Nighttime at Tree Level

[fiction]

It’s getting dark and my arms are crawling with goosebumps. My butt is pretty much asleep at this point too, which makes it nearly impossible to get comfortable in this here stupid tree. The branch I’m on is like Mom’s eggshell mattress topper only the eggshells are more like little rocks. Like sitting on the moon, I bet. But there ain’t no moon tonight and ain’t no way I’m climbing down, so I’ll just sit here on this tree-moon-planet until some spaceship takes me away or until Mom can pick me and Erin up tomorrow morning.

The yard at Dad’s house is cluttered with car parts, so it’s kind of like I’m stuck on a prop in a sci-fi junk yard. The wind is sharp and eerie, so it’s the perfect set for my movie. Dad is the villain on his imperial base and I’m here on my own base hiding from his screaming and bad breath. My character’s name is Princess John because this is my movie and I can be whatever I want to be.

The dress I have with me is a uniform, a cape, a banner of rebellion. I think of climbing higher and letting it flutter like a victory flag. A flag that says, You won’t climb up here, you fat baboon. But instead, I use it as a makeshift blanket when the sun fully vanishes from the sky and the air gets deep-space cold. It’s not a great blanket, but it’s something. More like one of those cloth napkins you put on your lap at fancy restaurants, only bigger and pinker. A pretty astronaut-suit that fans out like an umbrella and carries me to different space-age places, yet can easily transform into a leg warmer.

Before it was a leg warmer, it was the cosmic pageant gown I borrowed from Erin. But then big bad wolf saw me fluttering away in the dress, in the room Erin and I sleep in when we have to visit him. I thought the wolf was going to laugh like Erin was, but instead, he picked me up like he does when he’s going to throw me in the air like a rocket ship, and instead of tossing me upward, he dropped me on the floor and ripped the mystic garment over my head.

My character’s name is Princess John because this is my movie and I can be whatever I want to be.

“Get dressed,” he said with his breath, throwing at my chest the shorts and shirt that were in a ball on the floor. Then he stormed out of the room with thumps and bumps and hammer sounds. The magic was gone.

“You better put your boy clothes back on before he comes back,” Erin said.

I gave her a look.

“I told you not to wear my dress,” she sighed.

“You did so tell me to put it on,” I said.

“Well, I was just joking,” she said, now flicking at the screen of her iPad.

When I put on my clothes and the baboon-wolf came back, I grabbed the dress from the floor and teleported to the back yard where I climbed the tree and became Princess John the Magnificent Space Detective.

I guess I am lucky stink-mouth made me change into my Earth-boy clothes. They are warmer than the dress alone. But the dress is more a type of armor than another layer of clothing anyway. More like a shield of honor in this wasteland of car parts and Miller High Life. Of bad breath and divorce.

If I lean a certain way, I can see the TV in the bad man’s dungeon. I know it’s late from the show that’s on and I wish I was back in bed even if I have to share it with Erin. There’s not much else I can do, so I curl into the moon-rock bark and drape the dress over my head like a veil. Princess John on his wedding day.

I sit there leaning and wiggling and trying to get comfortable. After a bit, I start to drift off to sleep. In and out like it is sometimes.

And then I’m startled awake by someone lifting the veil over my head. Like it’s time for the prince to kiss Princess John. Only it’s not a prince and I nearly shake myself off the branch when I see the alien space-baboon of fatherhood. He’s standing on the little ladder he used to use at Mom’s house to hang Christmas lights, only there’s no glow on his face and December is still three years away.

“Let’s go, kid. You made your point,” the alien says, removing the dress from my head and wrapping it around his neck like a scarf.

Wolf-creature-space-breath picks me up with his large alien paws. Easy, like gravity is practically zero. I want to fight as he drags me to his lair, but I know there’s not much I can do. It’s late and I’m tired and so is he. The moon is somewhere in the sky but I can’t see it. All I see is ground as Dad steps over space junk and walks inside the house.

While I’m in the bathroom letting go of everything I had to hold in out there, I can hear Erin throwing a fit when the monster with shoulder hair tells her to put the iPad away. She’s whining like only a sister can whine, but quickly calms down after she sees me back inside and back on planet Earth. She scooches over to make room in the bed.

Wolf-creature-space-breath picks me up with his large alien paws. Easy, like gravity is practically zero.

After we’re settled, Dad stands in the doorway like the baboon he is with his hairy finger perched on the light switch. He gives us a little smile with his dragon teeth.

“Night, Dad,” Erin says all cutesy, as if there wasn’t a yeti standing in the doorway.

“Good night, princess,” Dad says all dad-like.

And then he looks at me with those baboon eyes and I look back at him with mine.

“You too, princess,” he says to me, and Erin starts cracking up. And that makes Dad crack up, which makes me laugh a laugh so deep in my body it might as well be from outer space.

“All right,” he says. “That’s enough.”

When he closes the door, Erin and I are trapped in darkness, but the darkness doesn’t seem as heavy as darkness can sometimes get.

Erin wiggles herself into the mattress, her face toward the wall. I pivot myself the other way and stare at the light leaking in from under the door. It reminds me of a UFO. A UFO waiting to take us away once the wildebeest falls asleep.

When I close my eyes, I can still see the strip of light behind my eyelids. I stare at it and watch it grow brighter each time I squint. After some time, the light dims and I’m lifted high above the trees. The light intensifies again and I am weightless.

 

Adam Gianforcaro is the author of the poetry collection, Morning Time in the Household, Looking Out (Aldrich Press, 2013), and the children’s picture book, Uma the Umbrella. His work can be found in Maudlin House, The Los Angeles Review, Poet Lore, Sundog Lit, and others.