The Trees

I’ve been busy with writ­ing late­ly; the Trees sto­ry (“Can’t See the Stars for the Trees” or what­ev­er I’m cur­rent­ly call­ing it), so post­ing here has been a lit­tle spo­radic. Here’s a snip­pet from the sto­ry:

Right from the start, the boy was a god­send.

Toi and Chad­ow found him one evening, the sun just begin­ning to slide behind the night plate, in a pad­dy to wid­der­shins of their hutch.

They were walk­ing hand in hand, let­ting the scents of night blos­soms and the damp earthy scent of the rice waft over them, when Toi stopped, let go of his wife’s hand, and said, “Did you hear that?”

Hear what?”

Shh,” he said, putting his fin­ger to his lips. Chadow’s face took on a look of mixed con­ster­na­tion at being shushed and con­cen­tra­tion on find­ing the sound Toi thought that he had heard.

I don’t hear–” she began.

Toi’s face lit up. “That,” he said, point­ing to spin­wise, into the pad­dies. He kicked off his san­dals, rolled up the cuffs of his loose cot­ton trousers, and wad­ed into the muck. Chad­ow watched him go, think­ing, My hus­band will dri­ve me mad one day.
She smiled, watch­ing him tak­ing care­ful steps, mind­ful not to com­mit his weight till he was sure the mud wouldn’t swal­low him to the thigh, care­ful to keep his light-yel­low trousers clean.

Then some­thing made him stop cold in his tracks. Behind him, the mud was clos­ing over his foot­prints, set­tling back into a flat expanse of dull grey. He turned and looked back at her, over his shoul­der. “Chad­ow?” he said.

Yes?” Some­thing in his tone made her voice catch in the back of her throat, so that her reply came out stran­gled and weak. She coughed. “Yes?” she said again, loud­er this time.

You’re not going to believe this.” And then he plunged for­ward, arms flail­ing for bal­ance, heed­less of how much mud spat­tered on his clothes, of how many plants he tram­pled.

What is it?” she asked, but he didn’t spare her a reply.

#

It was a child.

She stared down into the bun­dle that Toi held in his arms. He’d wad­ed back out of the pad­dy, filthy with mud that he’d some­how man­aged to spat­ter all the way up to his neck, cradling the met­al bowl like it con­tained the most pre­cious, most frag­ile thing in the world.

It was a child, a naked baby boy. His smile broke her heart.

How could–?” Words failed her, failed the sit­u­a­tion. How could some­one aban­don a child in the pad­dies? How could they live with them­selves after?

He looks all right,” said Toi.

His face and hands, legs and tho­rax were pink with sun­burn. Tiny scars criss-crossed his tor­so, fine white lines against the bright rash. A thin blan­ket, tight­ly woven of some dark mate­r­i­al, was attached to the rim of the hemi­spher­i­cal sil­ver bowl, but the baby had kicked it off so that it hung down, worth­less for pro­tect­ing him from the sun or keep­ing him warm in the night.

He can’t have been here too long,” said Toi.

His words pen­e­trat­ed the dull fog of rage that had suf­fused Chad­ow. She real­ized that her face must be a ric­tus, a con­tort­ed mask of anger. She could feel the flush all through her body. Her ears were burn­ing.

She forced her­self to take a deep breath, a sec­ond, a third. She closed her eyes a long moment and whis­pered Calm calm calm to her­self, repeat­ing it like a mantra till it lost its mean­ing and became a sim­ple syl­la­ble to attach her world­view to.

What do we do now?” she said to her hus­band.

But he was gaz­ing into the baby’s pale eyes, entranced, and the boy was star­ing back at him with the solemn face that only a baby can make. After a moment the child gig­gled, a sound that car­ried with it a per­fect inno­cence, and Chad­ow felt tears stream­ing unbid­den down her face.