We woke with a chunk of the neighbor’s tree on our roof—
two branches the size of two trees, limbs like trunks,
snapped off, split, dead. No more leaves from these two.
That tree, the size of our house times two,
has been a looming accident waiting to happen.
The inside now scissored in two.
The tree guys couldn’t get to our roof because their truck
didn’t fit in our driveway. The wind blew off one of the limbs
during the day, busting the neighbor’s fence.
Mary seemed content to spend the day in hiding,
Fannie stayed alert, on edge from the storms,
with consistent rumbling barking and enough outbursts
to upset us all. I’d been through Hurricane Fran,
snapping trees and trunks, wrenching out roots,
could recognize the hurricane force winds. Sirens
blared throughout the night. I didn’t know houses
had been hit by lightning though till morning. Fannie and I went out,
eerie as it was in the broken tree limb covered streets,
limbs still crashing down. We walked in the street. The sun rained
its wet sweat down on us as the trees swooned their losses.
I walked through the pungent smells of a campfire dowsed
with fire hoses to the neighbor’s house. ‘She’ll be right back,’
one of the guys from the upstairs duplex said as his feet
crunched the glass shards, walking up the ash covered steps.
‘Do you live here?’
‘Yea, I did. We weren’t home when it happened.’
‘I’m so sorry…’ what do you say…? ‘No one hurt?’
‘No…our two cats…the fireman saved our dog with CPR…’
‘Oh gosh…I’m so sorry…about the cats.’
Sagging ceiling, dripping water, wet floor, dark chamber
of fire’s destruction. Thick wet ashes squished, I walked
into what had been a family’s home just hours earlier.
‘That’s Travis’s,’ the young man spoke up as I laid a thick sock
over the step in the sunlight. ‘His clothes were tossed everywhere.
Ours were okay…’
‘It can be washed…’ what could I say? Where was its mate,
and the mates to the two left shoes? I continued to clear glass and
the ripped off roof shingles from the porch. What else could I do?
‘Thank you,’ the young man’s mother said.
‘I’m so sorry about the cats,’ I said. She held a trash bag bundle in her arms,
gestured it toward me. I thought of the cats chasing butterflies
in one of heaven’s lush green meadows. She nodded.
The duplex owner spoke from the sidewalk, ‘It was a great house. I’m
going to miss it.’
‘I’m her daughter,’ a young woman stood, speaking through her grief.
‘Ashes to beauty…’ I whispered to her, not sure if I should.
‘That’s what He does, turns ashes to beauty and He will
do it with this.’ Her brave expression softened then. She came into my
arms and wept.
‘Get her number,’ her mother said walking up.
The daughter texted my number into her phone. We’d spoken
earlier, the mother and I, after seeing her ash covered face,
arms and clothing as she was salvaging what she could
when I passed. I’d stopped. Offered to help. ‘I want the news
to leave me alone, they’re hovering here because of my misfortune,’
she’d cried. Now she was back, walking up the steps for the last time.
‘We have to leave, it’s going to cave. It’s not safe.’
‘We’re going to miss this neighborhood,’ shaking his head, her father
spoke his sorrow as the family walked away from the shell of a house,
so filled with life only hours earlier.
The mother and daughter are indelibly connected to me now,
through the ashes. I woke in the night praying for them.
What else could I do…?
The tree cutters said it was the toughest job they’ve ever had getting
those limbs off our roof. Mary is still in the basement what with all the
chainsawing. Fannie remains alert, rumbling a stomach full of hungry
barks and growls.
…We may never see the result of our prayers, but God will.
“Work, for the night is coming,
work through the sunny noon;
Fill brightest hours with labor,
Rest will come sure and soon.”
~~Anna Louisa Walker Coghill.