IF YOUR house has been built over a submerged hog creek, or a cracked sewer line, or if your house lies at the bottom slope of a long drainage for storm water sloughed from nicer houses uphill from you, then your yard will be mud three seasons out of four. All that water wastes your good soil, turns it to clay. Heavy wings of clay attach to the soles of your shoes. Clay will rot the apple tree one limb at a time. Romance drowns in the weeds.
If you find yourself in narrow habits of movement from the door to the bird feeder, from the driveway to the mailbox, these paths will rut and slick and the lawn will be laced with the brown strands of your regular comings and leavings. If one year the water rises over the lawn, the clay, your two pairs of feet, you may lose husband and tree, both at once. Beware the back-sucking tide: it will drag him out to sea.
He takes the dog. The cat remains. It worries. Adopt a kitten from the shelter and name her Olive. Olive is a common noun, a proper noun, and now a discrete reminder: “I’ll live.”
When the apple tree dies, call a guy to come cut it down. Call a guy like you call the plumber, from a magnet on the side of your empty fridge. Only this time, surprise yourself. See potential everywhere. Look at his hands. Hide your own. The tree guy declines to step inside. He points to his boots and writes your bill from the stoop.
You may choose to stop eating. You will lose weight. Your friends will notice, and you will call it the heartbreak diet. Find all of this encouraging of something, though you can’t say what. Joke about writing a book.
Try to grow herbs in the stump of the old apple tree. Fail.
Date again. Take a motorcycle ride down the coast and sit at a rock over the battered shoreline. He is a teacher and a member of the Audubon Society. He will spend twenty sunny minutes mimicking a murralet and then pointing out its reply. He will call to sapsuckers and flycatchers and martins and not ask you a thing. Don’t take it personally: you are less interesting to him than a bird, but he is not interesting to you at all. Try again.
Meet a handsome sailor ten years younger than you. He lives with nine others on a double-masted schooner and his cabin contains a loft with a mattress the width of your hips and two square feet of floor space. Stay there anyway: the boat is historically significant. In the morning go above at dawn to pace away your hangover and four elderly women will croon at you over the rail of the public dock. Go back below. There is nowhere to be alone.
Nowhere but home. Return home. If the stump of the apple tree swells and squiggles, it is not coming back to life for you. No such thing. It is only brown ants from deep in the new dust of the roots, escaping a late spring rain. Track mud back in behind you. He has taken little—the dog, and whatever spirit animated that old apple tree—but he has inexplicably taken the mop. Clean the kitchen floor on your knees with brine of vinegar and tap water. The tedium of this will cause you to rethink the value of small birds, back doors, linoleum. Vinegar dries in a rime.
If your home is an anchor and chains you by your big toe to the silt floor of the ocean, then dear god keep holding your breath. Summer will bake the long estuary slope into sand. Wait until the tide bleeds backwards and you can follow crab tracks to the shore.
By accident or luck, you fall in love on the beach. For your third date, suffer fever and flu-like symptoms: he will make you liver and onions like his grandma did. You won’t like it, and won’t finish it, but you will be charmed senseless. He might bring you other foods: pickled herring, salami and chocolate, a whole coconut. All summer eat every meal on the ground like a picnic. In autumn collect wild mushrooms into your pockets and roast them in duck fat. Allow an odd thought to marinate: your father always cooked us the strangest foods. You will be hungry for everything, all the time.
At home, stand in your yard and consider replacing the apple tree. The stump scales away in layers like a cabbage. Don’t cry over it. Water runs on. There are apples in the alley, apples in a sack on the neighbor’s porch, apples rolling down the hill from the orchards above, apples adrift in the hog creek. The lesson of every tree is to soak in gratitude for plenty. Let the old stump be and dry your feet: come inside, you haven’t lost a thing.
Marley Simmons Abril earned her MFA from Western Washington University. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Sonder Review, Sweet Tree Review, Jeopardy Magazine, Menacing Hedge, and others. Her story “Good Neighbors” was nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize. She currently teaches high school English and social studies, and is Fiction Editor at Psaltery & Lyre. She lives in Bellingham, WA.