I missed the bus and walked home, clicking down the sidewalk along a busy road. The impending evening quickened my pace, but I saw the pink tree looking brighter than it had that morning. I stopped beneath it and tilted my head back, selecting three leaves that reminded me so much of petals. They were all shades: hot pink like sexy shoes, soft pink like It's A Girl! announcements, and even one that reminded of the ribbon my mother had worn since grandma died.
Everyday, whether or not I took the bus, I saw the pink tree. It lived beside the office building that had three spaces for rent and too-reflective glass. In the light of sunset, each office appeared to be a prismatic smear of orange and violet and pink. In the lowest window, the tree saw itself, and I wondered what it thought of that.
The voice startled me, and I turned to regard a man dressed for business. He was older than me, I guessed, but only by five or so years. He had a strong jaw, a crooked nose, and eyes that looked like amber, complete with brown flecks like ancient things had been caught in his gaze and rested there eternally. I laughed, startled. "I didn't see you there! Sorry, I'm such a space cadet."
"It's all right." He smiled. "I was just looking at the tree, too. It makes me feel like I'm stuck in a bad anime, whenever the wind blows."
I laughed again, and it was real this time. "Oh God, I know exactly what you mean. Like in Sailor Moon. I just need a schoolgirl uniform and a neon blush."
He stared like he hadn't expected me to understand, and slowly, he offered his hand. "I'm Jonathan. I think we should know each other."
Beneath the pink tree, I shook his hand. "I'm Lacey."
Jonathan invited me on a date. We went to Comic Con and laughed at the absurdity of it. Neither of us were cosplayers, but we admired the effort (or chuckled at the lack thereof), and he appreciated that I preferred Star Trek to Star Wars when the topic inevitably arose. "It means you prefer context and quality to action and romance. You like good script writing and social change rather than costumes and effects. How haven't I met you before?"
"I think you might be reading into that too much." I giggled and flustered when he kissed me and wrapped an arm around my waist. I'm not an ugly girl, and it's not like I hadn't been on dates before. I'd been on better dates than this, with handsomer men, but there was something about him. When he pulled away and tucked my hair behind my ear, I knew I was going to see him again.
He looked at me like I was his best. Like I was his pink tree, something so odd in the autumn landscape.
We married in April, three years later. My bouquet was pink and so were the bridesmaids' dresses. My mother-in-law-to-be insisted on styling my hair, and while my mother felt left out, I didn't mind. Stacy, whom I had met a few months after I started dating Jonathan, was fashionable, intelligent, and liked me. I had been so nervous to meet her, but the moment I stepped through her door, I felt welcomed. She could go on and on about how she had always wanted a daughter, but "God only gave her two boys, and He couldn't have given her someone so lovely as me."
She braided my hair into a sleek updo and reached into her purse. In the mirror, she showed me a silver comb with pearl embellishments before she tucked it into my hair. "You're part of the family now." Her eyes welled with tears, and I thought of my mother; she was in the banquet hall, holding herself stiffly together, assuring that all the servers folded the napkins correctly and applied the last minute touches flawlessly.
"Thank you. It's beautiful." Stacy rested her hand on my shoulder, and I squeezed it. Her smile was full of white teeth, whiter than my ivory dress. "I mean that. You're such a strong woman, and Jon adores you."
"All right, all right. I'm going to ruin my makeup." She wiped beneath her eyes and fixed her blush, touching up mine as well. "Come now, let's get you to the area before he arrives. It isn't proper for him to see you before the ceremony."
The proceedings were beautiful, no matter how anxious I was, and I had never wanted to kiss him so much as when the ordained minister—a friend of his—said, "You may now kiss the bride."
We honeymooned in Puerto Rico. My retired aunt lived beachside, and she lent us her home, a breezy place with silk curtains and real cherrywood floors. I almost felt like we were soiling her bed the first time we made love on it, but as the week wore on, I fell in love with the decadence.
One morning, after a breakfast of fruit salad and coconut rum, Jonathan took me to the bedroom. I wore the matching lingerie my sister had bought me with a cheeky grin, and he breathed, "I never thought I'd marry someone like you. You're perfect."
I felt perfect, when he touched me like that. Before the wedding, I had dyed my hair blonde, and it looked like gold against my skin, which had been kissed bronze by the tropic sun. I straddled him when he lay down, and he cupped my breast, squeezing.
My lips parted but it wasn't with a moan. I gasped and tore away from him, and his eyes widened, trapped insects dancing. "Are you okay? What happened? What's the matter?"
"I don't know." I rubbed the tender flesh but that only made it more painful. I shut my eyes tighter. "I think I need to go to the doctor."
When my grandma died, cancer didn't seem like such a big word. She was old and already ill, so what did it matter if she had to get a mastectomy? What did it matter if she had to go through yet another surgery? Maybe I had been too indifferent when my mother came sobbing with the news, but I didn't think it was cold that I couldn't cry. My grandma's kidneys had been failing for months, and she had a brain tumor that was benign but putting immense pressure on her skull and stealing her eyesight, as well as her sanity. The cancer was localized, had been caught early, and if anything, could be dealt with swiftly. It was nothing like the agonizing months dialysis or having to watch her forget my name and simple tasks.
When my doctor gravely told me the test results were in, I started to cry before he could even say, "You have breast cancer."
"Is that all you to say. Oh? I just told you I have fucking cancer."
Jonathan sat at our kitchen table. We had returned home to our small apartment, and I loathed the flimsy IKEA furniture. I loathed the linoleum floor, tiled like a checkerboard. I loathed the refrigerator that wouldn't quit humming. I loathed the bitch that had taken my job after I quit so Jonathan and I could begin trying for a family. I loathed him, who wanted to be the breadwinner to my housewife, looking at anything but me. "I just... I don't know what to..."
"Well, just say something! Say something!"
He stood and left the kitchen.
I prepared to have my breast chopped off, and Jonathan prepared the divorce papers behind my back. He hired an attorney and told me when he presented everything to me, "I just can't be there for you. Through this. My dad died of cancer when I was a kid and seeing you like this just... just scares me too much. I can't handle this. I couldn't be there for you like you'd need me to be. I'm sorry, Lacey. I'm so sorry but I'm too weak. It isn't you."
He looked at me, expecting to be berated, dead bugs writhing in saline fluid, but I was too tired. I smiled curtly and told him, "I always knew you were more of a Star Wars guy."
It was midnight, and I was was clicking along the sidewalk, next to a busy street. I was sore and exhausted and thinner, and I needed to be up early tomorrow for the doctor's appointment penultimate to my fate. I cupped my right breast under the cover of blackness and wondered what I'd look like without it. I wondered what it would be like bathing or looking in the mirror while I brushed my teeth. I wondered how other people would regard me. When I called my mother, she called me a survivor.
I came up to the pink tree and looked up at it. It was green, now, but spring would die, summer would pass, and autumn would come on a scented wind. I imagined what it had looked like when I met Jonathan and dropped the bag I had carrying. My hands were wet, and my hair was wet, and my clothes were wet, and I realized it was raining.
Cussing, I knelt and hastily opened the backpack. A can of gasoline and a BIC lighter, pink. I looked at the cars passing, paying me no mind, and I looked at the streetlights, even more apathetic. The one above me showered me with white, cold light. I licked my lips and began to pour the gasoline.
I soaked the grass, the tree trunk, and splashed the leaves. I rubbed it into the bark with both hands and took a step back. Lightning cracked, and I rubbed my hands on my sweater with a roll of thunder. Fingers shaking but mind still, I flicked the lighter. It didn't catch, at first, but soon it sparked.
In what seemed to be the most infinite second, the pink tree caught fire and burned.