This passage is excerpted from my short-story, “Gabriel’s Dream,” (Assure Press), available to read in full by purchasing this issue of Iris Literary Journal.
The house’s back gate whines like a cat. Gabriel’s toes slip out his sandals, cool on a stone step. He grins—uncertain if God has a voice, or if simply motion in any direction, in every direction—like the wind. Like the wind, he decides.
A woodpecker drums. Pollen lifts off petals. Gabriel feels lifted from under, knowing his weight well; still, the earth writhes. The sun peeks and black floaters emerge, departing his vision. Over the fence at the yard’s end, vining maples converse. He looks back at the house. There was a sycamore here.
Gnats and pollen swath above. He cannot breathe. Gabriel hacks; each cough clicks! in his chest. He leans, palms over his knees, finally breathes.
Gabriel’s eyes shut, to recall the sycamore; a mental list of its features:
- fattened trunk
- peeled bark dappled pistachio-green and white
- helicopter seeds cycling crown to feet
- black-fretted leaves
- honeydew pooling where roots shaped into bowls.
Gabriel’s eyes open. No sycamore stands where he recalls.
A door shuts, and footsteps crunch behind him. A young goateed man with furrowed brow wipes his palms on a sage tee. The man stops a truck-length’s away. “What are you doing at my house?”
Gabriel pauses, squints. The man, he looks like Aaron. “No, no… I don’t think you understand. It’s my birthday. This is my house. I’ve come here to remember.”
The man-who-looks-like-Aaron’s forehead creases multiply, and he steps closer. “Do you have someone to call? Someone, sir—to take ya home? I could lend ya my phone—my house phone.”
The cough rattles back up Gabriel’s throat. Hugging himself, he bends with mouth uncovered, fingertips pinching his sides. Each hack quakes dryer and heavier than the last. Gabriel retrieves a pocket handkerchief, dabs his lip. “Your house phone…” He clears his throat.
The man steps closer, no longer looking like Aaron:
- eyes green
- tattoo under thick forearm hair: the words, creator of nothing (though, it is unclear if the of is actually or)
- more tattoos marking his knuckles, ten arrows pointing inward.
- the same self-pitying look in his brow, but this man seems more aware of his sorrow
“I’m sorry,” Gabriel says. “I think I am confused.”
“Name’s Cory. Did ya get lost on a walk, or something?” he asks, southern accent revealing itself.
Gabriel fakes a smile. Behind Cory hangs the sun’s white miasma—galloping fire—too bright to stare. He glances at his bare feet, and blushes. “I—I lived here before. I wanted to pay a—a visit. They’re sending me away.” Gabriel feels Cory’s eyes on him, so he watches the ground. The silence is thick. “My family planted a sycamore here. Amaya died, and it was me and my daughter Reseda. She grew up, and then only I nursed this house. I gardened zucchini, peppers, herbs. It was hard to stay motivated, only growing them for myself. Sometimes, I’d take breaks, sit in the shade, under that giant tree. Before you know it, I’d wake up hours later.”
“Oh yeah?” Cory looks pleased, pocketing his hands, hiding all but his thumb tattoos from sight. “Think the person who lived here before me mentioned there was yard work done. ‘Intrusive roots’ and whatnot. But this here’s my house now, and you’re just a visitor—not an owner anymore. Got it?”
Gabriel bows his head to the past, to the present, to the way things change in between, to the forgotten memories, and to the memories warped by the love of beauty.
“I’m a nature man myself,” Cory says. “Planted this scarlet oak right here. I got a good feeling it’s coming along.
Clouds open. Beams fall upon a scarlet oak sapling. In the light, its frail limbs resemble the burning ends of cigarettes.
Gabriel knuckles his chin and tries to bridge the logic that someone else would obviously take homeownership of a place that belonged to his past, and that in truth, nothing belongs to anybody—places and people spanning beyond his presence. Like the wind, he thinks.
It’s been at least five years since he moved in with Reseda and Aaron.
‘The person who lived here before me,’ Gabriel remembers Cory saying.
Then, it’s been well-over five years. Maybe fifteen. All that time spent, in a room under the stairs. It feels like forever. It feels like it never happened at all.
“I’m sorry for trespassing. I am old, and—” A cough. “I think I needed to say goodbye, even though it’s just a place.”