Suburbia: Tales of Affliction
IV: The Woodchipper Whines on Wysteria Lane*
I get up at 4:30 a.m. most days. The first thing I do is throw on a sweatshirt and go outside. It's bitter cold out these days, but I find the coldest days produce the greatest sights in the sky. 4:30 a.m. is a great time to be out. The stars are incredibly clear. It is quiet, so quiet that when the train blows by the station about eight miles away, I can hear the horn wail. I can hear squirrels rustling through the trees and someone's garbage can lid being scraped down the street by the wind.
There are very few lights on in the surrounding houses. Not many of my neighbors are up at this hour, and for a few moments, I feel like I own the world. I walk around the yard, and head into my aunt's garden next door. There are statues in her garden, angels and mermaids and odd shaped animals and sometimes, in that early morning fog of thought, I wonder if I am dreaming or really standing outside.
Today I look up and see a huge, full moon. White, thin clouds move behind it and the light of the moon causes the clouds to become luminescent. As the clouds move, they give the illusion that the moon is racing across the sky. I remember when I was young and thought this to be true, that the moon moved with the clouds, the stars chasing it an stellar game of tag. I watch this scene until my neck hurts from looking up. By now the sky is getting a little lighter and the birds are starting to wake.
The inner enclaves of our suburb are still lush with trees. On the perimeters of the blocks, on the main roads, the trees are mostly gone. But here, in the nest of houses clustered together, the trees still stand. They are huge and foreboding in this light, their bare branches reaching out to the sky. The shadows make them seem a bit frightening, and when the squirrels bounce on the branches and make the trees shake, it looks as if those limbs are admonishing the squirrels for waking the tree.
I am in awe of those trees and the regal way in which they watch over our land. How long must those trees have been here to be that tall, that thick? They were here before the houses, before the land shifted from woodland to homeland.
Across the street, five trees are being sacrificed for the O’Leary’s sun room extension. Carole O’Leary stands out on the sidewalk, hands on hips, a look of pride on her face as if she chopped down and hauled off those trees with her own bare hands.
I’ve been standing on my stoop for hours, watching the tree killers, watching Carole bark out orders, all the while pointing my camera at them. “Look at Annie, always with the camera,” I hear Carole say during a lull in the woodchipper whine. I want to record this, to capture the moment when a beautiful landscape turns into suburban blight. When it’s all said and done, when the trees are dust to dust, I put the lens cap on the camera and walk across the street.
“I never thought I’d get rid of those damn things,” Carole says.
“I liked them,” I counter.
Kaitlyn, the littlest O’Leary, stands on the front steps, staring her mother down. Her cheeks are splashed with dirty sawdust tears, her hands scratched and raw from when they had to physically pull her from the tree she was hugging.
“Kaitlyn liked them, too.”
“Kaitlyn’s five. She doesn’t know any better.”
I cluck my tongue at Carole, the way my grandmother clucks her tongue at me when I’ve said something utterly, wholly stupid. The woodchipper starts its whine again and I don’t hear what Carole says to me in response.
I break from my moment of recall and look up at the trees again. I wonder if they are angry at what has become of their forest. Then again, they only look angry at this hour, in this season. On summer afternoons, with children climbing their branches and exploring the hidden forts the leaves make, the trees seem happier.
When it gets too cold to stay out anymore, when my breath makes long trails of steam in the air, I walk back through the garden, avoiding the stares of the angels and mermaids, and pause by my door. I point my camera at the sky, trying to capture 4:30 a.m. the way it looks in my mind. The moon, the clouds, the flickering stars, the statues and trees that seem to possess souls. I know it will never look on film the way it looks in my head. Nothing ever does.
*by way of explanation, for the one or two reading the chapters: these stories are being posted without any kind of form; my idea is to have the story take you from Annie's childhood and young adult years on Wysteria Lane right up to present day and her family home on Sycamore, though the present day stories will not be as many as the growing up stories. Anyhow, the chapters are being posted as I write them, which is not the order in which they will eventually appear, hence the fluctuation of time from chapter to chapter. Also, the voice telling each chapter won't always be Annie's but that will be made obvious. Work in progress, and all.
I've also changed my mind about how to present the story, which means I'll probably change the title and rework what's already been posted. I have an idea. A good idea, I think. If anyone out there is in the publishing industry and would just answer a question as to whether the idea is good or not (and I promise not to ask you to read a full manuscript or drop it on your boss's desk or anything like that) please email me. Thanks.