I’m waiting in line, and there’s this little girl standing behind me. She has big brown eyes and blonde hair, and I drift into her conversation the way people do sometimes.

The girl is talking to a man dressed in an old-time suit with one of those high collars. The man spins the brim of his hat in his hands. I presume the man is the girl’s father and that he has dressed-up and brought her to this.

The girl says that she just had to come because the bus driver used to drop her off special right in front of her house, even when it wasn’t raining or snowing. Not only that, but he once let her borrow his gloves, and she holds up her hands and says she has been meaning to give them back and forgot and now this. She says she was going to paste one of the gloves into her scrapbook, but she hasn’t figured out how to do it.

The rose she holds in her floppy covered hands she has dipped in wax. She says the tight, waxed spiral did not open like her teacher said it would, instead its head is all droopy and the stem is about to break.

The procession jolts ahead, then stops. Those upfront pause as if to take note of a traffic accident and to thank God they’re not participants in it.

“He couldn’t read very good either,” the girl says, ” ’cause he suffered from this letter switching disease. Sometimes STOP became POST; sometimes YIELD became YLIED.”

She says she sat in the seat behind him every day and held onto the metal bar when the bus went down the other side of the mountain. She says she feels especially bad because she didn’t say anything to him Monday morning when she got off the bus; she was too busy finishing her dreams.

We inch toward the coffin: a sturdy transport, long and bulky, immobile, ready to carry its passenger to his final stop.

“I think they should retire his bus number,” she says, “and, I’ll tell you what I hope they don’t do. I hope they don’t paint over it or change it or something.”  The girl holds up her gloved hands, one on each side of her face and tries to read the scene like side mirrors, her brows knitting-up. “If they change it then when he looks down from Heaven he won’t be able to read it as his number ’cause in Heaven the letter-switching disease will be all healed.”

She drops her hands and gives me one of the gloves. “I’ve decided, I don’t want to go up there anymore. Just tell him that I sure do appreciate him letting me borrow his gloves, and tell him I’m sorry and I would have returned them but I misplaced the other one. Just tell him that, will you?”

J. Bradley Minnick

Dr. J. Bradley Minnick is a writer, public radio host and producer, and an Associate Professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Minnick has written, edited, and produced the one-minute spot “Facts About Fiction,” which celebrates influential authors and novelists with unique facts from their lives. These spots air weekly on UA Little Rock Public Radio and its affiliated stations. In 2014, Minnick began work on Arts & Letters Radio, a show celebrating modern humanities with a concentration on Arkansas cultural and intellectual work. He has produced over 95 episodes, and this work has been acknowledged by the 2016 national PRNDI 1st Place award for Long Documentary for “Sundays with TJ,” and a 2020 SPJ Arkansas Diamond Award for Long Documentary/Investigative Reporting for the two-part “They Liked My Phras’n: The Life and Music of Rose Marie McCoy. He has published numerous journal articles and fiction.

Our Orchid Tree is Dying

That’s what the man says. He says, It’s toast. You can get another opinion if you want, but I can tell you for sure, like ninety-nine-point-nine percent sure, it’s toast.

This tree, a Hong Kong orchid tree (or more properly, Bauhinia × blakeana) is the showpiece of our small yard here in Florida. A willowy head of lime-green tendrils that explode each “winter” in fuchsia flowers as big as my hand. Planted by the previous owner, but tended fiercely by me for three years. So unlike anything in our yard in Oakland, all summer dry flax, firepoker, rosemary, sage.

Another tree man says, You never want to say never, but…

Of course I see what they see. The wound on the trunk. How the smooth gray bark has peeled away. How some of the tree’s insides are now outside. How ants teem. I also see the lip of bark callousing the wound’s circumference to shrink the exposure as weeks go by.

A third “expert” chimes in. Says, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’ll have to remove it. He suggests a few trees he says are better suited for the small space: a dwarf powder puff, a desert cassia, a golden dewdrop. All lovely, I’m sure, but we love this tree.

He adds as an afterthought, I’m guessing you won’t miss it though, they’re so terribly messy. He is right. It is terribly messy. But he’s wrong to think we won’t miss it because he doesn’t know about the tiny birds. How they came for those fuchsia flowers that first December, day after day, buzzing, hovering, lingering to drink more, sparkling green and black, tiny ruby flashes. How they reminded us of home, of the ones that buzzed the Mexican sage and nested in the crook of the plum tree outside our kitchen window.

Two years now since the experts’ pronouncements. The tree leans heavily, half its crown missing. I’ve splinted the lowermost trunk, propped the weight of the lean with a two-by-four wedged atop the patio. A brick-colored fungus stacks small shelves on one upper branch. But the tree still sprouts tender green leaves from stems reaching for the sun. I tell myself, it wants to live!

It’s August now, the crepe myrtles blooming, big and pink and crepe-papery. These blossoms will be smooth green berries by September and the cardinal pair will come to nibble them. Then two more months, maybe three, depending on the rains, and the orchid tree will put on its show again. We have been here long enough now to know the routine. We fell in love with the tree that first December and again each year after and now? Now I feel responsible for it. I feel responsible for the little birds.

We see the tree is, in fact, dying. Of course the experts were right. But as we watch it each day and August moves toward September, we say to each other, Just one more year.

Deborah Sherman

Deborah Sherman is a writer, photographer, bird nerd, and cat servant from Oakland, California. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College where she served as Editor of the graduate English Department’s literary journal, 580 Split. Her essay “Tale of the Bufo” appears in Hippocampus Magazine’s March/April 2022 issue, and her micro love story “The Fling” was included in the 2018 anthology Short on Sugar, High on Honey published by Flash: The International Short Short Story Press. She currently lives in Delray Beach, Florida, with her husband and two cats, and is working on a collection of essays about place, impermanence, and possibilities. You can find more of her work at deborahsherman.com.

Carella Keil

Rainbows End

Carella Keil

Carella is a poet and digital artist who splits her time between the ethereal world of dreams, and Toronto, Canada, depending on the weather. Her work involves themes of mental health, nature and sexuality, often in a surrealist tone. Carella is the recipient of the Stanley Fefferman Prize in Creative Writing (2006) and 2nd place winner in the Open Minds Quarterly BrainStorm Poetry Contest (2017). Recently, she has been published in Margins Magazine, Wrongdoing Magazine, Shuf Poetry, Myth & Lore and Solstice Literary Magazine. Forthcoming publications include Paddler Press, Fragmented Voices, Querencia Press, Stripes Literary Magazine, Door is a Jar, Deep Overstock, Writeresque and Free Verse Revolution.

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