Meet the Elms (Continued)

by Alan DeNiro

As the days passed, my father became thinner, and his skin was almost translucent. The cabal of tree doctors from Manitoba were little help; they mainly whistled and took down notes.My father’s disease was unfathomable, therefore, it was hard for them to imagine it existed. "We have fungicides that may work," their team leader said. "But those are toxic agents in the human bloodstream.I’d recommend a normal antibiotic, but the case is already pretty advanced."

My father took all this news with a nod. I couldn’t tell for sure, but I saw glimmers of pain through his demeanor. His face twitched in some conversations, the ones in which his sentences trailed off.

One midnight, I dozed next to my father’s bed in the hospital. My father sat straight up, gasping for breath, clutching his forehead with his hands. I touched my father’s shoulder.

"I have a confession to make, son," he said. "I couldn’t live these last few days in peace unless I told you."

I leaned forward, and told him to go on.

He sighed heavily. "I, originally, was a tree."

"What did you say?" I asked.

"I was a tree. I took this form to marry your mother."

Slumping back in my chair, and squinting at my father, my father squinted back. He was serious, unless he lost his mind.

"Clean that gunk off your chin!" he said to me, handing me a napkin from his tray table.

I’d drooled when I dozed. I wiped the spittle off my face.

Perhaps his treeness was something I secretly suspected all along. My father was adamant about only building his house with brick. Our doors were sheet metal. My father used to mumble to himself when taking frequent walksin the woods; I’d always assumed that he craned his head up to gauge the time of day from the sun, or to check on the shape of a cloud. It make sense to think that he was talking to the canopies around him.

"But all those stories you told me about being an orphan . . ." I said, stammering.

"All true. What else is a tree if not an orphan?" He shook his head. "You don’t exactly get a chance to bond with your parent." He breathed heavily; his intake of air was raspy.

"Now the disease is getting me. Like it’s gotten nearly all the other elms."

I still wasn’t able to exactly fathom how much father turned from a tree into a man, but for the moment he was just my father, not some strange mythological anomaly.

"Isn’t there anything that can be done?"

"Not while I’m human, no." He gave a short, sharp laugh. "What are they going to do? All I have is you and your mother. Tell me, what can any fucking doctor do with me?"