It was an old gum tree with low hanging branches; easy for us to climb at that age. I still remember the feel of the smooth wood as I pushed myself up, the tug on my shoe as the lace snagged a twig; the air flowing with eucalyptus.
Fay was a better climber then me. But she was going slowly that day. It was her favourite tree on the farm. She used to hide up there when playing hide and seek, or if the doctor visited; she hated that medicine.
The brakes squealed as her car pulled up. Its lights shone in through the kitchen window, illuminating the cramped apartment.
The keys jingled and scrapped at the door before she managed to unlock it. She flicked on the lights before she came in (she does this before entering any room at night. Childhood trauma she calls it. I always just called it fear of the dark.)
She lend against the door to push it open.
She was half asleep.
She looked up at me, surprise all over her face.
“What are you doing here?”
It was cool that day, the sun had finished its rise and a gentle breeze raked across the leaves and branches.
We sat next to each other and shared what secrets we had like swapping snacks at recess.
Fay told me that she saw her brother smoking behind the chicken coops down the hill. I told her I had watched my father stuffing money into a shoe box which he hid in the roof.
On and on like that it went.
The light was trickling down through the leaves like raindrops. It splashed against her blue dress and pale skin.
I could even smell the faint echo coming from the lavender she kept in her blonde hair.
I was wondering myself what I was doing in the apartment, and what I had hoped to accomplish by surprising her like this. I hadn’t really thought it through; I just knew I had to see her after I learned that there was truth in the gossip.
“I’m hoping to stop you from making another mistake.”
She walked into the kitchen and threw her purse and keys on the vinyl counter.
“You’ve made a mistake by coming here.”
She pulled out a glass and filled it at the tap. The pipes groaned and stuttered before water started pouring.
“It would have been a mistake not to come.”
She sculled the whole glass, slammed it on the counter, then turned to me; eyes slicing through me.
“I want you to go.”
“You can’t mean that. Please, just let me talk.”
I didn’t want anything to spoil the moment. Everything was just the way it always has been. Fay, the tree; we were in our own world and there was nothing else for it. But the moments you want to keep always tend to be the ones that fade away with a single tear and whisper.
“I’m going to miss you Rodger.”
She was so quiet. I had heard her, but I wanted it to be the wind. I pretended it was. She looked at me.
“Rodger, I’m going to-”
“Shut up Fay! Just shut up!”
She started crying.
“Why did you have to say anything? Why couldn’t you just shut up about it?”
I was angry.
The moment was gone.
“Now you want to talk, do you? Now you want to deal with it?”
Kelly was pacing back and forth in the kitchen like a cat on the prowl.
“I just wanted to find out why?”
“You want to know why. You want to know why?!”
I put my hands up to calm her, but before I could get a word in,
“You don’t get to ask that question! You have the nerve to come into my house and ask it?!”
“I just meant-”
“You self deluding bastard. You want to know why? You had your head shoved so up your own ass, you had no idea what was going on in the real world! What was happening to us!
You just wanted to hide in your work and pretend that everything was okay.
Well, guess what Rodger?
I tried calming Fay down, but I was too angry at her. I just wanted her to stop crying and go back to swapping secrets and talking about school and which Goosebumps story we were up to.
“I’m sorry Fay, please don’t cry.”
She sobbed and rubbed her nose.
“It’ll be alright Fay, I promise.”
She looked up at me with those big green eyes; tears still rolling down her cheeks.
“No it won’t Rodger. I’m dying and there’s nothing you can do that will make it alright.”
Anger rose in me again.
“Well if you give up then there is nothing to do, is there! You’re supposed to fight it! If I was sick like you, I wouldn’t give up. There has to be some special doctor who has a cure.”
This time, her anger rose.
“There is no doctor. My mummy and daddy have talked to every doctor. There is no cure. I am going to die.”
I don’t remember what I said. I only remember the rage that filled me, the look on her face as she pushed me.
And the fall.
Tears were falling from her cheeks. I was numb inside, like I had been hit so many times that it just became a single, constant feeling.
“Please Rodger. Please, just go. Michael will be home soon. Please go.”
“Kelly, we’re still married. You can’t do this.”
“You did this Rodger. You did. I can’t live like you. I can’t pretend that everything is fine. I want someone who can deal with our problems. You’re like a child that hides up a tree instead of facing reality. I can’t handle it anymore. Please, just get out. Go!”
She had closed her eyes and turned her back to me. Every time I tried to speak she just shook her head.
We stayed like that for a while. She, with her back to me; myself, in a chair, trying every plea I could think of. Eventually, I simply croaked, “Alright.”
I don’t remember leaving or getting into my car. I just remember being on the road, the signs and light posts flying past me.
I looked at my hands on the wheel. The ring on my finger.
She hadn’t been wearing hers.
I could feel something welling up inside me. A stone in the sea; rising instead of sinking, as I had hoped it would.
I tried fighting back a tear.
Those mere seconds between the tree and the ground are one of the strongest memories of mine. My arms were in mid twirl, trying to regain my balance or, at best, turn into wings.
When I reached the point that my shoulders couldn’t lean forward anymore, I knew there was no stopping it.
I could feel the tree moving underneath me. It’s funny; it didn’t feel like I was falling off the tree, more rather the branch was turning itself under me.
It was only when it slid out from under my calves and shoes that I realised I was the one going somewhere.
And then, nothing. Free-fall. The only sound was a bird calling out somewhere and the wind whispering in my ear (a sound that, only moments ago, I was desperate to hear).
I was staring straight up, into the green canopy of leaves and the columns of grey branches.
Fay was a watching me fall, her face overflowing with anger and sadness and shock.
Everything was growing smaller, but I knew that it was only getting further away.
That feeling of nothing, as short as it was, I wanted to last forever.
I pulled over onto the shoulder. I could no longer see. I rubbed my eyes furiously, but I couldn’t stop crying.
I knew the end was coming. I had hoped that the fall wouldn’t end, like it did those years ago. I thought I could ride it out. When I heard he had moved in with her, something had clicked. I had thought of Fay’s funeral. I don’t know why. Or maybe I do.
Whatever the reason, I had to see her.
I didn’t want to know the truth of it. I just wanted those moments that we cherish; I wanted to make them last.
I wanted her to say that she was coming back home to me. I had to hear her say that it was all fine. That she just needed some time. I wanted to stay in the tree and never come down.
But she wasn’t wearing her ring.
I was pushed out the tree.
I kicked open my door.
My knees buckled and I fell to the dirt.
It was an empty road and a starless night.
I cried and howled.
I had lost her.
Reality was all that was left to me.
I had hit the ground.