THE EXPLODING TREE by Kevin Richard White

She’s feeding you remains of her meal. Like you’re some animal child. 

There’s a tattoo of an exploding tree on her back and right shoulder blade: black ink like paint splatter on her smooth skin, roots pulled up, snapped branches, drifting leaves that become new birds. Hair covers it, but not often.

One day, you woke up, and it was there. You were angry about it at first, but then you realized you had a lot in common with that tree: You both couldn’t move and had nowhere to go fast.

You open your mouth. You want more of the dry chicken she has cooked, but she has thrown it away. You beg to suck on at least a bone, but she whispers, “No.” She takes you out of your chair and lays you down on your belly. You’re a fish again, one of your favorite playtime activities.

After she got the tattoo, you watched from the bed as she cleaned it, kept it moisturized, watched the pitch blackness brighten her skin. You wish you had hands to help her, or at least trace it, make a shape of it to keep. But you watch. And shake. How can something so artistic be out of your grasp. She continues to smooth her skin and you want to scream.

You’re a man of broken parts. She’s your mechanic. Somewhere, along the line, the manual will be written to make you a new human being again. It could take days or years, but she has promised you, in soft voices, that you’ll have hands again. That you’ll have it all back. But you think and never tell her that you’re past the warranty date.

On your belly, you imagine you’re a guppy, cascading through dark warm water. She rubs your back and shoulders, trying to get knots out. Perhaps she is trying to give you a tree tattoo of your own, you think. You try to say this, but fish don’t talk, and so you just continue to think you’re swimming until she’s done.

She could have left a long time ago, you told her once. There’s no need to take care of me like this. But she smiled. And in response, she whispered, “Well then, who would take care of me?”

After you’re done being a fish, she goes to get you ready for bed. Pajamas on, teeth brushed, and sets up the laptop for you to use. She puts the mouth operated mouse in and you’re good to watch movies for as long as you want. She goes to get ready herself for her job. You watch her undress. The tree is there, shining. She puts on her black dress and bracelets and brushes her hair. She leaves the tree visible this time, usually covering it up. That’s when you can’t take it anymore. You spit out the mouse.

“Don’t let anyone touch that tonight,” you say.

She spins around, still brushing. “Touch what?”

“Your tattoo.”

She smiles. “You’re a silly boy.”

“I’m serious. It’s yours. Don’t let anyone touch it.”

“It’s yours, too, baby.”

She comes over and kisses you. The smell leaves you breathless. Your mechanic. The one who feeds you. The one with perfect hands that are replacing yours.

She puts the mouse back in so you can operate the computer again. Before she leaves for the night, she kisses you one more time and wants you to sleep well. She’ll be back later, she says. The door shuts. You’re still hungry but have to wait.

After some time, you fall asleep, thinking you’re still a guppy. Back through rivers and past sharks, you’re going towards some kind of light. When you get there, it’s a small island, white sand, shells and crabs. But there’s one tree. A large black one that reaches to the ceiling of the sky. Suddenly, you’re an animal, climbing up. You get to the top. Leaves drift and become birds. You want to do it as well. The tree gets blacker against the blue sky, and you reach a claw out, breathing hard, wishing it becomes a wing. They all continue to softly drift up and over the water, and as you pray to fly, you hear an explosion from under you, bomb-like. Something lifts. You fly, but not well.


Kevin Richard White’s fiction appears in Hobart, Rejection Letters, Lost Balloon, The Molotov Cocktail, Soft Cartel, X-R-A-Y, The Hunger, Hypertext and Grub Street among many others. He lives in Philadelphia.
 

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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