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Friday, May 28, 2010

Tree of Sighs.


Everyday the pixie-faced girl with the boyish haircut comes and sits in the cafe and looks at the droopy-branched tree standing by the river. Some time later, she sighs, gets up, pays and goes off.

Isn't it romantic? Marge says to Jenn, the other waitress at the cafe. What is romantic? comes the reply. Jenn is neatening up the register.

A young girl, coming here everyday at the same time, staring longingly at the same place... She must be waiting for someone, Marge says, eyes full of romance novel endings. She's been coming here for a long time time hasn't she? Since before I started working here definitely.

Ask Jenn, says the short order cook. She was here at the cafe from before Gladys bought it.

Has she? Has she been coming here since before Gladys?

Two owners ago, Jenn says.

That's a long time, Marge sighs.


I bet she lost him in the war, Marge speculates. You know, when we all had to run... I remember everybody just ran across the border, and it was all a big mess, and people were trying to organise and fight back but no one knew where anyone else was. Don't you remember Jenn?


I remember so many girls cut their hair and joined the ambulances and the mechanics and followed the fighting. Maybe she met him there, Jenn! She met him and then he got captured and she's hoping that he's coming back to meet her here under this tree! Or – or – or maybe he's lost his memory, that's why he's not back here yet.... This last is said in a conspiratoral whisper.

You know, says the cook in a mock-conspiratoral whisper, there's still plenty crazy people fighting in the bush, maybe that's the reason.

Anyway, says Jenn, closing the register, coming here for an hour everyday isn't going to help her meet anybody under this tree. There's a hell lot more hours in a day than this one.


Jenn walks towards the cafe in the early morning. It's supposed to be Marge's turn opening the cafe but she is occupied with a suitable fabio. Jenn doesn't mind, she opens the cafe nearly every day anyway and she lives right nearby. She tells Marge so on the phone as she unlocks the door.

The opening up rituals are second nature to Jenn. When Gladys comes in, she notices the Marge absence and says, I don't know what I'd do without you. You basically keep this place running.

It's customers we can't do without, Jenn says.

Later during the busy hour Marge whispers to Jenn, I know what Pixie girl did during the war – I think she drew maps! She's sketching the tree and stuff!

Pixie girl is still staring at the tree. A pencil is behind her ear.

I bet she lost her home in the war and he's all she's got of the past, Marge says as they go about the business of serving.

You know, Jenn lost both her parents and basically her whole village in the war, why you gotta keep harping on it? says the cook.

So did I, Marge says. My brothers and mother all died in the war. But not talking about it isn't going to change that. No use pretending it didn't happen.

The tree stands at the edge of the water, alone. The hanging branches make a shady patch underneath and because of the orientation of the sun and the shady trees near the cafe, it is always lit from behind by the shining water. It is always in silhouette. The leaves rustle gently, making a sighing sound. For these reasons the tree is popular with young lovers.


He's here he's here he's here! Marge shouts. Jenn is stacking cups under the counter and has to look up. Marge is holding a bowl of noodles meant for pixie girl.

He's here there's a man standing under the tree! she cries. Jenn leaps up, cups in hand, other saucers crashing.

Pixie girl is half seated, craning to see a man standing under the tree, hand resting on the trunk. She turns back to see Marge's expectant face, and Jenn's astonished disbelief.

Jenn gives a stifled cry and leaps around the counter, dropping the cups on a table and running out the door towards the tree and the water's edge. Now the astonishment is on Marge's face.

Jenn is sprinting down the hill to him. Hair flying, dishcloth pen order pad falling out of pockets but she doesn't care. She stops short. Tentative.

Jimmy, she says, is it you?

Jimmy, I knew you'd come. I knew you'd get here in the end. You told me to meet at the Tree of Sighs when we got separated on the transports during the war, you knew I could find it again easily. Jimmy, I didn't know what to think, at the refugee camp I heard so many rumours, people said you joined the militia, people said they thought they saw you dead on the field, they saw you captured, they saw you change sides... So many of them are dead Jimmy, our friends our family our school mates the people with us in the war... Oh Jimmy I thought of you everyday... You won't believe what I did to get back here... you won't believe who I joined and who I fought with... I turned over every dead body to see if it was you... I can't believe what I did to get back here.... I've been waiting for you here every day, I look out here all day everyday and I can see the tree from the window of my room I watch it all night it's been so long Jimmy... but now you're here...

She reaches out her hand to touch him.

He turns around. He is not Jimmy. He's too young, baby-faced, about the age of Pixie girl.

Do I know you? he smiles. Are you talking about the war? I remember it, I was a kid then.

The emotions that go through Jenn's face are many. Shock, horror, disappointment, agony, despair. She ends it with an awful, awful cry and sinks to the ground in sobbing grief.

Holy shit, says Marge back in the cafe, noodle bowl in hand.

The people in the cafe seem lined up like the planets lined up in orbit around the sun. Jenn, closest, is the one burned most brightly.


Jenn comes back in to the cafe, picking up the cups from the table. Pixie girl, she says. Maybe you should go talk to your guy.

What guy? That's not any guy of mine, she says.

Isn't that the guy you're waiting for? Marge says. Then who are you waiting for every day?

Why should I be waiting for anyone, she says. I'm drawing that tree.

Marge and Jenn turn to each other. Jenn slumps into a seat.

I broke some cups, Jenn says.

Nevermind, says Gladys.

Jenn looks out once more. The young man is doing stretching exercises under the tree. She looks away, back into the cafe.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

the same song over and over

those habits of yours which i hate, i have unwillingly and unknowingly adopted.


Monday, May 03, 2010

the inspiral carpets

vivian maier

Diane Arbus

marc ilford