When Leslie Eaton died her husband Derrick did not know what to do. They were young, both thirty-four and she had somehow been his connection to the world. After her death he went through the motions of daily existence without really being present. He was adrift.
Until he met the woman in the tree.
It was a typical day, but Derrick Eaton could not have told you the date. The week before he had shown up for work three times when he was not scheduled. He was floating away from everything.
He walked to work. It had started when Leslie had changed jobs and needed the car to commute. But Leslie was dead now and the car sat in the driveway. He didn’t even know where the keys were.
He walked the same route every day; the same streets and then shortcut through a park. He was cutting through the park on a sunny summer morning when he heard the voice.
“Hello? Hello? “
It was a woman’s voice, a pleasant one, and it seemed to be calling to him. The thing was he couldn’t see anyone anywhere. Grass, trees, benches. No people. He thought it was his imagination.
“Hello? Hello? I’m up here.”
Then he saw her. She was up in a tree. Just for a moment, backed by the bright sunlight, he’d thought it was Leslie. But then his eyes had adjusted and he saw it was some woman. She had a nice face and long brown hair. Attractive, slim, wearing a tan skirt. And up in a tree.
She seemed relieved that he had finally seen her. “Hello.” She called brightly down to him.
“Ah… hi. Are you stuck up there?”
“Stuck up as in can’t get down or stuck up as in too proud to speak to people on the ground?” she said, smiling.
He did not smile back. “Stuck in the tree?”
She nodded. “Obviously, my good knight, I am struck in this tree.”
“Um, it’s not night.”
“ I was saying Knight as in a knight in shining armour, not as in night the opposite of day.
“ I’m not a knight.,” he clarified. “I work with computers. Tech support.”
“It sounds like you are good at figuring things out.”
“On computers.” He figured out then that the flash of white in her skirt was her underwear. He looked away.
“Can you figure out how to get me down?”
“Probably… ask the next person if they have a cell phone and call a fire truck.” Derrick continued on his way. He did not carry his cell phone now that Leslie had died. There was no one to call him.
The woman in the tree was waving at him. “Hey, wait….”
Derrick was accustomed to eating his lunch in the cafeteria at work for half an hour, and then walking outside for the rest of his lunch hour. Previously he had only walked in good weather. Now that Leslie was dead he walked in zombie mode, no longer noticing if it was raining or not.
A woman had appeared from somewhere and was walking in step, beside him.
“Do I know you?’
“Yes, we talked earlier today.’
“On the phone?”
“I was the woman in the tree.”
He blinked his eyes several time. “How did you get down?”
“I took your sage advice, and asked the next person with a cell phone to call a fire truck.”
“Why are you bothering me now?”
‘I just wanted to say thank you.”
‘Well you’ve said it.”
‘Why are you so grouchy?”
“Look, I don’t know you, and I don’t want to know you. Just leave me alone.”
Derrick walked away as quickly as he could but he still heard her call “hey wait” behind him.
The next day Derrick was sitting at his regular table in the lunch room, alone, as usual. He was having a bag of chips and a pop. Leslie had packed his lunches. Usually she’d sent leftovers, but they’d been good. He didn’t have leftovers anymore because he never noticed what he ate.
He was sucking on the straw and the can of pop was nearing empty when he got the feeling that someone was standing close to him, watching. He looked up, and there stood the woman, the one from the tree. Except today she was wearing a blue dress and in her hands was a lunch tray covered in vegetables and fruit.
The woman plopped herself down beside him and slid the tray towards him.
“What are you doing?” He said, the drinking straw still in his mouth.
“I thought we could share lunch.”
”I usually eat alone.”
“Usually means most of the time. You can still eat with me today and it won’t ruin your “usually”.
He scrunched up his forehead in confusion. “Why are you bothering me?”
“Do you like carrots? Broccoli? Say hello to Mr. Carrot. Say hello to Mr. Broccoli.” She was making them hop around the tray like they were puppets.
Derrick stood and walked away.
“Hey wait!” she called after him.
He threw his garbage at the bin and went out.
When he was walking home after work that evening she appeared beside him again, keeping pace.
“Hello,” she said cheerfully.
“I’m not going to talk to you.”
“Why not? I don’t bite.”
“Because you’re a lunatic, that’s why!” It came out forcefully.
“So if a person talks to you, or tries to bring you food, or hangs around you that makes them crazy?”
“I guess you must be really awful,” she said.
“Why can’t you just leave me alone?”
“You look like there’s something bothering you. Sometimes it helps to talk.”
He turned on her and they both stopped. “Just leave me alone!” he barked, and then stomped off.
“Hey, wait….” she called after him.
Derrick was no longer tired at the end of the day. He just felt numb. He felt numb in the morning, numb all day and numb in the evening. He was taking sleeping pills but they weren’t helping. Instead he watched TV all night but couldn’t remember what he’d seen.
Tonight he was starring at the TV but not really seeing it. There was a shelf above with several pictures of Leslie. He hadn’t noticed them in a long time. He began to cry. He wept for a bit, and then gathered the photos and put them in a box. He put the box under the bed and then climbed under the covers and closed his eyes.
He opened his eyes. A dream?
The phone? In the middle of the night?
Derrick reached over and turned on the bedside lamp. Clock said 3:14am.
He picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Hello yourself!” It was her, the woman from the tree. She sounded bright and cheery.
“It’s the middle of the night.”
“I know. Have you seen the moon tonight? It’s almost full.”
“It brings the crazy people out, right?”
“I don’t know about that. I just thought it was beautiful.”
“Just leave me alone, okay?”
He heard her say “hey wait” as he hung up the phone. He sat there. Rubbed his eyes.
Derrick reached down and unplugged the phone, turned off the light and returned to bed.
On the way to work the next morning the woman was up in the tree in the park again, this time in a red dress. Derrick pretended not to notice her.
“Hello? Hey wait!”
At lunch in the cafeteria Derrick had the feeling he was being watched. The woman was at the next table with a tray of carrots, apple slices and other healthy things. She smiled at him. He didn’t look at her again.
On his walk after lunch there she was, smiling brightly, walking beside him.
“It’s a beautiful day,” she said. “I hope you were able to get back to sleep. Oh, you’re not talking to me. Cranky, aren’t we?”
He turned abruptly and went down a side street.
“Hey wait!” she called, but didn’t follow.
After work he did not go home the usual way. He stopped at the police station near his office. He had to wait a little and then a chubby balding officer took his statement.
“Okay, so let me get this straight,” The officer said. He was pecking on a laptop keyboard. “You say this woman is stalking you?”
“Yes. I think she’s mentally ill.”
“And why do you think that?”
“She phones me, she tries to talk to me and she tried to give me food.”
The officer wasn’t typing any more. “And you don’t want this?”
“No. I don’t even know this woman.”
Derrick paused. “No.”
“But you don’t want this woman’s attentions?’
Derrick shook his head.
“Can you describe her?”
“She’s…. attractive. Long brown hair. Slim. Nice smile.”
“Do you know her name?”
“Where do you know her from?”
“I first saw her in a tree.”
The policeman stared at him.
“She asked if I could help her down.”
“And you never saw her before that?”
“Have other people seen this woman?”
“I am not imagining this. She phones me at work, she phones me at home, she’s in the lunch room, she’s everywhere.”
The policeman rubbed his chin. “It sounds…. a little impossible. Now don’t get upset… I’ve taken down what you’ve told me and started a file. “
“That’s all you can do?”
“If it continues, call me, and we’ll… do something.”
Derrick stood. “Thank you.”
As he walked out Derrick heard the officer say under his breath “we should all be so lucky.”
For some reason, Derrick backtracked and went home the usual way, through the park and everything. But he didn’t see her. There was no one in the tree.
He picked up a hamburger and fries from the place on the corner and watched TV while the food got cold. He found he was staring at the spots on the shelf where Leslie’s photos had been.
Derrick looked out the window around 3 am. The moon, huge and white and so close you might touch it, was completely full.
He checked the tree in the park on his way to work but there was no one in it.
At lunch he bought the healthy dipper tray of carrots and cukes and green peppers and hummus and ate it. Alone. The woman was not in the cafeteria.
The walk after lunch was uneventful. No one spoke to him or followed him or walked beside him.
No one accosted him on the way home. He took his time. There was no one in the park.
The night passed slowly. He got up three times, turned the light on, sat on the edge of the bed. Checked to see if the phone was plugged in. It was. He turned the light out and pretended to try to sleep.
Nothing unusual happened on the way to work, at lunch or after. Nothing the next day either.
At home he didn’t seem to know what to do any more. He wandered from room to room. He opened the fridge. Couldn’t remember the last time he’d done that. Everything had gone bad. He threw the whole lot in the garbage and scrubbed it out. Now it was just empty. Waiting for him to put something in it.
After work the next day he went to the police station again and asked to see the chubby balding officer. They sat at the same table, the policeman pecking at the laptop.
“I’d like to report a missing person.” Derrick said.
“All right. What’s the name?”
“I don’t know their name.”
“Is it a neighbour or someone like that? Do you have their address?”
“I don’t know where they live.”
The policeman looked at Derrick. “So…. you don’t know their name or where they live?”
“Can you describe this person?”
“A woman, long brown hair, attractive, slim. Nice smile.”
“This is the woman who was stalking you?”
“But now she’s not stalking you?”
“No. She’s missing.”
“Did you kill her?”
Derrick’s face flushed with alarm. “No!”
The policeman closed the laptop. “Listen bud- strictly off the record- this is the way I see it. You’re the one with mental issues. This lady liked you and you hate yourself or something so you tried to push her away, even came to the police. She’s not stupid- she got the message and so she took off. That’s all. End of story. Now why don’t you spare a few trees and let’s not fill out any more paperwork, okay?”
Derrick nodded. He stood up, awkwardly. Walked out.
On Saturday he went to the park, to the tree. Her tree. It didn’t look hard to climb. In a few moments he had ascended to the place where she had been. You could see the whole park from there. The air seemed fresher, cooler. Birds were darting through the clear sky. A person came down the sidewalk, a woman he did not know. She did not look up. People don’t look up, he thought. She did not see him.
“Hello? Hello?” He called.
The woman stopped, looked around, confused.
“I’m up here.”
The woman looked up. She had curly brown hair, a shopping bag. Jeans.
He smiled. “Hello.”
“Are you stuck up there?” She asked.
“A little bit- could you help me get down?”
She came right up to the tree. “What do you want me to do?”
The words darted out like birds. “Have lunch with me.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You asked what I wanted you to do. I want you to have lunch with me.”
“Do I know you?”
“Not yet.” He began to climb down.
The woman started to walk away.
“Hey wait!” He ran and caught up with her.
“I don’t even know who you are!” She increased her pace.
“I know,” he said. “But how do you get to know someone? You have to allow it to happen. You have to start somewhere. If you don’t let yourself have something- a lunch, a new friend or whatever then you will never have anything. Are you going to just walk away for the rest of your life? Are you willing to settle for nothing?”
The woman had stopped.
“Let me buy you lunch.”
“Okay.” She said. And she smiled.
“Okay.” Derrick said, and smiled back.
“So why were you in that tree?” She asked.
They walked away chatting.