The old man is watching a seagull eviscerating a crab. The decapod crustacean probably was handsome in his youth but not any longer. Does he wish he could scream? Or is it better to be stoic and ... [+]
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The dryad who lives inside the oak tree has been terrorizing the condo building dwellers for generations. She throws acorns and pours sap and drops pollen on their cars, and causes severe allergies in people. She used to be a condo dweller herself, at the time when condos were a rarity, and most houses in the city were privately owned. Her clothing is in tatters now, save for an oilcloth raincoat, and for her drawers, silky like her skin. They survived because of her modesty, though no one sees her except for squirrels, and, only once, a woodpecker.
But today she comes out, first time in many years. Her legs finally got numb from sitting in a tight place, though her circulation is so slow that it took a long while for them to do so. Cautious as she is, she comes out shortly after midnight, on a weeknight, when the people are mostly asleep. If someone weren’t, they would see a short woman, almost a child, covered from head-to-toe by an antique raincoat. It would seem strange because it isn’t raining, but the city is full of strange people.
She walks, gazing at the stars, until she bumps into a man. He’s taller than her by half. But she’s so strong that he stumbles.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
“Who the hell are you?” He doesn’t look happy. “You look weird.”
“My name is Annabel Van Winkle.”
He snarls. “Do you know you’re trespassing? Trespass is first and foremost a criminal offense.”
His eyes—her night vision is sharp—are glued to her face. It’s like the touch of a spider.
“I live here.”
“In what apartment?”
She points to the tree.
“Are you making fun of me? I’m a police officer.”
His voice is like a dog’s bark. “You must leave. Now.”
No one has spoken to her like that for a long time. She’s a lady. It’s very upsetting. She stumbles and catches his arm for balance. That’s what nerves do to you.
He pushes her back.
“You’re assaulting me. I must place you under arrest.”
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m leaving.”
“It’s too late for that.”
She decides against arguing. She turns away and strolls toward the tree. She feels his body slam into her, and she’s knocked down, her face into the dirt. His knee is on her back. Then he speaks to someone who’s not there. She knows it’s called a cell phone.
“I’m sorry I have to do it to you,” he says when he’s done speaking to his invisible friends. “I’m not a racist. I feel that all lives matter. Yesterday, I knelt in front of a crowd of demonstrators. I caught flak for that from my buddies.”
She doesn’t know what “flak” is. She’s not in the mood for enriching her vocabulary.
“Are you OK?” he asks. His voice sounds gentle and tender. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
The earth is warm and soft, but she’s embarrassed to lie like that, underneath a man. She pushes him off her and strolls toward the tree.
“Stop!” he shouts. “Or I’ll shoot!”
She glances over her shoulder. He’s kneeling. He holds something that looks like a toy gun. She ignores that. Toys guns can’t hurt a dryad.
She smooth her hair the color of the winter sky. “I have to go now, young man. I’m sorry I pushed you. I didn’t mean to.”
She keeps walking.
“Stop,” he shouts. His voice is pleading now. “Stop.”
She keeps walking.
The first bullet sends splinters flying from her back, and sap is dripping.
She stumbles, but she keeps walking.
The sap is flowing after the second bullet.
She keeps walking. The tree is only three bullets away, and she has plenty of sap in her.