"It's funny, don't you think?" I thought she was talking about the movie. I barely turned my head as I mumbled my answer. "Mel?" Her foot nudged mine, insistent, and I turned to look at her. She looked calm sitting there on her couch, her head reclined on the arm and her feet tucked up next to mine. As calm as Anna could ever look.
"I said already." I wanted to listen to the movie, to the vital monologue that would explain everything, but she shoved me with her foot again and pressed pause.
"You're not listening to me."
The thing is, I always listened to her. She was hard to ignore.
"Okay, fine. Sorry."
"It's funny, right?" She asked again, and this time I tilted my head at her. She wasn't talking about the movie.
There was that wicked look again. That wild and unrestricted look, like she was seeing and thinking of something infinitely out of reach.
"The way you never thought about it." She sat up, shuffling backward until she was leaning her back against the arm rest, and looked back at me with a steadiness that often startled me. She was so discordant - it didn't make sense that this wild-looking child could be as patient as Mother Theresa, or as steady as the rotation of the Earth on its axis. But she was. And it made her horribly irresistible.
"Anna, please, can we not talk about it?" Because it had, of late, been haunting me far more frequently. I was losing sleep to it. I was losing my mind to it. But she didn't seem to be able to stop thinking about it, and I think more than anything, if we were to have compared our losses, hers was the greater.
Because she was losing time to it.
"Oh, come on. It's just a tree." I knew she was right. Of course she was right. But fear is irrational.
"Come visit it with me."
No. Hell no. Not in a million years, and not with you.
But her words just hung in the air, and I couldn't stop staring at her. It was intriguing, the idea. I was terrified; I was fascinated. And how could I not? After weeks of thinking about it, how could I not visit it at least once? So I said yes, grudgingly, and she swung off the couch in a perfect arch and disappeared out the front door. I followed more slowly. More careful to where she waited, practically vibrating with excitement, in the front garden.
"Go get your backpack. Some water and snacks. We can do a picnic."
What a tame thing - it softened the fear just a little bit. Picnics were harmless things, Sunday-afternoon types of things. I could do that.
By the time we reached the edge of town, I was afraid again. Terrified. Every step closer felt heavier, and I was fighting my own limbs just to keep up. And we did pause, there at the end of the town, my toes hanging out over where the gravel dipped away into grass, hers a little farther out than mine. She looked up with the kind of familiar adoration of someone who'd done this a thousand times before. I looked up with childlike trepidation. This new and unspoken of thing, looming closer than it had ever been even in my thoughts and nightmares.
But we didn't linger for long there, and soon we were marching up the hill, and then we were breaching its peak, and then we were there.
It was there.