear, to jump to safety. And I lose my balance. And I am in the pit and the marble is raining down in chunks atop me.
That is when you wake up from the dreaming tree in the grave yard. “I’ll be back again,” you say over the grave. “Next year.”
Except the time is come. You’ve grown too old.
I am resolved. Something interesting after all waits ahead. You were exploring your new path. When had I stopped wanting to explore mine? When had I stopped being curious? Everyone moves on…except a ghost.
I feel a lightness. Wings?
“Promise you’ll be here,” you say. “Because I want to bring someone to meet you. I think you two would get along.”
Are you serious? But of course, you are.
I convulse with laughter. A real bone tickler of a joke. You old fool you, I think, meaning me.
“Don’t you go on me,” you say.
“I won’t. I’ll be here, always.”