The Danger Tree
These people come in from out there. They are shapes mostly. They are like sails in her room. Her room. She knows this. There's a picture on the wall. There is some noise.
"What kind is that?"
"It's the tape you like, Mrs. Goodyear. Do you want it on?"
The room is light. Then the room is dark. She opens her eyes, then slowly they close. This is the way it always is. The little noise is on. It goes up and down. She closes her eyes, and the people go away. She opens them, and the noise is over. Dark then light, and then the people come in from out there.
"She seems to like the music."
She can see them better when they stand still, if they stand to the side of the bed.
"Your grandson, Mrs. Goodyear. He's come from Ontario to see you."
There's something to their faces then. They have mouths that open and close. They look like children she knew. They say things that come from far away.
"How are you, Gran? How are you feeling today?"
She doesn't know.
"What's she saying?"
"A name, I think, but I can't make it out."
Or a face. A face on the way to Carmanville. A child selling bakeapples, holding out a mason jar on the gravel shoulder, after the road was through. Then the car passes and the face is gone. Who is that? She's seen that child before. Stop the car now.
"There, Mrs. Goodyear. It's all right."
Gone. These people. They come in from somewhere. "You have a visitor today." Then they go away.
"How are you today?"
She doesn't know. They put in like schooners on a coast of arms and legs. She used to try to find out where inside her they belonged. Don't you remember? No, she doesn't. She's asleep. That's all.
"Mrs. Goodyear. This is Betty's son, your oldest grandson."
There's another voice. "Hello moy dear. Come 'ere, I wants ya."
"Hush. Who is that? Hush."
"That's all right, Mrs. Goodyear. It's just the man across the hall, the one always calling for the nurse. But look who's here. Come all the way to see you."
"It's a shame, really. She must have known so much. All the stories you're looking for."
She has white hair, and her skin is still soft. It's the color of waxed paper, wrapped over the thin driftwood of her bones. She was born in 1900, and she was young when she married. Then she had four children. She was always proud of her handwork. Now her fingers work the edge of her blanket as if trying to turn a hem.
Who's that now?
Miss Carnell from Carmanville, the schoolteacher over to Newtown. Pretty as a picture in a white dress, going berry-picking. Brown hair shiny as a pony's flank. Skin smooth as ribbon. Eyes like buttons.
He was a Goodyear. Well into his thirties when he married her. He'd been away to the war and back again. To the Labrador once or twice. And to the ice. He was a grown man, already in business with his brothers then. Always in the woods, Joe was. A great man for the woods. But that afternoon, when he saw her near Carmanville on her way berry-picking, he said, I'll marry that girl.
"I want that."
"Do you want to sit up, Mrs. Goodyear? Do you want the bed up?"
Mind now. "Look."
"What is it, Gran?"
"Look." That dog stopped dead in his tracks.
They'd been the winter in the woods. She and Joe with Betty, their first baby. In the lumber camp at Aspen Brook. The fresh bread, oh my. And snow like fairyland, like hard sauce on the spruce trees. And they were coming back to Grand Falls before the breakup. She was sitting up in the sled, wrapped in a rug, and the baby was bundled in a wooden box in front. A Carnation box, lashed into the sled, and Joe, walking along beside them in his big fur coat. Here, he said.
They'd come to a dead tree on the side of the ridge. It stuck out of the snow like a skeleton, and the dog sensed the danger. But it was a place Joe remembered. Here, he said. We'll go down here and cut across the river. She's solid yet.
So down they go, over the bank, and part way across the dog will go no further. Whining and carrying on and climbing back over the other dogs' traces. Goddamn, Joe said, and he picked that dog up and threw it forward, and that's when the ice cracked open in front of them like a china plate. And she can see the black water swirling, and the baby sound asleep, tied into that box in the front of the sled.
"What is it, Mrs. Goodyear? Are you cold then?"
These people. They cover her, then they take everything away. It's cold, then warm. Wet, then dry. They tuck the blankets round her. They turn on the little noise. They move around her room and do things.
"She's not going to say very much today. We should probably let her nap now."
She closes her eyes, and somebody says, goodbye Gran. Then they go away. When she opens her eyes the noise is over and it's dark again. Hello moy dear. Come 'ere I wants ya. Here, he said. We'll go down here, just past the tree. Then over they go, but she doesn't move. It's white and dangerous and empty. She lies in her bed like a baby in a wooden box. Hush, she used to say whenever they cried. Hush now.
By JAMES L. CRENSHAW
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Copyright © 2001 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. All rights reserved.