Windy Lynn Harris
We lived in the right neighborhood, with all the right things out front: a shiny car (though one less than there used to be), blooming flower beds, and a tidy walkway that led to our mostly upright mailbox. A tall juniper tree stood by our front door, perfecting our domestic illusion with its long upward branches. Anyone passing by would think we were happy.
A neighbor cat disappeared into that juniper one day. He just slipped between two branches and stayed gone. After a while, I separated a bit of greenery and saw him sitting in the hollow space those long branches had formed. It looked like the inside of an umbrella in there.
I shooed that cat and took his place at the center of the green fortress. The branches were so close to me that it was almost claustrophobic, but even if I’d had trouble breathing, I would have stayed. I was right there at my house like I was supposed to be, but I was a million miles away, too.
I could see my sister through the lacy green of the juniper. She hop-jumped the length of boxes we’d chalked onto the sidewalk as one of the Bower boys rode past on his rusty bike. When she reached the end of her row, my sister looked up and called my name. It was my turn to play.
I wasn’t supposed to leave the yard, and technically I hadn’t. I knew my sister would worry, but I didn’t answer her. She’d want to try out my new clubhouse. Probably kick me out for good. She called and called, but I didn’t make a sound.
That Bower boy rode his bike past my sister again, slowly this time. He said something that made her run toward our front door. She called my name again, and then my middle name, too.
I’d probably have to punch that Bower boy.
I laid my weight against a patch of upright greenery and pushed at it with all my might. One thick branch folded down, slowly at first, then boom, the whole thing opened up like an old-fashioned ironing board with me laying right there on the branch.
“Hi,” I said.
My sister yelped and turned. I thought she’d be mad at me. Worry about us getting into trouble for destroying the tree. I thought she’d pull my arm and tumble me out of that bush and into the house, but when my sister saw me, she smiled. And then she full-on cracked up. She laughed and laughed that day, free and loud, the way I’d seen other girls laugh. That day, my sister clapped her hands and laughed like our mother hadn’t left.