Every early morning
she leashes her old dog, walks down to and through the forest to the lake.
She looks younger than her fifty-six years, although she feels older, or rather,
as if she has lived far too long already.
Her dog, an Aussie boy, a handsome black tri-color, walks his waddling way beside her;
ten years old, already arthritic, a touch overweight,
he looks forward to his splash in the mucky water.
A winding path, this morning overgrown and buzzing with insects.
With the sun not long risen the daylight slants sharply through the full tree branches,
and it is hot.
Her long graying brown hair stuffed under a baseball cap,
her face naked and true, eyes so blue,
she is careful of her footing,
small feet in heavy hiking boots.
Monty smiles and trots, stopping to sniff and paw at the undergrowth.
The deer and coyotes are not long gone from this path.
Hiding deeper in the woods now, knowing the high heat of midday will come,
they watch from their shaded spots with wide eyes.
They do not worry about the woman and her dog.
They are used to visitors.
Still, life in these woods is curious.
When they reach the tree, she tells Monty to sit.
A tall tree that she does not know the name of, what species, and it does not matter.
It is the Lady/Daddy tree; it belongs to her and her Aussie.
Lady was her sunlight-gold Golden Retriever, gone now several years.
Daddy is not her father. Daddy is the father of her two grown sons.
Daddy is Monty’s master. Daddy was her husband.
He was her love and her life and then he was not, and then he died.
At the base of this fat-trunked light gray smooth-barked tree,
stuck in between the crotches of roots that reach out and into the dirt,
she has placed things.
The mass card, laminated,
the side with a photograph of a large lake at sunset facing outward,
the tiny lone fisherman in a rowboat silhouetted against a fiery sky.
On the other side are words; her husband’s name, a quote, the dates: 1954-2010.
She has placed an empty Coors light beer can beside it.
There is a worn torn dirty stuffed dog toy – a rabbit.
There are flowers today, from her sister’s garden.
There are many stones, here and there.
Now she places a Milk-Bone next to the old dog toy.
Monty knows not to take it into his own mouth. It is for Lady.
It will be gone when she returns tomorrow morning.
She looks up at the tree,
sees the heart she had carved years ago into the fat trunk,
and in the center of the heart, “Lady.”
There are no bodies buried here.
But there are memories planted
and prayers floating above through the branches
and tears watering the roots.
Monty is sitting patiently. His reward is just around the bend:
the cool water of the muddy lake.
She stands before the tree, closes her eyes, tilts her head back,
and waits for them to visit.
Soon she sees Lady running on ahead of her, looking back and barking.
Her husband hasn’t come yet.
Sometimes he hides; often she summons him.
Today she demands his presence.
Today her tears burn with anger.
This morning her tears rip into the skin on her cheeks.
You have left me with too much, she whispers.
It is not fair. It is your fault.
And he is there.
He is ashamed. He is sorry.
The dead are gone. And even when they are with us,
they cannot be here.
She sees him in the hospital bed,
his lungs so scarred he must suck air through a tube.
He looks at her in anger.
Why did you do that to me? she asks him.
The drinking. The pills. The lies.
His eyes boring through her, ordering her to bring the drugs he wants,
he loves now more than her, more than their boys.
You did this to yourself, she tells him.
She hears the crows squawking,
opens her eyes to see the red-tailed hawk being pursued,
taunted, chased by the dark angry noisy birds.
Some days she remembers the love.
Sometimes he comes to her healthy and well.
She is able, once in a while, to understand.
He was such a sad boy.
He was a man who carried a weight
it broke him before she could take it from him.
He has told her everything will be okay.
He has told her she must be careful to watch over their sons.
You hurt them and then left them to me, in pain, she tells him now.
Just like your father did to you. Just like your father did to you.
Again and again, she says the words.
He tells her how sorry he is; he tells her he knows he failed her.
Too late for apologies, she says. Where do they get me?
Monty barks. The lake. It is his turn now.
She gives him his treat, another Milk-Bone, one meant for him.
While Monty splashes in the water she sits on a rock in the sun.
She is sweating,
her face shining,
her t-shirt clinging to her back, her jeans wet with sweat.
I am cooking, she thinks. I am baking. I will get toasted. I may burn.
She bursts into flames and sets the forest ablaze.
Monty is safe in the water.
Her sons are far away from the danger.
When the fire finally finishes its job, consuming the anger and pain,
embers glow on the ground,
charred tree trunks stand smoking in the bright sunlight,
but the memories remain.
Now Monty is before her,
shaking his body fast and strong,
cooling her off with water from the lake.
She can smile.
she can smile and feel happy.
They walk home, passing the tree that has survived the fire.