Dark and Damp

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James la Vigne is a fiction writer and attempted poet and redeemed mathematician living in Seattle. He hopes to one day survive a lightening strike. He has a story in Cardinal Sins.

 

When Sofia was born, a seed sprouted out of sight, in the dark dampness under the floorboards of the living room, nursed only with a cursory light cracking through; it grew as tentatively as she, and in spurts as robust. Finally, when she was an adult, the floorboards were swollen like a pimple, and then as though pregnant with a secret. At first, she dismissed this emergence as a defect in the flooring, nothing a phone call couldn’t fix, and besides she was busy, but soon the protrusion was such that it pushed the furniture about and forced everything onto a woozy incline. Then the trunk and branches broke through the floor, for it was a sprite and leafy tree, a beautiful tree with tender bark, and yes, she was grateful, but did it have to come now, when she had neither the time nor the resources just to live, let alone to handle its care and the repairs? She almost wept. It surged upward and outward until its branches reached the walls, knocking over the TV, portraits of family, and the calendar. The living room wasn’t hers anymore.

Soon the branches shot through a window and pushed into the ceiling, beams crumbling to the floor. The sunlight flooded the house, which was the aim of its hurried growth. Its bark wasn’t smooth like its slighter predecessors but rough with deep furrows and sticky with dripping sap. There was a cavity at the top of the trunk, from which a full-grown owl occasionally peeked. Though the hole wasn’t terribly large, the roots below spread greedily beyond; this might take days. Debris was everywhere.

She sat down and almost wept. It was too much. She cancelled dinner with Frank and texted an old friend named Antonio. After clearing the room of furniture, she used a broom to knock out the loose pieces of ceiling and pried the floorboards up with a crowbar. Sofia peered into the hole, in which sprouted mushrooms in the soft dark earth – the sort of commonplace things that thrived there but which were better kept out of the glare of the sun. The tree was different.

She took a break. The sun shone on the lobed, toothy leaves and the pink buds near blossoming. A ruptured pipe leaked like a fat artery, and a pair of heating vents were exposed. The roots of the tree wormed into every part of the earth below. Either too invigorated or too weary from activity to despair upon the disarray of her home, she thought nothing of the work ahead. She got a text back from Antonio, who said he could stop by tomorrow. So tomorrow came and the two unearthed the roots with care, like they were digging up a fossil or pinching the tip of one nerve and then pulling the rest of the nervous system right out of an advanced organism for display in a medical museum. Then they lifted the tree out of the earth; it fell into the kitchen, poking out several windows, disemboweling a sofa, and scratching against the dining room table’s finished surface. They climbed from the hole and recuperated. Next, they tethered the branches and roots with ropes, but it didn’t help much. Sofia at the branches and Antonio at the roots, they guided the tree toward the door; as they approached a branch snapped off and fell onto her shoulder.

“Be careful!” she commanded. “Don’t push so hard.”

Alas, the branches were too spread out to get through the door, but she kept trying, eventually realizing Antonio wasn’t helping.

“We have to cut them,” he said.

“No,” Sofia replied. “It’s beautiful like this.”

“If you want to get this tree out of this house, you’re going to have to do some trimming.”

She looked up at the now-absent roofing. “Let’s lift it out through the roof,” she suggested.

Antonio shook his head. “A little trimming never hurt anybody,” he replied.

Sofia frowned. They did nothing for some time, and it grew dark.

“I have to go home,” he said, on his way to the door.

She blocked his path. “Alright,” she said, “help me do it. Trim it. But no more than we have to.”

She gave him a handsaw, and he went to work, but only after every point of incision, every motion of the saw, was exhaustively debated. Branches littered the floor. Finally, they pushed, meeting further resistance but made it through. They repeated the process with the roots. Then they pushed. The tree ripped off portions of the frame of the doorway but by halts and stops it made its way out. No one would ever see these countless branches and roots. They laid the tree in the grass. It looked brutalized and pathetic, nothing like she had envisioned. She wept.

“It will regrow wherever we plant it,” Antonio assured her.

Her house appeared as though torn to pieces by a cruel and reckless tornado.

“But it won’t be the same,” she said.

“Things rarely stay the same,” Antonio responded.

Many days later, the wind rustled the tree’s leaves where they had planted it. It stood amongst its sublime towering rivals like a wounded pigeon among falcons. People walked by, but they had seen many such trees before. At twilight, a young girl stopped and asked her parents what was hiding in the cavity. Just then the owl stepped out of the shadows, preening itself and yawning. Her parents let her watch the owl and responded to her questions, some of which they didn’t know the answer to. For several days the girls stopped there, until she ran out of questions.

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