She has an iron tree hanging on her wall, with twisted roots and naked limbs stretching up and down equally. If you spun it around, the roots would turn into branches and the branches into roots. You couldn’t tell what reaches for the heavens and what is crawling with worms.
Every night, she twists the knob next to the brick hearth and a gas fire flares up. She stares into the flames for a moment and reaches out a hand. Her fingers skim against the yellow tips of the fire, and she holds her breath while she silently counts, one, two, three, four… all the way to nine.
Then she tucks her reddened fingers between her breasts, cupping it gently in her other hand. Her chin tilts down and she closes her eyes. The fire flickers shadows on her cheeks, casting her lashes in long stripes like prison bars.
With a deep breath, she stands and walks across thick carpet to her wine rack. She kneels down and chooses a bottle. With wine in hand, she curls into the great armchair and rocks and rocks and rocks. Some nights she reads; other nights she sews. On the latter nights, a dark cloth envelops her lap and the thread she uses is silver. It is impossible to tell what she makes, except that it is grand.
Her brother knocks on the door, and when she pours him wine, he sits on the corner of the coffee table and asks, “What are you sewing?”
“Nothing in particular.”
He rolls his eyes. “Dez, seriously, come out with me and Sandy tomorrow night.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“It just isn’t.”
“Come on. Tell me.” His voice sharpens.
“I’m sorry, Sam, I can’t.”
“I won’t keep trying forever.”
“I know.” Her eyes fix on the black cloth in her lap. They are both silent for a long moment, until her fingers twitch and she continues her line of stitches.
“Later, then, Dez.” He stands, casts a long glance around the living room. He pauses on the iron tree, tilts his head, and then turns opposite to stare into the mirror. “I think the reflection is off in that mirror.”
She laughs. Her fingers clench onto the fabric, fisting the folds up into knots. The laughter startles Sam and he crosses his arms over his chest. “Dez?”
But she only laughs. She presses closed her lips to stop it, but tears gather and clump her dark lashes together until it looks like spiders are crawling out of her eye sockets.
When he is gone, she sews furiously, occasionally glancing at the mirror and then back down at her project. The needle punches in and out, slipping through and drawing the black thread with a quick tug. In and out, in and out, and the tip pierces her skin. She gasps, but instead of leaping up for a tissue, she presses the bloody finger into the fabric. The blood soaks invisibly into the material.
While the sun is high, she avoids the room. She never sees the glint of sunlight turn the iron branches from black to burnt orange.
She never sees the tree change away from winter, into a burning, brilliant autumn.
The next night she comes in with a woman trailing behind her. “Since when do you do Sam’s dirty work?” she says as she turns the knob at the hearth.
The new woman’s hands flutter in the air, but there is nothing to hang on to. “I’m worried, too, sweety. If you’d only tell us what’s wrong, we’d feel better giving you space. But this was just so sudden.”
She shakes her head. “Nothing.”
“Dez, you just stopped. You just stopped calling and leaving your house. Poof! Like that.” The woman reaches out for Dez, then shrieks as Dez sticks her hand into the flames.
“It’s fine,” Dez whispers. “I’m fine.”
“You are not fine. What happened to you? God. I knew when Blair died you’d have trouble, but we thought it would be immediate. Not this sudden split nine months later.”
“Don’t cry, Sandra.”
Sandy’s fluttering hands land on her cheeks, and she scrubbs at her eyes. “We all loved him.”
“But he wouldn’t want you to trap yourself in here. He wouldn’t want that.”
Dez looks at the mirror. “Yes. He would.”
“Are your fingers burned?”
“I have to sew.”
“What is it? A blanket?”
Sandy’s high heels puncture the carpet as she goes to the basket next to Dez’s armchair. “It’s so black,” she says as she draws the cloth out. “And silver thread. Is this a… Orion? What on Earth?” Sandy caresses the designs stitched into the cloth.
“Just go, Sandy, please.” Dez gathers the material to her, holding it in a bundle before her like a shield.
Backing away, Sandy says, “Stars. The night sky. Are you making that for – for him?”
“Sandy, go. Please.” Dez sits and reaches for the box of needles on the coffee table.
“If I go, I’m not coming back. We can’t keep struggling with you.”
“That’s what Sam said. I understand. It won’t be much longer.”
She doesn’t respond. Just sews.
She is alone again. The iron tree is a black blot on the wall, flickering in the firelight like a tear.
“I remember watching the sky with you,” she says suddenly. Her fingers pause. “It was the most comforting thing, you said. Watching the stars with me in your arms.” Her hair curls against her neck, begging to be touched. She licks her lips and smoothes her fingers over the black silk. “This is the sky in the late summer, when the air is thick and we could lie against grass with only the wind for a blanket.”
Standing, she walks to the mirror. Her eyes are closed and the black material drags behind her, brushing the carpet with a gentle roar. She stops a few inches from the glass and her eyes snap open. “I love you, but I never should have tried to bring you back.”
And with a long, swooping gesture, she flings the starry cloth over the mirror.
I can’t see her anymore. Only the stars.
image by rednewport