She looked out the window at the pines.
She looked at his old boots by the door, the ones he only wore when he would work around the house, not the new boots, the new ones he had started wearing to work. The new ones had been left on him. Died with his boots on, that’s how the men liked it, that’s what they liked to say, as if Death was offended if you wore dirty boots. As if Death had put in new carpet, and you tracked in mud and muck from your life as you crossed the threshold. Men liked to slyly smile at this notion, that Death cared, that you had a chance to make a mockery of Death, to offend Death one last time.
She stared at the old boots. She looked at the blue tiles on the counter, wiped them again with her rag. Dropping it in the sink, she walked out the front door. They had brought his tools, his helmet, his personal chainsaw and axe. They had placed them by the door when she didn’t answer, thinking she’d want to be alone. Picking up the axe, she weighted it in her hands. The handle was smoothed down from years of use, even after they’d started using the new electric saws he had continued using this old axe, sharpening it at night, replacing the handle that time it had split. She rubbed her fingers against the metal, felt the brushed steel. The pines moved.
She turned. If a man is killed by another man, you hate the man, or you forgive him, or you take revenge. If a disease takes hold of your love, or age bears them away, you sit and mourn, but it does not taunt you. The pines brushed against each other, the branches clapping together.
She walked towards the pine closest to the house. Nearly 5 feet in diameter, he had told her when they had first come to this house. He’d admired the pine, brushing the bark. He always had a thing to say about the trees. Most men cut and work, they look at the trees and see a crop, not as living beings to be admired, but something to be harvested. But he had always liked to talk about the different species, taking the younger men under his wing and quizzing them on the trees. He had had respect for the trees, and in turn the men had liked him, found him endearing, the old man and his love of trees. The branches of the pine waved at her.
She lifted the axe. He had shown her once, the proper stance, the arms flexed, the turning of the legs and the body moving together, careful not to twist so the back didn’t do all the work. She swung. The axe bounced against the thick bark, didn’t make much of a dent. She lifted it again, a little off balance, she corrected her stance. Swing. Thud against the bark. Again. Lift. Swing. Thud. Lift. Swing. Thud. Carefully at first, she calculated as she had seen him do, as he had done for years. She angled the blade, moved around the tree. Her mouth tasted of salt from her sweat and then, of her tears. She didn’t hear the truck pull up, the door slam. She continued swinging, her hands blistered. Her breathing rasped. Her side ached. Her arms were numb. John, their neighbor, ran up to her. On her upward swing he took the handle, wrestled it from her. She cried out, fell against the tree, the mocking pine. Pushing her fingers into the bark, she pulled the bark off, stripping it bare. John took her around the waist, pulling her away. They fell to the ground, in the mud and the needles. The pine swayed.
Taking her inside, he sat her down, wrapped her in a blanket. She wondered when it had started raining, she was soaked through. John took her face in his hands, held it, looked at her. He wondered what she was seeing, what memories she was reliving. She couldn’t see the pine swaying, but she could hear the groan of the trees in the wind.
You can’t chop down all the trees. If only they could be ripped from the earth, like a page from a book. She looked down at her blistered, bleeding hands. Her body began shaking, convulsing with sobs. She couldn’t breathe. A world without trees. She looked at John. She pulled from him. She stood and walked outside. John followed her. He watched her walk up to the pine, embrace it. Sob into it. Say something to it he couldn’t hear. She bent down and picked up the axe. Lift. Swing. Thud. He did not stop her this time.
B.C. Thornton lives in Portland, OR., where she lives and writes and works in theater. You can find more of her writings here: notmorethings.tumblr.com