Title: On the Nature of Trees

Rating: PG. . .13ish.

Summary: she walks, carefully, like her mother tried to teach her once

She walks, carefully, one foot in front of the other, like her mother tried to teach her once, when she was too young to understand anything about it. It is maddening, though, because every step she takes is off from the people around her, and they bump shoulders and bags and problems.

'Madeleine,' she used to say, voice thinning out with every word after, 'a proper posture is the difference between civilized people and beasts.' She would catch herself afterwards, every time, blushing like the girl she might've been too, too long ago. Madeleine is past that, though, no longer living with the words of anybody but herself and the news on after midnight, blood and weather and mysteries yet to be, never to be solved.

She tries to walk like a willow, mostly, long arms and hair and the straight back of a queen that she has never seen, but it always comes out as unpracticed, jerky. This only makes sense. She is not a proper anything, nor has she ever been, nor will she be.

'Ahem', says someone, a man from behind, pushing in front of her with arms full of shopping bags and a small wife at his side, clinging to his elbow. She looks at them and thinks, maybe they're in love. Maybe they're not. With one last glance, she conjures up a thousand lives for them, a thousand different scenarios, some of them better than others. He is having a madcap affair with his office secretary, and she has no idea. She is hiding a dreadful secret from him, a murder, a poisoning, a crime of passion. Neither of them talk to each other, and they are just average people, sitting in silence to another cold dinner.

She shivers all the way down the street to the slick tune of buzzing conversation and nothing in her head, a dull roar, a silence scary and patient as monsters in the closet.

-

Once she thought she had found the one, a strong steady oak man, roots set firmly in the church. She never found out which, just that he prayed at all hours of the day and read Milton and Chaucer and Wilde like a professor, tearing them apart and sewing them back together. He would talk for hours in his lilting, terror soft voice about how he didn't care about Wilde's homosexuality, just that he knew what he was talking about when he wrote "Reading Gaol".

And he would frown at the boys, cusp of youth, standing on the street corner outside his apartment, round bellies and bright eyes and hands thrust awkwardly into their trouser pockets. He would murmur something about salvation and repentance when he saw them again, later, chain smoking their life away on the marble steps of the Catholic church.

Sometimes, he put his arm around her on the bus.

'Don't you look pretty today?'

A hand, thin and elegant, nicer than her own, slip slipping through the hair that she forgot to wash the day before. When they found themselves back on his sofa, her sleeves off her shoulders, all she could think about was that who you love affects everything, everything, and Oscar Wilde and a man and white sheets and white skin and the unmistakable smell of sex and, suddenly, his scent all around her, and why don't I love you yet?

The next morning, she left without saying anything, slipping thin dress over sticky skin and ignoring the looks the other tenants gave her when she walked by their doors, hanging her head low like a poplar after a rainstorm, heavy mind,

little flower curls limp and dying across her forehead.

-

Sometimes, she gets dreadfully ill, especially on days like today. She wakes up with little pinpoints of white in her vision, white heat kind of light that burns everything around it to black, and can't quite make it to her feet. She can just hear the noise from the cars outside, right next to the walls of the off-white paper doll apartment she shares with strangers, three of them.

Her room used to be a utility closet, and the pipes wind like branches all over her ceiling, shining new silver in the early morning sun, leaving streaks in front of her when she blinks and a steady thud in her head, raised when the front door open slams from ten feet away and locks with a sharp click. Someone had added a dead bolt while she has been dead, she thinks, giggling somewhere distant, inside her head. She suspects it's the new man that moved in a few days before she fell ill, with the features that look like they were thrown together carelessly, black hair and crooked nose and eyes that seem to be eternally staring an inch higher than whoever he's addressing. He walks around the house and murmurs things about a war she isn't sure was fought.

Drawing in her breath, she throws her legs over the side of the mattress until her toes touch firm, cold ground. It feels steady underneath her, like ground just after the snow has melted away, still quite frozen. Two hands sliding against the opposite wall helps her keep her balance as she walks, step by shaking step, to and out of her door. The common room is empty when she struggles to the window and sinks down beside it, head resting on the dusty sill.

Below her, a city tree is growing from the cracks in the sidewalk. People deliberately walk around it, looking back with soft eyes at the spark of green hope in a grey New York morning.