Bonsai

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fiction

Mary Widdifield

Bonsai

 

 

The six-hour drive seems much longer. Joyce thinks she should be at her father’s house by now. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon—the time she’d told him she’d arrive. She wonders if she has gone too far, missed a turn somewhere but the only roads shooting off this winding one are narrow, rutted driveways overgrown with briars and thistles. Occasionally, through the brambles she glimpses a respectable house with shabby-chic landscaping. But that is not how she imagines her father’s place. There was always a plain precision to the way he lived: starched shirts and polished black shoes, so she expects she will arrive at a small, defined plot with simple, well-trimmed plantings.
     He had told Joyce that an hour before her intended arrival time, he would put a red ribbon around a Bay tree at the turnoff. If you really are coming, he said, like a challenge. When she sees the ribbon, she’s supposed to remove it so there’s nothing to mark a drive that has neither street sign nor mailbox.
     She can’t call anyone to verify her location and not just because she lost phone reception miles back. No one but Joyce has ever attempted to find his house. Joyce removes the now useless phone piece from her ear. She feels naked without it and wonders how she will survive the forty-eight hours in the middle of nowhere. She looks for a new radio station. The one she’d been listening to has become static. As she fiddles with a knob, a rabbit crosses the narrow road. She swerves and misses it. She quickly centers the car again, avoiding the sunken, gravelly shoulders on either side. Joyce catches her breath and punches the radio off with her thumb. She rolls the window down. The spring air is moist on her face, the gentle pounding against her ear sounds like the ocean that she’s moving towards. His house is not far from the roiling Pacific Ocean and a small Northern California town visited by tourists and honeymooners.
     Joyce thinks about the time ten years ago when she last saw her father. It was the day of his final departure. The day before there’d been the usual blowup in her parent’s bedroom but this time, her father cried. Joyce assumed he was leaving on another business trip from which he’d return. He stood in the yard with his single suitcase, a pleading gaze for Joyce’s mother and a guilty glance to Allison, Joyce’s older sister. It seemed as though Joyce was looking upon this scene with all four of them, not a participant of the silent dialogue that transpired between those three. He seemed to be taking in the whole picture of his wife and two daughters on the wide porch and the house that for him represented his hard work and corporate ladder climbing. Joyce still remembers her mother’s glare, an expression Allison shared. He stepped forward for an embrace. Allison and her mother stepped away.
     In postcards without a return address, Allison and Joyce learned he’d found a nice plot of land. He reported he’d renovated a cabin and built a garden. He proclaimed in capital letters, LIFE IS FINE! He never liked living the way their mother did, all that furniture and money spent on things you don’t need. Once, he made each family member inventory all her possessions and demanded it be reduced by ten percent through a garage sale the following weekend.
     Allison still practices dutiful avoidance of their father. She sends birthday cards to a P.O. Box and expects nothing in return. She sends pictures of her children, which he returns in the same envelope with a note of thanks and, So big! scratched with a ballpoint in small uneven script. He’s going to die soon, he insists, not that he’s sick but because he’s old. No use having all that stuff to sort out, he tells her. You’ll want it back anyway, he says.
     Joyce calls sometimes but she doesn’t often get through and he has no voicemail. She has nothing to report, nothing to say about any topics she thinks interest him. She keeps all his postcards in chronological order in her kitchen drawer.
     Sure, come for a visit, he responded in a postcard to Joyce and added that he’d call with directions.
     Allison rolled her eyes and flicked the postcard across the table.
     Mom needs the papers signed, Joyce says. It’s been over ten years. He knows he has to, you know, legally. It was in their divorce agreement. The title. She’s been paying for it for years.
     Uh huh.
     It’s a simple business transaction like any other. Dad is a businessman.
     When the odometer clicks over at 335 miles, Joyce begins to look for the turnoff as he’d instructed. She slows the car and at the 338th mile, sees a fleck of red. She puts the car in park. She removes the frayed ribbon that is tied in a loose knot around an old Bay tree and returns. She breathes deeply, hoping to settle her stomach. The car lurches forward and she takes the potholed drive slowly, carefully up a hill. She catches herself crouching in her seat as if the car has no roof and the low branches are going to slap her. The drive veers left of a large boulder and a cabin comes into view just how he said it would. The road peters out into an undefined parking area that is hardened, dry earth. An old blue Ford pickup sits with plywood boards stacked in its bed. She stops the car.
     Surely this can’t be the place.
     The cabin is weathered gray wood. One of the front two windows is covered over with plywood. The yard is weedy and overgrown with yellow grass. The man on the steps, squinting into the afternoon sun and wearing a flannel shirt is nothing like the slick-haired Brooks Brothers-suited Chevron executive from her childhood. She looks again. His stern expression shifts. He rests something against the cabin, a rifle, puts his hands on his hips and takes on a haunting resemblance to the father she once knew. She still has a chance to back the car out and later she could tell him it wasn’t her. He must be mistaken, she’d say.
     But she reminds herself that she is here to perform the task that her mother and sister had been so incompetent to complete. She is here to resolve things with him as only she can do.
     He approaches the car only after she’s turned off the engine and opened her own door. Then he is at the driver’s side, welcoming her. But seeing him now, she doesn’t feel that she knows him. She wants to make small talk, but what comes to mind is how he resembles a character from a Dorothea Lange photo series only he is much less endearing. She wants to say something appropriate, maybe even honest, but she’s not comfortable with him anymore and wonders if ever she was.
     Welcome, he says. And for a split second, she believes he welcomes visitors.
     Hello. Long time, she says, and leaves it at that.
     She moves toward him, because she knows this is what a daughter does with her father, and hugs him around his chest. He engulfs her in his long-armed embrace. She detects a woody smell mixed with body odor. They separate and he takes a few steps back.
     You saw the ribbon?
     She hands it to him. He takes it and she notices how his hands quiver. She too, feels lightheaded. He nods approvingly and slips the ribbon into his pocket.
     He studies her face then scans the length of her. His eyes move as if they’d been oiled. His lips are thinner than she remembered and form a half grin, a mannerism with which she is so familiar from her childhood that she can hear it in postcards he sends. He tilts his head, looks around her, behind her, as if expecting someone else to appear from the car and then she says, oh, yeah, my bag. She pulls out her overnight bag which he takes from her, telling her he hopes she didn’t have lunch too late because he’s prepared food. She assures him she’ll be hungry and notices how lean he’s become, how his faded and worn blue jeans are loose below his belt buckle. His face too, is more angular; creases dig horizontal lines into his ruddy olive-skinned cheeks and along the sides of his mouth.
     C’mon in. He turns and she follows him into his house.    
     He still moves with athletic fluidity, though everything about him has sharpened. His square, pointed shoulders show through his flannel shirt and the rolled-up sleeves reveal muscular forearms. His dark, slick hair is now a kinked gray mass gathered into a ponytail. He still has the makings of a fine-looking man but his appearance is coarse. She cannot believe he is the same man. She will have to get to know him, all over again.
     He moves the rifle from outside the door to inside as he goes. Without realizing, she stops in her tracks and he sees her staring at the rifle and then the pistol on the window ledge. His face shows a hint of apology like it did years ago when she’d questioned his decision to eat a bag of chips in the grocery store without paying for them.
     There’s a meth lab about three miles away. Let me show you ’round.
     He shows her the room where she will sleep. The room is sparse; the walls are raw wood, bare and essential like he’s become. There is a double bed with a familiar brown wool coverlet and an old quilt folded in half that he must have taken when he left years ago. She pats the quilt and is comforted, knowing that when she unfolds it, she’ll see the old denim border trim and the corner that her dog chewed fifteen years ago.
     He points to the bathroom down the hall and tells her he’ll be in his garden, finishing up, and there’s a pot of tea waiting for her in the kitchen.
     She finds her way to the kitchen and pours the tea he has set out for her. Her view of him is framed by the window set between the kitchen and the attached, glassed-in garden. He is less than ten feet away, only a room’s distance and yet the garden seems like a whole other world from the cabin with which it shares a wall. On entering his property, the modern, enclosed garden where he now stands is hidden from view by the plain, utilitarian cabin that appears rather decrepit.
     He faces away from her, leaning over a worktable. His head is bent forward and in his large hand he palms what appears to be a miniature tree. Then she sees, beside him other miniature trees and still more lining shelves below the windows and another on a low table. They are everywhere in his garden. Some stretch forward with an elegant sway and others are symmetrical with branches that terminate in a manicured, pleasing, round shape. There is one dripping with soft, white, full-sized blossoms that seem showy for its diminutive, knobby trunk and branches.
     She knows now, this is where he devotes hours and hours. He’s a giant in a miniature, landscaped forest.
     When she was younger, he’d tinker with a vintage Jaguar or spend hours putting golf balls on a flat strip he’d made in the back yard. But he’d swear and return to the house as irritable as when he’d started. But now, leaning over his miniature tree, he seems at peace. He’s right. He has changed. He has found balance in his life—just what he’d written to her a few years ago.
     Balance, eh? Her mother had said with her head tilted to the side while she twirled a diamond earring. Oh honey, she said, that’s what he says. Her mother started to cackle at this and then stopped. She reached across the kitchen table and rested a hand on Joyce’s arm. Her brow curled with pity, the way it did when she learned that thirteen-year-old Joyce had expected her father to return. I’m sorry to tell you honey, but your father has cracked.
     Then her mother reminded Joyce, because she somehow forgets that he’d fled to the Sierras, the Northwest, his whereabouts unknown. He was off the grid. He stopped paying taxes. Her mother’s face was full of disgust when she’d say, can’t you just hear him? How he justified everything and said he barely existed, took nothing from anyone—what difference did it make to the government? And don’t forget, because he didn’t pay taxes, he couldn’t work legally or his wages would be garnished. He didn’t pay one cent of alimony or child support. Balance? Pshaw! He lost his mind!
     Joyce runs her tongue along her crooked bottom teeth—an old habit that started during difficult conversations with her mother. But now there is order and simplicity all around her and a man in his peaceful garden breathing fresh air. She berates her selfishness and wonders why she hasn’t visited him before now, why she has spent much of her life misjudging him. She thinks she understands something her mother or sister cannot see, will never get to see.
     He turns and they both smile. C’mon, he says, gesturing with his large, brown hand. His voice is muffled by the glass. He points to the chipped bowl on the counter near her, filled with berries. She pops a few in her mouth and takes her tea and the pot to join him in his glass garden. The raspberries are delicious. She recalls the postcard in which he’d proclaimed it a shame the neighbors ignored their briar patch. The following Christmas she received his raspberry jam. It was the only time since he’d left the family that she’d received a gift from him. Seeing him now, in his world, she understands for the first time what went into that gift. She imagines his weathered fingers plucking the tiny ruby-colored fruit, barbed branches sticking to him, scratching his arms and clawing faded dungarees, the old man’s awkward stretch, heels lifted, grimaces and grunts while reaching for a plump, ripe cluster. And then the hours over the stove, making sure it came out just right. He goes to great lengths for some things. He always has.
     She rests her cup and teapot on the bench beside his and fills his teacup. He is focused on his work, standing at the waist-high wooden garden table. Shiny tools are laid in a line on a leather pad with sewn-in loops and pockets that rolls up with a tie for neat storage when he’s finished.
     This is a Momiji Maple, he says of the tree he holds upside down in one hand. The pale roots are exposed and raw, the color of ligament and bone. He traces each root between thumb and forefinger, compares its length to the tree’s shape before he cuts.
     Watching him work in silence is natural. She recalls the boundless hours of her childhood she’d spent in his company while he toiled on mundane jobs around the house, replacing a light fixture, building a bookshelf or tinkering with the house sound system. In those hours, she was happy to be in his presence. She’d beg to help him but he’d become impatient with her, unable to teach her and it was much better for her to work in silence on her drawings, her homework, or play with her dolls.
     But now he asks her what she knows about bonsai.
     I’ve never really looked at them, she says. They’re beautiful.
     It’s all about maintaining equilibrium, he says. There must be balance between root depth and the tree’s height and shape. His cupped, calloused palm memorizes the line formed by the delicate, thready root points. He compares this subterranean curve to the proud leafy arc.
     She listens to his lecture. His drone is familiar and oddly comforting. What he says today doesn’t veer into a speech about government conspiracies, or how the shit-for-brains kid who was his boss was nothing but a brown-nosing product of nepotism and if he could do it all over again, he’d throw the chair and a desk across four cubicles. In this lecture he uses the words “methodical, composition,” and “growth.”
     He tells her how even the tray in which the tree grows is a critical choice. The tray affects overall composition and must be the appropriate size for curbing growth. He is meticulous with bonsai. He has a tool for each need and taps each one with his scissors and tells her how it is used. He even has one to push dirt away from the pot’s edges. Everything is precise and calculated for a grander scheme of minimalism. Everything in balance.
     He puts his scissors and the maple down, lifts his cup and steps toward her. He rests a large hand on her shoulder, casts his head back and a soft smile forms on his lips in a manner that suggests he is taking in the pleasure of her presence. She is unaccustomed to his admiration. She wonders if two days is too long to be with him. Or not long enough. She promised her mother she’d get the papers signed. But that no longer seems to matter.
     Yet the way he seems now, and while working over his bonsai, she wonders, how hard could it be to get his signature? He’s been out of their lives for so long. Certainly, by now, he must be willing to let them go, allow them all to start over, clean. Resolve the last nagging requirements they have of him. Her mother has been complaining to her daughters for years about the things that hadn’t yet been finalized. Then again, she also complains to the whole table at a restaurant about an undercooked steak she’s been served, but never risks a scene by informing the waiter.
     Her mother would say to Joyce, if only I could get him to sign the house over, finally, officially, it could resolve my finances. I could plan my retirement. This thing hanging over my head, she’d say. But no, she couldn’t possibly have another conversation with him. There’s no point in talking to him. Joyce, she’d say, you know how he is!
     But looking at him now, Joyce is unsure.
     He turns to put his cup on the worktable. The ropes and veins in his neck remind Joyce of the twisting trunk of his bonsai Juniper. His attention goes back to the maple tree which he raises again to inspect the roots. The sharp, silvery scissors make a crisp snap with each cut. He turns the tree right side up, positions it back in the tray and studies one limb at a time and clips. He pokes his fingers into the soil and says that next he’ll add fertilizer and water in measured quantities.
     There needs to be sufficient nutrition but not so much as to allow the tree to grow aggressively, he says. You have to monitor every step of development. Too much water equals too much growth.
     Joyce steps closer, touches the maple with her finger and then steps away again, taking in the whole garden. Great place you have here.
     It’s great to have you here. He unfurls a bag of manure and the fragrance fills the enclosed garden. I met your sister once about two hours from here. You didn’t come then.
     Yeah. Work’s been crazy. She sits on the teak bench beside his table.
     How’s the music business?
     I’m the sales director for a radio station. Advertising.
     Yes, of course. How is the advertising-selling business? He says the awkward phrase while arranging teaspoon-sized mounds of manure on the soil.
     I got a bonus last year.
     Must have been nice, he says. Though his sight is perfect, his head hangs as if peering over eyeglass rims.
     Joyce looks at her feet, taps her foot on the brick floor.
     I always thought you’d become a veterinarian, he says. He tamps his finger on the soil to assess moisture.
     I got tired of school.
     You’d be seeing patients by now.
     I guess. Joyce drains her cup.
     Your sister was the smart one.
     Joyce grits her teeth. Yeah. She sure is.
     How is your sister? I haven’t heard from her in a few months. He drizzles water from a glass measuring cup, dissolving the manure mounds.
     Busy with the baby. They want a house now that they have kids. Joyce stands, looks at the Momiji Maple.
     She mentioned that in her letter. Maddie’s birthday. And something about your mother and planning. Is that why you’re here? He takes a half step back without looking at her, then forward again and wipes dirt and manure crumbs from the trunk of his maple. You want me to sign something?
     I don’t handle her business matters.
     I see.
     I’d have visited sooner, says Joyce. It’s been hard to get away.
     Now you are here.
     He lifts the maple eye-level by its tray and admires his work. His knobby, weathered fingers lift the leaves so he can peer at the undersides.
     Joyce doesn’t know why she didn’t come out and tell him, yes, the papers are in the car and it’s high time you sign, mister. That’s what she’d intended on saying. That’s what she has told her mother should have been said to him years ago.
     So, you’ve lived here, how many years?
     A while. Ten years.
     She notes the significant effort and money in building this modern garden. The finely laid brick floor, the beautifully finished wood panels and quality casement windows inform her he’s not going anywhere. Ever.
     Are you thinking you’ll move again? she says.
     He looks at her suspiciously.
     She’s on track now, she thinks, going slowly toward closing the deal as promised but employing a subtle tact. She’s showing him how he’s already moved forward in his life and that he should let her mother go too. And still, he’s perfectly calm. Appealing to his rational side is something no one else would do with him. She’s said all along, it’s a simple business transaction. It’s true that she’s practiced in the art of sales. She makes it easy for the customer and controls the conversation. The technique requires her to believe that the buyer needs what she sells. It should be no different with her father. Besides she always understood him. She believes down to her bones his signature would make things right for everyone, even him. It would prove he is different than the stories her mother and sister continue to tell about him.
     I like the little forest over there. She points and walks to a wide, low planter sitting on the shelf along the back wall.
     Yose-ue, he says. The term for a group planting. Those are Ezo spruce.
     She waves a hand across the tops of the spruce and feels the tickling in her palm. The trees are no less regal for their diminutive size. With her finger, she traverses the mossy ground and shrinks into the forest, escaping the confines of her own overgrown size. She is free and safe in the forest her father constructed, its boundaries defined and limited. She breathes fresh forest air and is cooled by the shade of the light spruce canopy. Admires the narrow trunks scaling the sky with unwavering purpose and forgets their freakish limitations. They are skeletal. Beautiful. She is comfortable in the diminutive forest. As a child, before complications of adolescence, Joyce whiled away time inhabiting imaginary landscapes and characters. Now, she is lost in his miniature forest. She had forgotten this game until this moment, and is surprised by the pleasure she feels.
     The tip of her finger finds a boulder, a rock positioned to enhance the composition. This is where she rests from her walk. She feels the sun’s warmth in her loose, brown hair. Her nose grazes the tops of the trees, she takes in the pine scent.
     His voice cuts her imaginative dream. He says, I think I’ll sell that one. There’s a guy who’s been asking for a grouping.
     He comes near her, bringing his natural smell and a chopstick he uses to smooth soil and arrange the roots of his maple. He adds, I planted it six months ago. It’s ready.
     It’s nice.
     See these spruce here? He waves his chopstick along one row of shelves lined with individually potted spruce trees. I’m creating another. Maybe you could help.
     Yeah, that’d be nice. She faces the trees, their trunks pierce upward, stand at attention. They elicit her respect.
     Each one of those is about ten years old, he says. I got them in the mountains.
     Yeah, she says again, I’d like that.
     Let’s have a little something to eat first.
     She sits at a stool at the kitchen counter while he works the broiler and stirs soup on the stove. He burns his fingertip when he pulls bread off the oven rack. He makes swift jabs with his hand to retrieve the other pieces to avoid another burn.
     When was the last time you saw Ally? says Joyce. Four years ago?
     Sounds about right. I met her husband.
     Scott.
     Yes. That’s it. Scott. Haven’t met the baby. Mason. Your mother sees the kids a lot, eh?
     They live near each other.
     How is your mother’s health? Still drinking every night?
     She doesn’t drink every night.
     Uh huh.
     Joyce closes her eyes. This part of him, she’d forgotten. This is not about you, her therapist reminds her whenever the topic of her father arises. Use the strategy for difficult customers. Change the tone of the conversation.
     He sets before her hot, homemade bean soup and bread with cheese melted on it. He reminds her she loved it when she was little and he hopes she still does. He stands across from her, stirring and cooling the soup in his bowl. She is his daughter again. She’d forgotten the Saturday afternoons of her childhood in which he’d fed her and kept her occupied. The savory soup and crunchy bread warms her and sweetens her voice. She decides to invite him to visit her. Something she’s never done, nor imagined she would do. To her surprise, she feels guilty about the papers in her briefcase.
     You can visit Ally, you know. Or me. My place is small but you could stay there.
     I’m sure your place is fine.
     Joyce imagines how strange it would be to see him in her little apartment using her white towels and tapping his fingers on her IKEA table waiting for her to rise from bed.
     You’re always invited, she blurts.
     Joyce imagines putting the grandbaby in his arms and granddaughter in his lap. It’s what every grandparent wants and she would make it seem natural.
     I’m sure you could use a little vacation, she adds.
     A vacation? From what? I have nothing to get away from.
     He waves his hand at the window framing his garden and then his gaze pauses there as if he’s even then yearning to get back to his trees. Then Joyce notices that in the far corner of the garden there’s a dried-out tree, the trunk snapped and tossed like a broken-necked doll, lying atop a pile of jade-green ceramic shards, what was likely its carefully chosen tray.
     Couldn’t you get someone to water the garden?
     Yeah, he says sarcastically. Not doing that again. She glances at the murdered bonsai, and imagines it sailing through the air like the chair over cubicles, this time aimed at the girlfriend he mentioned but once in a postcard.
     Anyway, he says, I haven’t been invited by your sister. She’s busy. It’s okay. Traveling is hard on an old man.
     His right cheek retracts in a humble half-smile, an accordion of leathery wrinkles that makes Joyce uneasy.
     He says, I suppose if I sign papers, or do whatever your mother wants I’d get an invitation!
     He laughs too loud. The sound is grating, reminds her of his power to keep her out of Girl Scouts when all her friends were joining because he didn’t believe in cults. It reminds her of the Halloween he’d forbidden them to trick-or-treat. He said, it’s a conspiracy devised by corporations. And who needs all that candy? His harsh laughter as he pinched the preadolescent fat on the underside of her upper arm. It’s the sound in his voice when he said he took her dog’s puppies to the shelter but really, he’d drowned them inside a pillowcase filled with rocks. We never should have gotten a dog, he muttered. But your mother!
     It’s not pity she feels then, but weathered hatred. You know, she says, the court assigned the house to mom. She’s taken care of it, done the upkeep for years. It’s her house.
     I see. This is why you’re here. His head casts back like a wave of heat and dust were coming at him.
     No. I just wonder why you won’t sign the papers. It’s not even yours.
     Nor yours. He leans on the scarred counter. His arms are straight and form a triangle with his head at the apex. He starts up again. Thank me for not allowing her to sell the house earlier! All the money from it would be gone. She’d have spent the whole thing already.
     No, she would’ve sold it and set up her retirement like she needed to do years ago. Instead, she’s wasted money on repairs and the taxes you should have paid.
     For a moment, something in him softens. She sees a break in his resolve but then he waves his hand and hisses. Your mother, he pauses and his voice gathers volume, would have spent everything on drapes to show off to her friends and she’d be more of a drunk.

§

They are in the quiet garden again. Joyce removes pine trees from the shelf along the wall and as she does so, she becomes less agitated, almost calm. The garden must have that effect on her, and him. She reminds herself less than a day has passed. In fact, it has been only a few hours. She is resolute again, as she was on the drive and decides she must plan for an opening; a way to convince him what he needs to do. She hopes that in the calm garden, she will be able to appeal to him.
     As he instructed, she removes the last of the five pine trees from its planter, loosens extra dirt from the roots and places it in a line with the others on the garden table. She is gentle with the delicate trees, doesn’t want to destroy a decade of cultivation with one careless move. Her father inspects them, fingering their base with the deftness of experience. Joyce worries he will find damage incurred in the removal from their planters even though she was careful. But then he pokes them with a chopstick.
     Loosening up the roots, he tells her. But from behind, it looks like he is killing them, stabbing them with sharp, violent jabs, cutting out their hearts.
     Then, with shiny scissors in hand, he examines each tree, goes down the line. He removes weak branches, shakes more loose dirt and shortens roots. He snips the thickest root, the main root of each spruce with strong cutters. Snip. The fate of the trees is sealed.
     Snip. The sound is sharp like a grated nerve or metal on metal. The sound of her braces being sliced apart in her gaping mouth because her father was not paying bills. Because he wouldn’t or couldn’t. That senile orthodontist—the cheapest one her mother could find—cut the wires, pulling each one without delicacy and his thick grunting mushroom breath was wet and old. She heard the nurses whispering, imagine living in that big house, the wife driving a new Audi and they claim they can’t afford a little girl’s braces.
     She pushes air out of her lungs and picks up one of the smaller trees. She fingers the delicate roots that will be hidden soon beneath the dirt.
     He stands beside her and positions the tallest tree in the right half of a large, low and wide, blue-glazed ceramic pot. He tells her where to place the rest of the trees.
     The next tallest goes behind. Next, bring the third tallest . . . he instructs, until all have been placed in an aesthetic arrangement with the smallest and weakest tree close to the tallest.
     Joyce has to admit, it is a beautiful and natural-looking arrangement.
     He shows her how to move the roots. Together, they add peat to fill the spaces between the roots and then squeeze water from the sphagnum moss that goes on top because it looks good and holds moisture.
     What do you think? he asks, stepping back to admire their work.
     Looks good.
     He laughs. You’ll get better.          
     He excuses himself saying he’s going to shower. She should clean the tools and put them away and also sweep the floor, he says. He informs her that he will be going into town later to pick up supplies and will return late. She should enjoy the solitude.
     His footsteps recede into the house.
     For a moment, she stands in the silence. At the orthodontist’s, she kept hoping her father would walk in just as a wire sliced into her cheek. He’d come to her, late, but finally, as he did once, finding her lost in the woods after she’d wandered off one Saturday.
     She cradles the newly formed Yose-ue they just created into her arms and grabs two other spruces. She stacks her arms with as much bonsai as she can carry and leaves his garden. With her armload, she pauses at the front door where the rifle is still propped and the pistol sits on the window ledge. She bolts to her car and dumps all of it onto the passenger seat. She starts the car, tears down the gravelly drive, and skids onto the main road. The ocean is behind her.