In the glow of this
framing her face
like a fluorescent halo
from behind ... [+]
Maria lived in the same pink house on the narrow street near the river her whole life, even after her parents passed away. Every evening, she sat in the wooden chair, knitting or reading. The rest of her spare time, she would bake, which was why the children of the neighborhood loved her. Humming to herself, Maria would swing her front door wide open, holding out plates of sweet cinnamon pastries, elaborately adorned pies, and soft white bread to the impatient youngsters.
The parents in the neighborhood didn't mind her excessive interest in cookery; it was her habit of thinking so much that concerned them. They thought she was a dreamer, and that was a shame because her parents were practical, hardworking people. And while Maria worked the same job her mother did, dying fabrics at the textile factory, they felt she did it with a certain absentmindedness. She rarely spoke, and when she did, she said things like looking into the vat of red dye made her feel alive.
It was the little ones who first reported that Maria had a tree. The busy mothers and fathers said, "Well, it's a houseplant."
"No, it's a tree," they responded (though later the parents would say they didn't remember that conversation at all). In fact, when the children spotted the sapling in Maria's house, it was already nearly two meters tall.
"Oh, that?" she said. "It's nothing."
But sometimes, late at night, Maria would put her palm on the widening stem, and she would stay like that, perfectly still for ten minutes or more.
As the sapling became a real tree, she would wrap her strong arms around it, and press her face against the rough bark. Sometimes she dreamed she was a bird, and she lived in the tree's lush open arms.
By the time the neighbors realized that there was in fact a tree growing in Maria's living room, the branches had already burst through the ceiling. The roots were discovered pushing up through the floors of homes as far as five down the lane.
People gathered together, banging on Maria's door, and shouting, "Open Up!" But when they broke down the door, it was clear that Maria had been gone for some time. The wood stove was cold, and the broad trunk took up much of the living room.
***The young ones still played near the base of the tree where Maria's house used to be, skipping over the roots that pushed up through cobblestone street. Now and then they would smell the sweet scent of cinnamon and, high above, they would see a speckled bird watching them. The children would call to it, "Maria!" "Maria!" and listen for the answer in song. Hearing them, the adults sometimes looked up to the tree's twisting branches. Though they never saw the bird, they would sometimes notice, just for a moment, dapples of light shimmering through the canopy, in the slender gaps between leaves.