Make It Black

Through the screened windows of her bedroom she can hear them, hundreds, maybe thousands of them munching on the leaves of her oaks and maples and other trees she cannot name, even though she has lived in these woods for over twenty years. It’s after midnight, and beside her in the darkness Michael sleeps, his big hairless chest rising and falling. When they made love earlier, his smooth back had felt like rubber to her and she imagined that he was not real, that this man she’s been seeing for over a year now is just some device she bought to ease her loneliness, to ground her away from the nagging sense that she’s hanging as still in the air as a nightgown on a branch.

Some nights she asks him to go sleep at his own place, and she wished she’d asked him that tonight too. If only so can be alone as she listens to the gypsy caterpillars decimate her trees. Their tiny waste rains down through the branches, and she does not know why she wants to listen to this, but she does.

It is late May and the air coming through the screens is cool. She can smell her magnolias and cherry blossoms but also the broken green of leaves that had only just begun their season, and now a hot anger opens up in her at these tiny fuckers that her husband Kai had warned her were coming again. It had been almost nine years since the last generation of them, and Kai had missed the signs then but not this time.

For weeks last fall, after not having seen him in over a year, there he was across the street in the deeply wooded acres they both own, though he seems to have claimed them for himself. He was moving through the trees, wrapping the lower trunks of all the hardwoods in burlap so that when the eggs became caterpillars in the spring it would slow their climb, which would then give him enough time to go from tree to tree brushing them into a bucket of water, where he would drown them.

He told her this as they stood together at the end of the dirt driveway. It was a gray Sunday afternoon, the air cold and smelling like dead leaves and pine needles and smoke from a distant neighbor’s brushfire. She had not seen or talked to him in so long, and part of her wished that he’d stayed in his condo downtown and not come back here, though she could not deny that it was good to see him. He held a fold of burlap under one arm, a roll of duct tape dangling from one finger. In his other hand was a box cutter, its razor blade protruding from the handle. Across her husband’s cheeks were two or three days of white stubble, and she happened to know that his sixty-fourth birthday was days away, but she said nothing about that.

“You should do that with your trees too, Teresa.” He nodded in the direction of the woods behind her, but he was staring at her as if his choice of words had been generous. And was he actually reminding her that his money had bought their land? He’d better not. Oh he’d fucking better not. But then he broke into that half smile he’d been giving her for over forty years, the one that said You can do it; I know you can.

He turned and waved goodbye with his razor blade, then walked slowly back to their Airstream kept so deep in the woods that no one can see it from the road, even in winter.

But now he seems to be living in that Airstream, and she doesn’t like it. Some days after work, her car idling beside her, she pulls her bills from her mailbox and sees him shirtless through the trees, just flashes of bare flesh in the mottled light as he goes from tree to tree, drowning the gypsies.

He has always gone without a shirt whenever he can, and though he never wears bug spray, the mosquitoes and even the ticks seem to stay away from him. People too. It’s what drew her to him all those decades ago, that other sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds seemed afraid of this strange boy who liked to scratch the shapes of animals into asphalt with broken glass, this boy who made his own shirt, sewing it out of white linen used for tablecloths. The sleeves were too long and the torso too loose, but with his thick curly hair and lean body it made him look like a stowaway on some ancient ship, and Terry could never stop looking at him whenever he walked by.

One afternoon just beyond the high school parking lot, one of the varsity wrestlers, an Armenian boy whose neck was wider than his skull, beat up the strange boy Kai because the wrestler’s girlfriend said he was cute. Terry saw it from the bus, the wrestler punching Kai in the face, his head snapping back, his hands in his jean pockets, a wide smile across Kai’s bloody lips.

The munching outside continues. From between her legs comes a trickle from Michael, and she slides out of bed and moves through the darkness to her bathroom. Through the open window over the toilet the leaf munching is so close she can probably reach out there and shake them off a limb. But it’s too late. She knows this. She should be mad at Kai for not offering to help her last fall, but she’s not, and as she slides back into bed there comes, once again, the knowledge that despite everything, she’s still waiting for things to go back to the way they were, for she still loves him. She does.

People on couch
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