Lydia sat on the window seat and looked out toward the tree. It stood tall and wide as it always had. She reached across the blankets for her husband’s hand and held it while he slept. She thought about the tree and the first time it had yielded fruit. How long ago that was. So many lives had come and gone from her since the day it had been planted. As she held her husband’s hand and checked the oxygen tubes around his face she tried to remember as much of their life together as she could. More came to her though, than memories of her husband. There were memories of the tree and her father. Memories of things both stolen and given. Memories of the unnaturally long life she had led.
She looked at herself in the mirror on her wedding day. She had been told that it would go by faster than any other day in her whole life. They told her to keep her eyes open, and memorize every detail. So she stood there, in front of an old, tacky mirror mounted on the wall and studied her reflection. Green eyes, blonde hair. Her veil puffed up and out of her hair, and was covered in little sugar-crystal beads. Her lipstick was a soft shade of pink and her eyelashes were long and black. Her dress lay smoothly across her shoulders and breasts, sliding down her waist and pooling on the floor. It was perfect.
The mirror faced a window, and in the reflection she could see the tree. It was here too, as it had been everywhere with her. Today it was covered in tiny white flowers. She looked at herself again in the mirror, and then at the clock. She had asked for some time to herself before all the guests arrive, and there was just enough for her to go to the tree. She gathered the chiffon around her feet and thought that it felt like leaves. Not as nice as the leaves on her tree; but still leaves. She left the dressing room and walked toward the tree. She wanted some of its flowers for her hair. She knew she already looked lovely, but the flowers would make her beautiful.
She looked at her sleeping husband again and wondered what he remembered of that day. Did he remember the flowers in her hair? Did he remember what she looked like? Did he see the tree that day too? She doubted it. No one else ever seemed to. While her memories seemed to be flooded with the tree, his memories seemed to be only of her. Every story he had to tell began with his memories of Lydia. It was one of the reasons she loved him.
Lydia adjusted the blankets around his shoulders and lifted his head to fluff the pillow. She could feel the life draining from him, and for the first time she felt it draining from herself as well. She looked toward the tree again and, just as she suspected, its flowers were getting brighter. It made her very sad and she regretted giving in to her husband. She knew the day they were married that this would be how his life would end, but she did not refuse him. She couldn’t.
The first time she had watched the flowers bloom was while her father died. He was the first man she had loved, and the first man the tree had taken from her. At the time of his passing, there were no hospice beds, no oxygen tanks, no morphine to ease the pain. Her father had struggled, and every day he fought, the flowers on the tree became a little brighter. Finally, on the last day, it bore a single fruit.
Lydia had held her father’s hand as her mother and siblings wept around them. She didn’t cry, but felt as if her heart was hot with fever. It burned inside her and she felt helpless and betrayed. She remembered when she had been lying on that bed; the day that she was dying while her father held her hand instead. She remembered the fever and the things it made her see. She remembered pain and sweat and coughs that racked her lungs. She remembered the tree and what her father had said to her.
“I planted a tree for you, Lydia.” he said. “It will make you better. Can you see it? Out the window?”
He had lifted her swollen body so she could look out at the tree that had manifested on the hill. She thought it was beautiful. Her father thought it was beautiful too and every day he would lift her to see its branches. And every day her father looked a little more fatigued, a little more frail. Slowly, as the flowers on the tree began to bud, Lydia felt a little better. At the same time, her father looked a little weaker. He became sicker and sicker while the tree became bigger and brighter, until the last day, the day it bore the fruit.
Her father died and in her grief Lydia ran to the tree. As she sat and wept for her father she looked up to see the round, purple fruit dangling from the branch closest to her face. She tore it from the branch and squeezed it in her palm.
“Why?” she asked the tree. “Why am I well and my father gone? You were supposed to make me better tree, but this is not better. This is much, much worse.”
“But don’t you see child?” The tree said to her. “I did make you better. Just as your father asked. You are holding the fruit of his efforts, the fruit of his sacrifice. Eat it, and you shall be well. Eat it, and you shall never be sick again.”
As her husband coughed and the flowers bloomed, Lydia thought of all the places she had been and men she had stolen. She thought of the decades that had passed and all the ways that people changed. She thought of all the fruit she had taken from the sacrifice of men, and the consequences that came with the traveling tree. As she blotted the sweat off her beloved’s brow, she knew that this would be another last day.
As her husband died the tree bloomed, and the fruit of his life was born. Lydia decided it was this was not just another last day. This would be the last day. She would not take the fruit again. She would not thrive on death and decay. She had lived a long, satisfying life. She had been followed by the tree and endured through the decades and come to find true love. This love could not be topped, she decided. Lydia kissed her husband on the eyes before covering his body with a blanket. She went to the closet and found a rope, then walked to the tree and looked at her husband’s fruit. This would be the one she would not pick. She would not take this gift of life. It was the only one she did not want. She slowly climbed and scaled the branches, and looked out toward the sky. It was beautiful, just like the tree. With her eyes on the flowers, and memories in her heart Lydia left the world she had loved for so long. She whispered goodbye to her husband, and hung her life next to his.