When light hits a leaf just right, it is illuminated. It is simply green until it is more. Now there’s a halo. A lick of God at its edges. Maybe it’s a spotlight. Just a leaf in its moment of graduation. Maybe it’s ascension. Like a beam trying to pluck it from its stem. Or maybe the leaf is just turning towards the brightness, trying to soak in some warmth, trying to think itself a tree. A universe containing time.
We’re in the hallway to the beginning, which is just a field in March in a place you can’t imagine but can touch if you think hard enough.
He is a boy you once knew, still know, will never know enough. A name would be nice, but we don’t get that gift necessarily.
There’s grass underneath you, zoysia, so you put a blanket down and try not to think of needles pricking. He’s in front of you. The boy without a name, which is to say, the boy with a name too precious to speak. And you, remember, are biting your tongue, leaning back on flexed wrists with crossed ankles. An offering, you suppose.
“It’s eighty-eight in March,” he says.
His hand reaches out—aching, wondering. Sweat drips down his throat in confirmation. You watch his shirt, open and swaying, pushing back, billowing, reaching. OK, it’s keening toward you. How many ways can you say the word yearning?
“Global warming,” you say.
Because you know. Because you feel it, too. Because why else does this feel like burning without just cause?
He turns to you and you think there must be some way to describe him. You think of scarred knees on high-pile carpet and the sign of a cross. A little shouting in the background and a broken glass or two because things are never easy. But there is a moment of divinity if you simply ask for it.
You’re not sure which one of you asked. But here you are.
These empty words do not beget explanation, and you have been told it is better to speak than to die, but you never figured out what words could have kept Saint Peter from smiling. Do you need to speak what you both know? What do words out loud hold that the touch of a thumb to the brow does not?
“Would you rather be hot or cold?” he asks.
You cannot imagine the absence of this warmth—
“Cold,” you say.
—but you can remember it if you think hard enough.
You look, look, look at him; you track the beads of sweat prickling on his top lip. You bite into a plum which is no longer in season, but can still be eaten. The juice spills down your chin as though trying to extend its moment of borrowed existence.
“I’ll have to go back soon. Home,” he says.
You avert your eyes from him and listen to the cicadas sing, or shriek, or stay silent because it isn’t spring yet. Who knows what pocket of time you have found yourselves in?
“There’ll be a place like this one. A cliff’s edge that I’m sure has seen the sun, but never when I’m around. The grass is always slightly damp, but smooth enough that it’s as if you’re sitting on moss.”
And there you are, trying not to shift and scratch ankles on your bed of nails. Trying to lie still and hope that time will follow suit.
“Sounds sad,” you say.
He smiles without mirth, a mere tilt of the lips in acknowledgment.
“It would to you.”
You’re not sure if he says this because he can see the baked heat of your deep brown shoulders, or if because any place in any tomorrow where he is will always be sad to you.
“Where will you be?” he begs.
You wonder if, when time returns and tomorrow comes, there will be a cliff’s edge where you can take a step to see if you still know how to fly. If flight is a thing gifted to those who have lost faith in leaping.
“A city. A room. It’s got big windows. The sun always shines,” you say.
“You must like that,” he says regretfully.
Does a leaf like the light when it is expected? You look around at the field you’ve found yourself in. Light encroaching, pinching at the edges, steadily eating time.
“It’s a question answered. I guess I just like knowing.”
A question you were too scared to ask. An answer you waited exactly one lifetime to know. And still, known too soon.
“Does knowing help the situation if it cannot be changed?” he asks.
You wonder if either of you have the guts to talk your way into a true conversation. You stand from the needle grass, brushing a stray blade from the soft bend of your elbow, and walk over to the tree the two of you never managed to identify. You spent some weeks visiting this same spot, tentative to sure feet through the undergrowth. And yet, a name, a moniker, a definition escaped you. How can you be sure an experience exists if you cannot name it?
“This isn’t the conversation we came here for,” you say.
But it is the only one you find yourselves in.
The tree has three main limbs: one curving left, one winging right, and the sturdiest going straight up. They all reach the sky eventually. You sat in the bend of both the left and the right during those weeks, knocking ankles, flicking ants off fingers, picking patterns of bark out of your thighs. You can sit, pause, wallow in their curves, bends, diverged moments, but that thick trunk in the middle…
When has it ever been enough to see a home you cannot make? To lay a desperate palm against it. Rake nails down its warm center. Imagine the roof of it, sure over your head.
Will the windows let the sun in?
You get carried away in the scene.
“You never asked, but I’d rather be hot,” he says.
He joins you in it.
You look at the leaves of the middle limb. They don’t start blooming until about halfway up, so you were never able to touch them. But the sun does. If only for the moment it allows.
You sit back down beside the boy with a name you hold on the tip of your tongue, ready to say it when you are given the chance again. He brushes a thumb to your brow. You close your eyes and tilt your head back to the sun, feel it catch on the hinge of your soul and pry it open.
Mariana Samuda is the author of the chapbook Five Places You Meet Fifteen-Year-Old You (Conium Press, 2021) and has previously published work in Atticus Review, Moko Magazine, Headway Quarterly, and others. She received her MFA from Chapman University and currently lives in Jamaica.