The Parrot Tree

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person out for a pleasant Sunday stroll could have easily mistaken Will for some sort of like-like, front yard fountain. If on this peaceful date, their eyes had fallen upon him standing still like a statuesque flesh lawn ornament, they might have second-guessed themselves as to if he were truly human or some form of futuristic robot gardener. For almost ten minutes now, Will Disco had been staring up into the oak tree rooted at the edge of his yard, pivoting the head of his garden hose back and forth in a rhythmic, almost mechanical motion. Besides the smooth revolutions of his wrist, the rest of his body had not moved in quite come time. The only detail that could, hands-down, convince an innocent passerby that Will in fact was a living, breathing male was his eyes. If the weekend ambler were so bold as to inspect Will closely, face his gaze head-on, they would see that he possessed something no sculpture or machine ever could. Fear.

It was a picturesque California afternoon in the suburb of Modesto. The summer sunshine was blanketing Will’s quaint neighborhood with its warm presence, reminding everyone that life wasn’t so bad after all. The trees and blades of grass were a lush green, cool and inviting to the touch. Small whitecaps of cloud floated through an endless sea of blue sky while a light breeze swept across the earth below. There was no aspect of this charming day, however, that could steal Will’s attention away from the oak tree full of parrots.

Branch after branch of bright red birds now sat where the oak’s leaves had once been. Eerily, the tree still resembled its former self, swaying with the wind, calm and quiet. The flock of parrots perched patiently with an air of confidence, as if their replacement of the foliage was normal. The scarlet tree seemed to tower over Will, hypnotizing him with its wavy wash of red ruffling feathers. The plumage looked thick. Thick and crimson like that young girl’s blood.

Will broke free from his hallucination, slumping down cross-legged into the wet grass. He sprayed himself in the face with the hose, running his palm up and down from chin to forehead. He was losing touch with reality, teetering on the edge of sanity, unsure about what action to take against his ever-cracking mind. Will’s horror consumed him, creating a constant state of paranoia about what bleak future might lie ahead. If he was losing his mind, how much longer did he have before his grasp on reality was completely exhausted?

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r. Theo White had diagnosed Will with extreme fatigue due to stress, and ordered him a two-week leave from work. In his tranquil psychiatrist tone, he had told Will that the profession of Emergency Medical Technician is accompanied by many burdens, the worst of which was standing witness to horrid sights and extreme situations in which others would lose composure. He had even convinced Will that an EMT’s resolve was stronger than the average person’s, having been desensitized by the hectic duties performed daily. Dr. White has assured Will that he shouldn’t worry about the anxiety attacks and recurring nightmares, just to rest up and regain a solid hold on himself. That forty-five minute session, a mandatory meeting scheduled by Will’s boss, was now a week behind him and Will’s hallucinations were becoming more frequent and grandiose. Will could not bear the thought of contacting Dr. White to admit that now he had started to see apparitions. Driving that ambulance over the past ten years had filled his head with numerous visions he could do without, cramming the recesses of his mind with gruesome memories. He had observed countless grisly accidents and he had viewed many untimely deaths over the years, all without personal mental or physical repercussions. Why was his psyche shattering now? A shiver trickled down his spine as Will tried to pretend that he did not know the answer to that question.

The earthquake. It had caused so much chaos and commotion. Bridges had crumbled like crackers, swallowing motorists up mid-air. Sirens, screams and smashes had reverberated through town while a choir of car alarms belted out a dizzying hymn of conflicting melodies. Houses and businesses had shaken violently, their foundations creaking and some even collapsing due to the unexpected shifting of the earth.

Dispatch had ordered immediate assistance at the girl’s apartment on the other side of town, five minutes before the quake hit. Will still wanted to believe that they would have been able to save her if it wasn’t for the massive trembling disrupting traffic. Still, he knew, deep in the dark caverns within him, that she had lost too much blood for there to have been any hope. Will just wished that he had been the second man in.

The precise moment in which he had entered her bathroom kept replicating itself over and over inside Will’s head, skipping his train of thought like a scratched record album. Her gaze. Her lime-green gaze. Her lifeless, lime-green gaze. Her lifeless, lime-green gaze had shocked him into a state of paralysis when his own eyes locked with that inert stare. Young and beautiful, her smooth, pale face had been drained of its living glow, making it appear as if her skin had been crafted from the same piece of porcelain as the toilet she leaned against. Like a lone and distant island, she sat motionless in the center of an ocean of blood, blankly gazing back at a mainland she would never again be a part of. The pure travesty of the moment had jolted his mind so severely, Will hadn’t even been able to move, let alone perform his duty of attempting to save the young woman. It had seemed too morbid to be reality. She looked so young, so sweet and beautiful. Fixed in place on the linoleum floor, clothed in a blood-soaked sundress, she had been peering up at the door waiting for someone to save her life…or at least what was living inside her.

Will hadn’t even realized that the young girl was pregnant, most of her body lying wedged between the toilet and the wall, until Juan burst into the bathroom, banging the gurney on the doorframe. His partner’s loud entrance had broken Will from his trance, and from that point on was no more than cloudy chaos in his mind’s eye…Juan screaming for him to get his shit together and start administering CPR…his own bloody hands attempting to connect the artificial resuscitation unit to the girl so the baby’s brain would be receiving its needed oxygen…sirens and swirling red light…standing alone in the hallway of the hospital that night, his hands shaking as violently as the earth had two hours earlier…

He had not been the same man since. Crippling panic attacks started interrupting daily life. Dark, distressing nightmares began to invade his evening; and now, if that hadn’t been enough, the ever-growing frequency of the hallucinations.

Will pulled himself up from his soggy indentation on the lawn, now conscious that a neighbor might have been watching him this entire time. His weary eyelids squinted together, blocking the sun’s rays in order to better assess his surroundings. He scanned his neighborhood, mentally taking note of what objects he could prove were actually there, a task that was becoming increasingly more difficult. He exhaled a desperate sigh, craving his old sane life as if it were some euphoric drug he had once been under the influence of. Will didn’t want to see parrot trees or buildings with grinning faces. He didn’t want to watch fuzzy, orange caterpillars crawling across his fingers as he ate. He didn’t want to wake up in the middle of the night sweating over the horrid, but instantly forgotten, images that plagued his dreams. Will Disco did not want to lose his mind.

Why did he have to look that girl in the eye?

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This post is part of a series on trees. Submit your tree features to snakeoilcure[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Matt D. is currently a resident of Roslindale Village, but spent many years enjoying the hip culture of Cambridge, MA where he resided with friends, lovers, pets, and his overflowing imagination. He has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Goddard College, but that does not mean he knows more about writing than you do. He digs good tunes, cold beer, and loud laughter. His submissions to Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Moon-Dyed Bubbles

he last moon-dyed bubble burst atop the surface of the dark, boggy pond.  A graceful New England summer breeze licked the black surface sending ripples crawling towards the lush ferns that lined the banks.  The midnight moon smiled piously, perched high upon an altar of stars like some sort of celestial priest.  Jackson could not help but sigh at the beauty that surrounded him, knowing all to well that this would be his last trip to the secret pond.

Standing at the water’s edge, ankles bound and weighted, he removed a pack of Camels from his tuxedo breast pocket.  He perched a cigarette between his dry lips and lit it, exhaling a satisfying plume of blue smoke into the atmosphere.  As Jackson watched the carcinogenic cloud entwine itself with the beams of moonlight dripping from above, memories of the first time he brought Celia to his secret pond flooded his brain.

A lilac-soaked springtime wind has swirled around his teenage lover causing her strawberry-blonde hair to dance about her soft cheeks, as if the locks were enchanted under one of Mother Nature’s spells.  Bright, majestic sunshine glimmered in her deep brown eyes, reflecting the warmth she had felt for him at the time.  It had been the first and only occasion that he had cared for anyone enough to reveal his hidden pond.  They spent that whole day basking in each other’s radiance, making love on its banks with true passion.  As if alone in a universe created solely for their pleasure, they had watched the sun melt its hues across sky, some cosmic artist spreading his oils upon the great blue dome of canvas for their eyes only.  That had been their sunset.  Their love had forged it.  Jackson could still hear Celia’s voice proclaim that they would share a thousand more sunsets, pledging her soul unto him forever.  Forever.  Jackson had to laugh.

That perfect day had been six years ago when the two were still juniors in high school.  Up until this morning, Jackson and Celia hadn’t even spoken for a year.  So much had changed since that mystical day.  The undying love they had shared at the pond had only kept them together for another three months when Celia had decided that seniors in high school were more mature, and could better provide the “emotional needs” a sixteen-year-old girl required.  Through the course of the following years, their traveled paths had forked and they had grown distant.  Jackson, still very much in love, had done all he could to keep informed about his dear Celia, prodding mutual friends for any news they would offer.  Usually the information about her recent whereabouts filled him with even more desire, seeing as he had always harbored the notion that one day the two would reunite.  That is, until he found out about her upcoming wedding.

xpelling another blue cloud into a midair waltz, Jackson recalled the nausea and terror he had felt when the horrible realization had befallen him.  For the first time in six years, he had had to embrace the fact that Celia would never again be his.  From nowhere, Fate appeared with her unforgiving claws to rip into his ribcage, tearing out his heart to be smashed into a black, useless paste.  Jackson was convinced that on some karmic level this was a great romantic injustice, and that it was up to him to remedy Cupid’s misguided arrow and regain Celia’s love for all eternity.

He had spent the last few days preparing the romantic extravaganza, and had set the wheels of his plan in motion that morning with a phone call to Celia.  Jackson was still inflated with the bravery it had required to make that first leap.  Dialing those seven digits had stirred the current…that lifted the swell…that created the wave that had carried Celia back into his loving arms.

Jackson puffed out a perfect smoke-ring and recalled the two sitting at the park, drinking coffee earlier that afternoon.  His: cream, two sugars.  Hers: cream, two sugars and enough sedatives to relax a small pony.  Before Celia nodded off, they had discussed the strange flowing river of life and how the other was maintaining afloat within it, and promised to speak to each other more often.  Celia had even mentioned her upcoming wedding.  Jackson’s stellar performance of surprise and congratulations had been worthy of an Oscar.

She had probably been stoned from the downers, but Jackson could not get the joyful, loving face Celia had worn at the park out of his head.  It had been much more soothing than the one she wore when she woke up at the pond bound, gagged and wearing the wedding dress Jackson had rented.

Jackson had watched tears, which could only have been of  joy, slip down her cheeks as he told her how the two were destined to inflame the cosmos with their passion, and that they would burn on together for all eternity, inextinguishable and infinite.  In silence, he had held her trembling body for hours, breaking the hush only once to say, “Wasn’t that a beautiful sunset, dear?”  And with the sinking of the great yellow sphere, only but the last stage of Jackson’s plan had remained unaccomplished.

Jackson looked down at his hands and saw the smoke circling his fingers.  Those hands, just moments before, had thrown his bride to her watery grave.  He knew that it had been for the best though.  A love such as theirs comes along once a millennium and he was not about to live the tragedy of unrequited true love.

The fiery ring at the tip of his cigarette had found its way to the speckled filter, signaling the time for Jackson to proclaim his never-ending vow of love as well.  He flicked the butt into the cool thick grass, watching the orange trail it left in its flight.  Jackson then reverently peered at the moon, awaiting his cue.

“I do,” he whispered.  Then Jackson jumped into the pond.

The devoted groom sank to the bottom and felt around for his anchored bride.  Finding her slowly swaying body in the dark depths, he locked his with his soul mate’s arms, and was filled with no emotion but pure love.

A few moments later, the last moon-dyed bubble burst atop the surface of the dark, boggy pond.