Waiting For The Green Woman
by Sean Markey
to the sound of “True Love Waits” by Radiohead…
This story appears in Sybil’s Garage No. 6.
MY DAUGHTER IS a tree in the desert. She doesn’t move; the world rushes past her. I sit in her thin, angular shade, against her diluted-green trunk, and listen as she gossips about the grains of sand as if she knows each one by name. I try not to think about her mother, the green woman, but cannot help myself.
I sit with her and nurse a beer until the sun starts to set behind the red mountains. The sun colors the sky like pastel chalk.
“They love this part,” she says of the sand. “They call it the grand ball, the costume party.”
I am silent, because I know what’s coming next; it’s what she says every day at sunset.
“I wish I could dance.”
I get up from my place and brush the sand from my clothing. I tuck a beat-up copy of The Jungle Book I’ve been reading her into my back pocket. I kiss her rough bark and wonder why I ever told her about dancing.
“Wait,” she says. “Don’t go yet.”
This, too, is a part of our ritual.
“But I have to. You know I can’t be here after sunset.” I think once more of the green woman and am ashamed. If I had been a better father, everything would be different, and I would be able to see her without restrictions. I try to change the subject.
“I’ll turn into a pumpkin if I stay any longer.”
Her laughter is the sound of quaking leaves.
“Then who will decorate your leaves at Christmas?” I ask. “Or sit in your shade all day and read you stories?”
A bird calls out somewhere above us, its voice brighter than the sinking sun. The mood changes, and that invisible line between afternoon and evening is crossed, but quietly.
“I have to go,” I say again, unable to keep the guilt from my voice.
“Okay, fine,” my daughter says. “But first, tell me a story.”
I stop myself from sighing. I know exactly where this is going.
“A story it is,” I say. “But it has to be quick. Look at the sun.”
The last of the sun is being swallowed behind the mountains, and low pink clouds are striking against the afterglow. I lean against her and close my eyes.
“Tell me about Mom again,” she says.
“Your mom is a green woman with no name. Sometimes, though, she is a crocodile. And sometimes she is the thunder, the bent wheat stalks, a black widow’s spinneret, African violets. We spent the night together once and watched the stars come out. In the morning she gave me a seed, told me it was you.”
It didn’t happen quite like that, but almost.
“She sounds funny,” my daughter says. “I want to meet her someday.”
I pour the rest of my warm beer out. “I’m sure you will,” I say. I brush my fingers across her trunk as I hurry away. I have to be in my car, driving toward the city or… what? The green women left me only with the threat, and I was too afraid, too ashamed to ask about the consequences.
My imagination fills in the blanks as I leave the desert, exit the freeway, and drive under the string of orange street lights. Maybe I’ll die, or maybe I won’t be allowed to see my daughter any more. They amount to the same thing, really, and I can’t think of anything worse.
Long ago, the green woman kissed my face one last time in the blue morning, her tongue the filaments of a flower, her lips two soft petals. She smiled, and I tried to memorize her heart-shaped flower face, the cedar and pine scent of her. She dropped a seed into my hand.
“Our daughter,” she said. “Take care of her.”
I dropped the seed to the ground, unconcerned. “Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me, we could live together in the wild. I would, I promise.” I begged until the words no longer made sense.
“Don’t leave me, I have arachnophobia. I’ll empty my 401k. I’ll live off rain and honey. I’m afraid of the dark. I’m afraid to be alone. I love how you wear the green.”
The green woman laughed. It was not the last time I would hear her voice, but she left me then, and I was broken for a long time afterward.
Everyday I rush out of work, so I can spend time with my daughter before nightfall. I pick up a six pack of beer on the way out and drive into the desert. I exit the interstate at exit 4 onto a small road.
The sun is bright at five in the afternoon, and I have plenty of time to visit her.
As I get closer, I see her shedding leaves like green tears, her branches trembling. I jog the last few steps and find her weeping, inconsolable. She wilts like a flower. It takes an hour to finally calm her down.
“What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”
“A bird,” she says, her voice raw from crying.
“What? What about it? Did one make a nest on you?” I cannot slow myself down. “You want me to get rid of it?”
“No,” she yells, and her voice shakes the sand like a little shock wave. “No, no, no, no, no.” She starts crying again, though she doesn’t have any leaves left to lose.
“Okay, all right. I’m sorry. I promise I won’t do that.” I wait for her to calm down again. “Is that what’s wrong?”
“A bird died on my branches. It landed on me and preened its feathers, and…and then it just died. I felt it.” Her voice drops to a whisper. There are no other sounds in the desert. “It just fell over against my trunk. Its feathers tickled me. I felt its feet brush my bark. It died, Dad.”
I comfort her as best I can. It takes awhile, and the sun doesn’t stop along its track behind the red mountains to the west. Damn the day, and damn the way time never stops for anyone.
As she calms down, she keeps her silence, and I think of the green woman. Many years had passed since that first night, until she came to me again, but it wasn’t the reunion I had hoped for. The vines around her arms had sprouted red berries which shook when she spoke. She accused me of losing her daughter, and it took me a long time to remember what she was talking about. Too long.
“I wanted her to grow up near you, in your yard, around the other green life in your garden. I wanted more for her than the desert!”
She cursed me, crushed me with her words. This is the part I never tell my daughter. The green woman told me I could only visit our daughter when the sun was out. Because of my neglect, I could only enjoy our daughter’s company in the harsh sunlight . I must always leave before the light disappears completely.
When her tone softened, she charged me with taking care of our daughter and promised she would see me again.
My daughter speaks, and pulls me from my thoughts.
“Can you bury it?”
“Bury it? The bird?”
“Yeah. Right beside me. Please?”
I hesitate. I look at the sun, all the way behind the mountains. I know if I stay too much longer, I’ll have to face down the green woman’s threat.
“Please, Dad? Don’t leave me.”
I hear the desperation in her voice, the way my own voice must have sounded to the green woman so long ago.
“Okay,” I say. Maybe I’ll see the green woman sooner than I imagined.
I climb up to fetch the bird. Her limbs feel more brittle than I remember, and she has shed all her leaves in grief. I reach the bird, near the top branches, a black and brown woodpecker. The bird is cold and stiff in my hand.
Beside my daughter’s trunk, I kneel on the ground and push at the sand. The red mountains drink the sun down, and there is only a sapphire afterglow. I couldn’t have left her here alone, to mourn all night by herself. What kind of father would I be? The green woman would understand. I hoped.
I lay the woodpecker gently into the hole, and cover it with sand. Its grey legs stick straight up toward the sky. This strikes me as wrong, so I flip it over, feet first, and lay it back in the shallow grave. I imagine it shooting through a sky the color of sand, its wings tucked close to its side, bullet shaped.
I push sand back over the hole and stand up. It’s almost completely night now.
“Say something,” my daughter says. “Say something for the bird.”
I try to think of words to say, but all I can think about is how dark it is in the desert at night, even though the stars sparkle fiercely overhead.
“Uhm…it really was a beautiful bird. It’s a shame it died.”
“Yeah,” my daughter says and drags out the word like a gust of wind.
Then something familiar touches my skin, and I can smell honeysuckle and citrus, and overwhelming green.
I turn around and see her again, my green woman, framed by the night.
“Hello,” I manage.
“Stars came out,” the green woman says.
“I know, but, our daughter. A bird died. I—I couldn’t leave.”
The green woman silences me with a shake of her head. Her petals and leaves bounce in the quickly cooling desert air.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I shouldn’t have made that rule. I was angry.” She reaches out a soft green hand and touches my face. “I can’t undo those words. If I break my word once, everything comes undone.”
I look away from her. I lean against my daughter for support, and even through my sadness, and the shock of seeing the green woman again, I’m surprised at how quiet she’s been.
“Please,” I whisper. “I just want to be with her. I just want to take care of her. I’m sorry. Don’t make me leave. Don’t leave me again.”
The green woman smiles and sits on the ground. She pulls me down with her. I curl up beside her and watch the stars overhead. They turn in blurry circles, like an overexposed picture.
When night becomes morning, I am awakened by the sound of my daughter sleeping. Her soft snore is branches scraping together. Once I emerge from the stupor of sleep and realize that I’m still alive after all, I notice how big everything appears. Green has returned to my daughter’s branches, and among the new leaves, pink and white flowers twine, like ribbons woven into hair.
They look so perfect, those heart-shaped flowers. They look sweet, and the shelter of leaves and branches is inviting. I reach up to them and am there quickly, hovering, drinking from the flowers.
“Hi Daddy,” my daughter says. I land on a branch, and fold my bright wings. My hummingbird feet clutch at her bark.
I attempt to speak, but my words have been replaced by feathers, tiny black eyes, a long hooked beak. I try to understand how much I lost when I chose to stay last night. Instead I think about what I gained. I can take shelter in my daughter’s maze of leaves, and drink nectar from the sweet flowers. She laughs at my acrobatics and is tickled by my feathers when they brush her. All year, in every season, green leaves and flowers decorate my daughter’s branches.
Day pass in the beat of a wing, and the stars shine in the beat of another. I wait for the green woman like an afterthought, but still, I wait. I see the green woman’s touch everywhere, taste her sweetness in the heart-shaped flowers, hear her in the sound of always-distant coyotes howling, smell her when the storm fronts carry the scent of rain on their edges.
“Tell me a story about Mom,” my daughter says.
I settle on a branch and start to chatter.
Sean Markey lives in Salt Lake City, UT. He is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from Westminster College, and is very close to being finished. His stories have appeared in Fantasy Magazine and Strange Horizons. For more about him and his work, please visit his website: http://www.mrmarkey.com.