I wanted to be the moon, far away and endless. At twenty-four, I settled for a tree.
I covered myself with dirt and stood naked outside for two hours with my arms spread out under the stars so that I might be seen. Invited birds to roost in my chest, to sing in place of my heart—sounds that make bones ache in memory, vibrating down my trunk and outward to serenading crickets; tiny concertos for pill bugs by my roots. Everyone always said I had good roots.
“Your roots aren’t literal.” Orion called down to me.
“What do you know?” I muttered and waved my hands with the breeze.
“You won’t stay.”
I have this reoccurring dream where I wake up one day, look out my window, and see an apartment complex in my backyard where the woods used to be. It’s about even with the one where my teeth fall out in pulpy lumps in my hands, with no blood.
“I have that dream too.” My mother says when I tell her on a night we both can’t sleep. We’re playing cards on her bed and watching crime television. She has a new nightgown on. I didn’t realize she’d gotten rid of the old one.
“Hmm?” My mother asks, looking up from her hand. I shake my head and rest my chin on my knee.
It ends up being an episode where the murderer gets away.
My father comes and sits with me down at the pond but doesn’t look at me. He doesn’t ask if I need to talk. We sit and watch the sun begin to set over the pines on the other side. I wipe snot on the side of my hand where it’s already crusted.
“I haven’t seen the pond this full in a long time.”
My father wipes his jeans off when he stands up and lights a cigarette. I don’t know how long we’ve both been down here, but the bats are out.
“Come inside soon, before you get eaten up.”
My mother likes to brush my hair, even though I have to do it again after she leaves. She hugs me sometimes like I’m going to fly away. I’ve never told her I can feel the rattle of her sigh through my own chest when she does this.
It’s very dark out tonight. I’m standing barefoot in the driveway with my parents looking up at the sky. Suddenly, hundreds of little flashes of light are zooming over our heads.
“Makes you glad the moon isn’t full.” My mother says to me with her arms crossed. She’s got her bedroom slippers on; she didn’t bother changing into real shoes when I woke her up at three in the morning. My father stands behind the two of us, watching.
I shake my head; dig deep little marks in my palm. “I always want the moon.”
My mother comes up and wraps her arms around me, resting her chin on my shoulder, whispering, “But watch how the trees shimmer.”
Erin Armstrong is an MFA candidate at CU-Boulder. Her works have been previously published at Haunted Waters Press, SmokeLong Quarterly, A-Minor, and New World Writing.