A Barefoot Ballet
The hush of twilight had settled in, and the mosquitoes began their slow secretion out of the bowels of the earth. Heat clung to our skin and we swallowed it in gulps, blinking it out of our eyes, wiping it from our philtrums. Across the lawn, dad lit a match and his hand began to glow as if it had been tattooed with starlight. He touched his torch to the firework wick and we all inched forward in our time-worn lawn chairs, breath held in anticipation.
It was a dud.
Everyone laughed about it, everyone but the girl with the forest green eyes. She had been hoping to see the sky catch fire. Disappointed, she disappeared unnoticed by her family and escaped from the torch-lit patio light to dwell in the darkness by the freshly-planted willow tree. Her young fingers reached for its frail, ashen limbs and she began to hum an elegy. She did not simply sing, she rhapsodized, and the willow reached out at the sound of her voice. In the suffocating night, underneath the hazy cloud of mosquitoes and failure, the forest girl and the young willow fell into the most sacred of friendships.
Underneath those whimsical, life-spudded limbs is a gnarled trunk that has been forced to grow around life’s intrusions. Willow trees must be tended properly, and, when they are small, it is necessary to tie them up to a stake to keep their slender trunks from snapping under the weight of their branches. Pop brought me a piece of old, blue rope and we tied the willow up. Her trunk is too big now for me to even wrap my arms around, but amidst the wrinkles of old-age, she bears the scar of where that rope once was: a trench, a triumph. An autumnal breeze pirouettes through the air, and those dry appendages begin their waltz, clashing together and producing an orchestra I know is meant specifically for me.
Eight suffocating summers have come and gone since that day, and dry sticks now litter the ground beneath the willow. Remember how they once were green? How as children we would bend those supple limbs around us and dance barefoot to the medley of the wood-spirit’s pipe-organ? The sun would soak into our skins and we would radiate like newly-awakened fireflies in the purple-orange dusk. How long has it been since we glowed? I ask this to the willow, but she simply shakes her gray mane in reply, expelling an ancient sigh.
Oh, to be supple and verdant again. Oh, to gaze at the willow without calculating how much time it would take to trim those pliable dancer-leg branches.
I cannot even remember the last time I went dancing with the willow. It is as if I have traded those barefoot ballets for the concrete death march of work, ambition, and success. When I come home and curl myself up in a ball in my overstuffed black lounge chair, crying from exhaustion, are those tears being pushed out of my eyes from the little girl inside of me, the little girl who, when confronted with failure and disappointment, sought solitude with the trees?
The city is preparing for dawn and birds and people alike are quiet in repose as the girl with the forest eyes finally trudges out of work. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she registers the need to stop and appreciate the quietness of 1 AM in a normally chaotic city, but the pain in her feet and the list of to-dos rolling around in her head propels her onwards. She drives away, and the street lights in her rearview mirror look like fizzled-out fireworks.