Every winter night I climbed the bone tree and blasted off into outer space. I built handhelds onto a spindly birch tree, a tree so white it was invisible on wintry days. My grandpa told me the tree grew so white and bone-like because he planted a tooth there when he was a boy. That was why I planted all my baby teeth in the yard.
The bone tree really looked like bones when the leaves were gone, and I could climb to the highest branch to watch the stars and the northern lights and catch the freshest snow on my tongue. But most of all I pretended the bone tree was a rocket, like Apollo 11, and I was the captain astronaut. When the sky was clear, I’d pretend there was no earth below me, and I’d feel so light, so lost. On days when it was cloudy and snowing I’d pretend the snowflakes were falling stars. I would wonder what it was like to cut through clouds, to feel stars bounce off my cheeks like sparks from a birthday sparkler.
The first time I saw the northern lights I thought the stars really were falling. I thought outer space was bleeding blue and green and pink and the earth would be washed away in a sea of galactic infinity. I thought, the milky way isn’t white, it’s like oil in rainwater, all color and mesmerism. I was afraid, afraid and excited to be swept away. I was ready. I belonged there in space–more than Mom and Dad and Brian and Jessica and Spud and my teachers and the president and maybe even NASA because I had my own rocket ship and spent every night in space.
But my grandpa called me down, come on, spaceman. He wasn’t afraid, he wasn’t excited. The wonders of the universe were old hat to him, and I couldn’t explain, when I got to the snowy ground, why I was crying so much, what exactly was so sad. Every time I tried to speak I sniffed and stuttered, and by the time I was done I was waking up in my own bed.
When I grew too big to climb, I stopped eating, hoping to stay the same size. I’d sneak my food to Spud, or give lunch to other kids, or sneak mouthfuls to the bathroom to spit out. And I’d be back up the tree, even when Mom told me to stop. But winter was almost done, and the tree was beginning to grow its leaves, and I knew I wouldn’t have these moments next winter, so I climbed once more, to be with the stars.
I was dizzy going up. My stomach roiled, too hungry to be hungry. When I reached the top, I felt lighter than I’d ever felt, and knew at once that my diet was working. I could watch the stars and forget the earth and the branch under my butt and just float, float…
It wasn’t until I felt what I thought was a baseball bat smashing into my lower back that I realized I fell.
Grandpa chopped the bone tree down with an axe that spring. I watched from the driveway, because my wheelchair wouldn’t traverse the roots of the yard very well. I felt it in the wheels when it landed.
I thought it was going to explode. It seems silly now.
Day 257’s three random writing prompt categories were, “Winter wonderland,” “The bone tree,” and, “In space.”
I swear I never mean to write downer stories. They just sort of happen…