The avocado tree in our backyard is 102 years old and now it is dying. This is what the arborist I have hired tells us, standing in our yard with one of our chipped ceramic cups in his hand one morning, sipping plunger coffee with a degree of grandeur, although it is hard to take anyone in a khaki bucket hat very seriously. He delivers the news the way I imagine an oncologist or a cardiologist might deliver the news that a patient has a terminal illness. It’s like he thinks the tree is living, my husband says later over his shoulder distractedly as he leaves the morning-blue kitchen with a slice of peanut butter toast in his hand. Well, but not for much longer, I say. He’s already gone.
Now there are nine hours to fill until my husband gets home from work. I might fill one of them by taking the puppy to my bed and ignoring its crying and sleeping until I feel like getting up and feeding it its breakfast and drinking another cup of coffee in front of the television. I might fill another by taking a shower, sitting in the bottom of the shower letting the hot-as-I-can-get-it water turn my knees red while the puppy sits outside the shower door on the cold, hard, white tiles, staring at me in the eyes please, please and dully thumping its tail. I might fill another by imagining all the ways it is possible for a little canine life to be snuffed out like a candle, staring back at the furry body in front of me, needing me, and feeling a sick kind of frantic that feels a lot like the sound of a wet twig snapping in the grass at night. I love you so much I could die, I think, please love me back I’m so sorry and when can I leave this place. We’ve been here since New Year’s and it feels like the house is choking me from the inside out, or the outside in. Everything is so open. Everything is so heavy.
What a place to raise babies, my husband had said, a lifetime ago, when we were having sex and before we got a dog that took a shit on my favourite shirt and back when I still thought I knew what being alive meant. Now I spend my last hour sitting under the avocado tree, trying to remember. Hoping the tree might be able, in its own way, to tell me.
The avocado tree in our backyard is 102 years old and it is heritage listed and now it might die. The arborist, khaki bucket hat or no khaki bucket hat, can’t say with any great deal of certainty one way or the other; the avocado tree has been here longer than any of us hope to be here and thus it lives by its own laws. It’s simply too big a tree for me to be able to say with any real confidence, the arborist tells us.
How was your day, my husband says and I say, feel like a cuppa? The dog sits at his feet and I know that it likes him better. I pick up my book and put it down again, and think again about getting a job. Think about standing in an office kitchen, making small talk with someone named Matt or Michael or Nick. When they asked me how I spent my weekend I’d have to say, with my husband.
There are nine hours to fill until my husband leaves for work. I might spend one staring at the gold wedding band on my hand, starting finally after the brightness of the wedding to smudge from wear. I might spend another wondering how many things a car can carry.
At night I sneak out and sit beneath the avocado tree and look at the moon and wish I had put on a jumper. I look up at the moon and the tree, and I think this is how witchcraft must have started, I think this is how witchcraft must have started I tell the puppy, who is running the length of the acreage back and forth with a plastic garden pot in its mouth and who doesn’t give a single damn. I think this is how witchcraft must have started, I tell the tree, and know that it hears me. There was a time before my body and before the fences that hold it, and long before even then there was this avocado tree. 102 years is a very long time to wait, I say out loud, and begin to cry even though I don’t know what I mean. At Christmas we drove all the way out to this house from where we were renting and said to ourselves: homeowners and this tree was a present just for us and now it’s January and the avocado tree which has stood in this one spot for 102 years is dying because someone spent their holidays breaking into our yard, drilling holes into this ancient tree and filling those holes with poison. 102 years is a very long time to wait, I say again and the words are just wet noises and the puppy’s head is in my lap, desperate to make it better, desperate for the bad noise to stop. I’m sorry, I say out loud, and I don’t know who I’m talking to. The dip in the dog’s head says it’s okay I promise and the smooth roughness of the tree’s flank against my palm says I forgive you and the moon goes on saying nothing.
I can’t live like this anymore I say like velcro ripping off of velcro and know that I’m just going to keep on doing it anyway.
The avocado tree in our backyard is 102 years old, and someone came into our yard, drilled holes into it and filled those holes with poison and already some of it has certainly died.
The dog is sitting in front of the living room window, staring at the driveway. There are six hours until my husband gets home, and the dog seems intent to spend them staring out this window, expecting, at any moment, a different view. It has spent the past hour this way. Why don’t you come here and sit with me, I had said in the beginning and the dull thump of the tail on the carpet had answered, No. I don’t know what you’re looking for I say out loud now even though I do. The dog is waiting for someone to arrive who is not me. When I leave the house I leave the door open behind me like permission.
The bottoms of my moccasins are perpetually wet and slick-brown from trudging the same route down the back field to where the avocado tree is trying hard not to die. There’s a can of Campbell’s chicken soup sitting at the base of the tree, waiting, and a note still dew-wet from the morning reads Get well soon in my husband’s handwriting. My chest, taut like the strings on an instrument: I’ve married a man who writes letters to trees. I dig my hands into the earth beneath the tree, letting myself feel the weight of all of the people who have come before me inside the soil. Everything is so old and has been here so long.
I crumple the note and let it fall into the hole I have dug, for the tree and for my husband and for the dog who took a dump on my favourite shirt, the hole I have dug for myself.
I know where they left the poison, I say out loud. It’s a promise to the avocado tree, a promise I don’t want to make but one I know I will keep if I have to. Nobody deserves to die alone. Get well soon, I repeat and Get well soon, the tree echoes back.
Image: Matt Jones
Sian Campbell is a freelance writer and the Editor in Chief of Scum Mag. Her work has been published in Spook, Kill Your Darlings, Going Down Swinging, Voiceworks, and Junk