Continued from: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 6 — The Counting
Cooper slid the backpack from his shoulder and knelt on the plywood floor. Although the sun had beat down throughout the day, a gusty wind chimed in at times, and a collection of sticks, leaves and pine needles were deposited in his home away from home in the tree. He brushed them away and then sat down to arrange the items he brought from the apartment—a wrestling magazine to wedge into the book shelf between the Poe collection and a brick, plastic utensils sealed up in a zip lock bag, and, as planned, a Tupperware filled with food. He’d scrounged up a box of raisins, a bag of M & M’s, and three packages of Little Debbie Choco-Squares while his mom prepared dinner.
He was surprised that she hadn’t overloaded him with questions about the school day. Usually she was relentless, giving him an impressive inquisition during the three or four minutes it took for the microwave to nuke their meals. He respected her ability to detect any lies he might throw at her. It forced him to be very careful when he did lie. That particular facet of her questioning probably stemmed from watching soap operas where there always seemed to be someone deceiving his lover while leaving some speck of detail that would ensure his discovery. It all depended on the right questions. His mom proved that watching television did have some benefit, after all.
“How did the interview go over?” she asked.
And he told her all about how he stood in front of the class to read the short biography. A lot of other kids had read about their sappy grandmas who knitted sweaters while they waited for death to show up, and a few wrote about little brothers who obsessed over Sony Playstation and McDonald’s Happy Meals. But Cooper’s seemed more real than any of them, which was sort of ironic since his subject didn’t even exist.
“I don’t know if truth is stranger than fiction,” he told his mom while she pealed back the cellophane that covered their dinners, “but it sure seemed that it was more boring.”
A long silence followed and she stirred up his carrots and cut the turkey on his cardboard dinner tray. He hated when she did that. It made him feel like a helpless little kid who needs his mommy to cut up his food for him.
“Mom. I think I can handle that,” he said.
She pushed the tray toward him, looking more embarrassed than he felt. “Sorry. Just trying to help. Old habits,” she sighed. “In the future, maybe you should try to stick to the assignment, Cooper. I’m glad that things went well for you today, but don’t push your luck fudging all of your school assignments. That’ll eventually catch up with you.”
Cooper’s mom liked to talk about things that would eventually catch up with him, and every time she did, he needed to fight the urge to point out that if anyone knew this was true, it was her. She’d been taught by the example of her own life. But he didn’t have the heart for it. She didn’t deserve to be hurt so badly by him and he didn’t even know the extent to which things had caught up to her. It seemed more like they’d caught up to her years ago and had since passed right by and left her standing in the dust.
“Yeah, sure,” he agreed lamely, stirring the processed turkey meat into the gravy that began to congeal.
Things felt a lot freer in the tree. The sun began to set noticeably earlier and he checked the batteries on his flashlight before looping it onto a rusty nail that protruded from the makeshift bookshelf. The sky was bruised over now and stars began to needle through in the distance. It was too dark to read, but the subtlety of the evening was more stimulation than any spooky story or wrestling article could provide. He munched on M & M’s and lay flat on his back, staring up at the sky. It was the closest thing to dreaming while still remaining awake, and the abyss of darkness inspired wonder about the concept of existence. He was glad that he hadn’t borrowed one of his mom’s journals to bring out there because he would’ve missed out on the beauty of the stars germinating above him. The mysteries captured in those pages could wait until he had the chance to read them during the afternoon.
After awhile, the nearly full moon was parked there above the woods, surrounded by the star-speckled blanket of darkness. Cooper remembered nights when he was just a small boy, laying on his grandpa’s lawn up in Maine. The old man would point out all of the constellations for him and try to explain the stages of the moon. “It’s like a big hole that opens a little wider each night till it reaches a certain point. Then it closes a little bit each night till you can hardly see it at all,” he’d say. Cigar smoke always laced the air on those nights, and the old man’s breath usually carried a hint of scotch. But his gravelly voice was always stable while he gave these careful explanations, and it usually put Cooper to sleep, his small head nestled in his grandpa’s lap.
Now, from his perch in the tree fort, he wondered if his grandpa was looking down on him, maybe through the hole that was the moon. It was like a knot of space gouged out of the sky and he imagined soaring up toward it, clinging to rim and poking his head through to the other side. What would he see? Perhaps there would be answers to mysteries that plagued him; the identity of his father, the details of his own future. He wished for a cable to stretch from his plywood platform up there in the tree all the way to that moon. Just one glimpse through the hole would satiate his longing. He felt that life would seem more complete when he let go of the moon and slid back down the cable toward his platform in the tree—like a trapeze artist, shoulders thrown back in confidence, unafraid to rise above the world.
After awhile, the fantasy dissolved and he arranged the bookshelves, stacking the Tupperware of food on top of the bag of utensils. He tightened the straps of his backpack and unhooked the flashlight. He needed it to guide himself down the tree and through the dark woods back to the apartment.
Continued in: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 8 — Sore Knees