Dedicated to anyone who searches for improving themselves, and to anyone who finds comfort in strange places. -SHP
Something unusual happened to Grace on day eighty-seven.
The buckeye tree was in the same place, waiting, which had been the routine for eighty-six days. It had been in the same place then and hadn’t decided to pick up its roots and leave her alone now. But Grace was later than usual today and was worried, yet early or late, either way, it remained.
As usual, Grace noticed that it became more silent the closer she got to it, save the soft rushing from her purse as it brushed against her winter coat. This sort of silence was part of the magic, Grace decided. No where else in the day was there this kind of quiet; from the foaming sound the passing cars made outside her apartment that awoke her daily to the sizzle of electric failure in the outdoor porch light, there was noise all around her.
As a rule, Grace never threw salt over her shoulder if she tipped the jar over on the table. She didn’t hold her breath in a tunnel and make a wish. And she didn’t put any stock into the idea that colors held significance. She was never particularly well with her judgement as her astrological sign predicted, nor was she great about setting about with any particular purpose in the new year.
Except for this. In this, all her rules were broken. Step on a crack and you’ll break your…blah blah, foolishness. This was real. If she didn’t walk down this path, didn’t lay eyes on this buckeye tree, (which she had been to everyday for eighty-seven days), well…something along the equivalent of missing her train and being stuck far from home would happen. The buckeye seemed to smile at her as she thought of that comparison.
Of course it didn’t start this way. On the first day, she nearly walked right past the buckeye tree, muttering to herself what utter nonsense it was to put stock into something so singular. Belief was something you weren’t ever supposed to see. That was a requirement. Someone had mentioned to Grace, in childish whispers and forgotten memories that in order to find wisdom, find someplace still. That when you surrender to not knowing the answers, you understand the remedies. As Grace passed the buckeye tree that first day, she found herself tripping over the pavement getting lost in the branches above her.
By the end of the second week, thirteen days straight of visiting the buckeye, (for she was now, through vigorous google searches, fairly certain that was what the tree was), she had reinvented her idea of belief in the tangible objects. But on day eighty-seven, something different happened, something that hadn’t happened before. Someone else was at the tree first.
Grace approached cautiously, thinking that she was better off just passing straight by and circling back. That way she could prolong the enchantment, like waiting until the end of the day to read the next chapter in a good book.
Please go away.
The man, wearing a tan trench coat and reminding her of Carmen San Diego, showed no signs of retreat. He stood reviewing the branches and making slight movements, representing his own form of intrigue. He wasn’t exactly still, but something about the slight change of foot or the shifting of his neck made it clear he was paying homage to her tree. Her tree. Grace decided to slow her pace and wait him out.
Any moment now, she told herself, he would realize that if this stranger wanted to collect his thoughts or meet up with someone, he could damn well find a different tree because this one was taken. She would find her peace she so loyally was here to collect, it was day eighty seven after all.
Any moment now.
“Not going to happen,” the man stated gruffly.
At first, Grace wondered if he was even talking to her, he wasn’t looking in her direction but he had responded to her as if he could read her thoughts. She frowned and looked around, making sure there was no one else around. No one was there except a small brown and white terrier in the distance, whose little paws appeared to be doing a better job of jogging than its owner.
“I mean it,” he reiterated.
“Excuse me?” Grace asked hesitantly, wondering why she already felt so defensive.
“I’m not going to leave, so you can just find another place to stop to check your Facebook or whatever it is you were wanting to do,” he said, turning his head only slightly. Grace noticed his hands were in his pockets but he still continued to gesticulate with them making his jacket wave at her like an Italian mother agreeing with her son.
“I’m not here for that,” Grace replied meekly.
“Well I look forward to this time everyday and there are other trees.”
Grace choked quietly at this unexpected disservice, feeling warmth spread out in her cheeks despite the wind. As she tried to think of a response, he turned and looked at her straight on. She noticed his eyes, which were – to be fair – not anywhere near as hostile as his words; such a bright blue they made his hair, which was brown, look gray in comparison. When she failed to comment, he raised in eyebrows in silent question?
What should I say?
“I can’t just find another tree,” Grace confessed, surprising herself at her choice of honest retort.
The eyebrows lowered on Grace’s intruder, his lips tightened as if trying not to smile and turned back to look at the branches of the buckeye tree. He seemed to focus, to her annoyance, on the long black branch that twisted and curved down so low it reminded Grace of an arm outstretched over a lake, dipping its fingertips down to brush the surface of the water.
“I see,” he said to the branch. “Well I can’t either.”
Grace almost stomped her foot in indignation. What was this person doing here of all places?! He clearly didn’t have something to find, not like she did. At least, this person didn’t look like someone seeking wisdom or refuge.
Certainly it started out feeling foolish, but this moment in her day was anything but flighty. Deciding to make one thing a daily occurrence is easily understood when it’s drinking more water or learning a new word because it’s your health, your mind. But what if its your spirit that needs repetition? Eighty seven days ago Grace passed through this street and stopped by this tree. She found herself peering first at the lovely teal veins running through each shiny leaf or the chapped black bark, then later the yellow nuts that hung like Christmas tree bulbs or the rough like tiny scissor cuts. Most trees sounded like rain, not unpleasant but this one seemed to put a finger to its mouth and hush those nearby so all that was left was a stillness inside of her. She was downright renewed.
I’m seeking something.
To Grace’s utter astonishment, she found it completely logical to find a place once a day where she could be untroubled; for her, the buckeye tree succored this. Everything else was achievable if this moment happened. She was addicted. And there was no way Grace was going to back down to someone.
I’ve found something.
“I’ll wait,” Grace decided.
“Well I don’t want you too,” he shot back. But he seemed to be disappointed with himself and grumbled, “I mean, I’m just not in the mood for company.”
Grace took a step forward. Very shyly she said, “look, I’m here for a reason. I know how it sounds, but it needs to be here.”
The man turned and scrutinized her differently. He brought a hand over his face and paused it over his wide mouth and said something into his palm. As if something had occurred to him, he asked, “is this about someone?”
“You know, who’s passed?”
“No!” Grace announced, horrified at the thought and embarrassed at the prospect of it being this strange person’s reason.
He shrugged it off, dropping his hands to his sides, signaling that whatever his reasons were, that wasn’t it for him either.He appeared to make up his mind about something and moved forward toward her, making Grace swallow involuntarily and squeeze her hands into balls. He approached slowly enough, sensing her apprehension.
“Justin,” he announced. His hand was cold from the wind, but dry and soft like flour on a marble cutting board. He smiled at her quick eagerness. The blue crinkled in the corners, he must’ve smiled so often it made it difficult to approximate his age.
After recognizing their mutual attachment, an hour passed quietly, evaporating as quickly as each smokey tailed breath. The spell prevailed, releasing Grace with a promise to be there again for her tomorrow. Justin left before her, having gotten to the tree earlier. As he walked away he recognized the familiar blinking of his wristwatch. The repetitive clicking sounded like it had suddenly walked nearer, both sound and comfort joining him like a friend as he walked further from the buckeye tree.