I am walking home from work on the route I usually take. On this particular night, the sky blazes a red orange, and as far as I can see, the streets are vacant. As I often do on my walk home, I slow my pace and peek into lit windows as I pass: a hunched figure sets a table, TVs hum with no watchers, and a lone smoker leans out on a window ledge. For a moment, our eyes make contact, and I feel seen. Behind her, rows of books frame a roaring fireplace, and the room is anchored by a single red lantern. My eyes follow the strands of her cigarette smoke until they dissipate in the dark.
On nights like this, I often see young mothers with a stroller in one hand and a leash in the other, headed for the local park. Tonight, with no one in sight, I walk with no particular haste. After passing a number of familiar side streets, I stop in front of a dimly lit one, craning my neck to see. Trees pack this street so densely that they block the lamp light. I’m just a few blocks from my house, but decide to take a detour.
As I head down the side street, my feet begin to tingle with numbness. With each step, a sticky kind of resin leaks from my boots and slows my progress. More curious than scared, I look down to see my legs encased in bark. At the same time, I feel my insides jerk back and forth, churning. The feeling is like spitting out fine threads, pulling them apart, and winding them tighter together. My body tenses with anticipation.
Gradually, the landscape around me shifts. A row of houses, previously hidden, now slide into the foreground. I see that their sidings are worn, chipped away by age and neglect. Their paint suffers from a lack of definition, as if too many coats over the years have blurred out their expression.
Then, with a low rumble, the houses advance like a film reel in front of me. I try to lift my feet, but they remain planted. On both sides of me now, houses are scrolling by at a fast clip, but I remain still.
Eventually, the reel comes to a stop. The air turns humid with a dense fog. The houses now in front of me, I notice, have a different quality. Through a large window, I catch a woman setting the dining room table. As she lights a candle, I hear a loud crack beneath me.
I look down to see the trunk of a remarkable tree—growing around me. In shock, I hold my body steady and listen to the thumping of my heart. Somewhere below me, I hear a tearing sound, but cannot place it.
The tree is spouting branches left and right now, whipping past my face as it climbs. I hear a tearing sound again, and this time I realize I’m the one doing the tearing. To my surprise, my hands are fighting through a spongy mesh, getting caught over and over by the dense fibers. Next, I test my legs with caution, giving them a brief shake. Finding some wiggle room, I pull them free with a loud groan. Swiftly now, I work my way out from the side of the trunk, grabbing fistfuls of sticky tissue in the process. With one hand, I part thick strands, and with the other:
Finally, I jump out.
From a distance, I stop to catch my breath and look up at my tree. Its limbs, sensuous in the dense fog, hold teardrop forms of different sizes.