The Echo of Trees Falling Down
Melissa R. Mendelson
It was eleven a.m. on a Saturday morning. The birds were singing outside through the half open bedroom window. Tires splashed against puddles from last night’s rain. Neighborly voices whispered in the air. The house creaked, maybe from old age, and sunlight rolled over me, telling me that it was okay to sleep for a little while longer. But I was not here to sleep in or be lazy all day. I was here for him, and I wondered what he was doing. Was he sleeping in? No, he was always an early bird, and he was out and about as usual. Then, the front door opened, and I knew that he was home. And it was time to wake up.
Half an hour later, I emerged from the bathroom. I folded my clothes from yesterday and my pajamas and tucked them in the back of the suitcase. I turned toward the dresser mirror and brushed my long, brown hair. I checked my skin for a moment, looking for acne, but so far, the medication was working. Only my lips were chapped, and I knew that I had to stop gnawing on them. It was a bad habit, and I had a lot of bad habits. And one of these days, I would break them, but not now. I left the bedroom and walked toward the kitchen, and that’s where I found him.
My grandfather sat in the dark next to the black and white wallpaper. He wore a pair of jeans with a sports top and white sneakers. His thin, gray hair was brushed to the side, and his hands were folded together. His gaze settled on a pair of squirrels outside that chased each other around and up a tree. He then bit into his toast with butter and sipped his tea. He didn’t look at me, but he didn’t need to. He knew that I was there and that I would turn on the lights, which I did. I wondered, if he knew what I would do next.
“There’s hot water left in the kettle,” he said. “If you want tea.” He drank his tea, spying at me from the corner of his eye. “Bad dreams?”
“I always have bad dreams,” I replied. “You were up early.”
“I don’t really sleep,” he said. “I didn’t want to disturb you, even if you were tossing and turning. I took a walk down the road to the country store. I got the newspaper.” The newspaper was still folded and tucked against the wall. “They put the roadblock back.”
“They don’t own that road,” I snapped as I made myself some toast. “I thought they’re not supposed to come out today anyway. Don’t they burst into flames?”
“They’re not supposed to be out today,” and he finished his tea. “I don’t know about the flames,” but he smiled as he said that. “Thought I go into town today. I need a few things. Want to take a walk?”
“It’s a long walk,” I replied as I looked into the almost empty fridge. There was milk, eggs and butter. That was about it, and in the food closet, there was hot cereal and some cookies. The bread drawer was empty too except for the white bread. “Did you think about what Mom said?”
“What my daughter and I discussed is not any of your business.” He finally unfolded the newspaper and frowned at the front page.
“No. I’m not discussing it with you.”
“It’s been a few months,” I said.
“Hope, I love having you here especially afterwards, but please.”
“Okay,” and I made myself some tea, fighting the tears back. “Should I call a cab to get us into town?” I cleared my throat, a failed attempt that he saw right through. “Could I call one of your neighbors to drive us?”
“Which neighbors? The ones that ran before they won, or the ones that were bought out afterward? Never mind. I’ll drive.”
“You okay to drive?”
“I’m just asking, Grandpa.”
“As long as I can still drive, I’m going to drive.”
“Okay,” and I sat down next to him and started to eat my lunch. “I can do the dishes,” I said as he carried his plate and cup over to the sink. He didn’t answer me but kissed me on top of the head. “When do you want to leave?”
“As soon as you’re done,” and he left the kitchen.
The drive into town was quiet. I helped my grandfather move the roadblock like I did the night before with my father. We passed the lakes, and it was nice to see those that had stayed were enjoying it. They were standing in the lake and fishing. Some were in boats, and some sat on small, wooden docks. I was even surprised to see a few kids playing in the water. I thought the families with children were gone, chased away by them, but maybe they were visiting their relatives like I was. I felt sick. What gave them the right to take away our lands, our homes and act like it was theirs all along? I looked at my grandfather, noting the sadness in his eyes, and I wondered, if he was thinking the same thing. Or was he thinking about her?
As we got closer into town, the woods gave way. A few strip malls met my gaze. Then, I saw their development, houses built upon houses with all of them huddled inside. That land used to be filled with trees. That land used to have a few beautiful homes with families that were forced to move away. I remembered before their development really took off, there was one white house left with vacant windows and an empty driveway. Only its basement light remained on, defiant against them, but that light was now gone.
The shopping center was on top of a hill near a gas station and the town lakes. I used to walk around those lakes all the time. That was until there were too many of them, and they didn’t step aside for you. They pushed through you as if you were not even there, and you were not supposed to touch the men. The women reminded me of my old Barbie dolls. When I was a kid, I decided to take my father’s razor and shave their heads. Then, I was afraid that I would get into trouble, so I glued their hair back on. They were really ugly after that, but their attitude was even uglier.
The parking lot was packed. Everyone knew that they would be back tomorrow, and nobody wanted to deal with them. Nobody wanted to be cut off by their vans or their shopping carts or hit with either one. Nobody wanted to be pushed past or coughed on or looked down on as you would an ant. Saturdays were now the best days to go out into town. The rest of the days belonged to them, and again, I felt sick. And my grandfather found a parking spot.
“Just need a few things,” he said.
“Grandpa, you need a lot of things.”
“It’s not like in the old days,” he replied.
My grandfather was right. My brothers and I used to have races inside that shopping center, armed with our own wagons. We would grab whatever we wanted, and most of the time, we would get it. My brothers were all grown up now, married with kids. They rarely visited, but they called my parents almost every night. My grandfather felt like they had forgotten him even with afterwards, but I didn’t. I was going to graduate high school soon, but I would still try to visit him. Maybe, he should consider what my mother asked.
“Grandpa. About what Mom said…”
“Hope,” and he gave me that stern look of his. “You want to help me buy groceries? That’s fine, but I told you that what your mother and I discussed is between us. Okay?”
“Okay,” and I followed him inside.
“You want deli tonight?”
“Sure,” and I followed my grandfather over to the deli counter, where he approached a large, red circle and ripped off a small piece of paper. “What number are we?”
I looked over at the counter on the wall. 39. At least, the wait wasn’t too long, and then I watched those nearby. A woman had left her pocketbook in her cart while she walked over to the apples, picking through them. Two kids chased each other around another wagon. A few men stood together, whispering to one another. They were angry, and they had every right to be angry. Nothing was being done to help them. They realized that I was watching them.
“Monroe,” one man said as he approached us. “How are you?”
“John,” and my grandfather shook his hand. “Doing well. You?”
“Just getting some air before the invasion,” and he laughed bitterly. “This your granddaughter?”
“Yes,” my grandfather replied. “This is Hope.”
“Hi,” I said, feeling guilty that I was watching him and his friends.
“She looks just like her. Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” my grandfather said. “She’s staying with me for the weekend.”
“Oh. You’re still at your house?”
“Yeah. They haven’t knocked on my door. Yet.”
“They knocked on mine. Yesterday,” John said.
“And,” my grandfather asked.
“And I don’t know. They offered me a good amount, and most of my neighbors are already gone. I don’t like to be surrounded.”
“So, you decided,” my grandfather said.
“I don’t like to surrender either. I didn’t fight in the war just to roll over to them. I might stay.”
“That’s me. Have a good weekend,” and he walked away from us.
“You too,” my grandfather said. “They better not knock on my door,” he muttered.
My grandfather was quiet after that. We got our deli for tonight, and then we walked up and down the aisles. I was able to talk my grandfather into getting some cold cereal, orange juice and soup. I pointed out a few other things like pretzels, but he shook his head. I was able to get him to buy a box of crackers, and then we checked out. As we walked outside, I looked once more at their development and the ugly pale wall in front of it, which was their attempt to cut us out. This was my home not theirs, but it was a losing battle. Everyone inside that shopping center had defeat in their eyes, and so did my grandfather.
“I want to go to the lake,” my grandfather said suddenly as he stopped at a red traffic light.
“Which lake,” I asked. “The town lakes?”
“Those aren’t lakes. They’re ponds. How about Around?”
“Okay,” and I suddenly wanted to cry. The memories just came rushing back. I remembered spending time at that lake with my brothers and grandfather. I was terrible at fishing. I always got myself caught on one of those small hooks. There was another time, where while my brothers and grandfather were fishing, this man was gutting his catch. I wanted to touch his knife, and I did. And when I got home, I got scolded for doing that, and then shortly afterward, we stopped fishing here. It was strange that my grandfather wanted to suddenly come here.
“It’s beautiful today,” my grandfather said as he stepped out of his car. “You can still smell the rain in the air.”
“Yeah. Grandpa?” He looked at me. “Did we stop fishing here because of me, because of what I did?”
“No. Well, a little bit. You have to be careful with strangers today. Nobody is who they say they are. Sometimes, it’s better when you know who you are dealing with.”
“Yeah. Like them, and they’re all over this lake. When they’re out, forget about it. Forget about parking here. They park any way they want to, coming an inch to your car. They don’t care, and those moments that your brothers and you and I had here... They’re gone,” and he walked back to his car.
“Grandpa.” I watched him struggle to pull himself together before turning to look at me. “Could we take a moment?”
“A moment,” he said, and his voice softly shook. “Sure.”
Around Lake had a cement dock with a roof covering and metal benches. We sat down on one of those benches and stared out at the water and the small island in the middle of it. Nobody lived out on the island, but I wondered, if there was still wildlife on that land. Someone also once wanted to buy the island, but it didn’t happen. And I was happy about that. Whoever they were, they wanted to put a helipad on the island, which was ridiculous. God forbid that helicopter got caught up in a heavy rainstorm or wicked winds and then crash into one of the nearby homes. But in the long run, it didn’t matter. There was no saving the neighborhood. It was just not done by Mother’s Nature hand.
I don’t know how long we sat there, but we sat there for quite some time. I didn’t see any fishermen. They must still be at the other lake further down the road. I guess the fish bit more over there, but I appreciated the quiet. The weather was perfect, and the wind rested against my shoulders. My grandfather sat back and drifted through his thoughts, and I knew that he was thinking about her. He was also thinking about what my mother had asked him. I hoped that he would consider it, and I wanted to talk to him about it. But he didn’t, and it killed me, thinking about him being all alone especially with them.
“It’s late,” my grandfather said. “I think I’ll take a nap before dinner.”
“Okay.” I followed him back to the car. “The Mets are playing tonight.”
“They suck,” and I laughed at that. He laughed a moment later.
Back at the house, my grandfather took his nap. I sat in the living room, flipping through the channels. When she was alive, she used to love to watch her soaps. I hated most of them except for Days of Our Lives, and if we weren’t watching the soaps, she would always find episodes of Murder She Wrote to watch. I really liked that show, and she realized that I had always figured it out before the episode ended. The few times that I was wrong, she would say something like, “I’m surprised at you. How did you miss that?” I laughed, but then I started to cry. I covered my mouth, so my grandfather would not hear me.
Six o’clock was always dinner time. My grandfather sat at the small table as I put a place mat down in front of him followed by a plate, cup and utensils. My grandfather hated paper plates and plastic utensils. He was okay with plastic cups, though, which he was running low on. I should have checked that before we went to the shopping center. Maybe tomorrow, he would go back.
Dinner was quiet. We both had turkey on a roll with mayonnaise and cole slaw. At home, my parents and brothers would think that it was strange for me to put cole slaw on the sandwich instead of in the plate, but I loved eating it this way. So did my grandfather, who was once again lost in his thoughts, and I did not want to disturb him.
“When are the Mets on,” my grandfather asked as he wiped his mouth with a paper napkin.
“Eight, I think. Maybe, seven. I can check.”
“It’s okay. We’ll find something to watch,” and he finished his orange juice.
“I’ll do the dishes,” I said, and he patted my hand in response.
“Thank you. I’ll be in the living room,” and he left the kitchen.
The Mets were losing again. Win or lose, though, she loved the Mets. She would cheer them on, even if they just hit the ball. I wanted to say that, but my grandfather looked sad. He sat on the couch while I was on the loveseat, and every now and then, he would glance at the empty seat next to him. I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t find the right words. Instead, we just watched the ball game, followed by the news, which was even more depressing. Then, the night was over, and tomorrow was Sunday. Tomorrow night, I would return home.