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The Memory Trees
Author:Kali Wallace

The Memory Trees

Kali Wallace


BEYOND THE WINDOW the morning was bright and glittering, the sky a breathless blue, and the hotels on Miami Beach jutted like broken teeth across the water, but all Sorrow could see was the orchard. There were trees whispering behind the walls of the office, and she almost believed if she turned—if she was quick—she would glimpse their sturdy thick trunks and rustling dead leaves from the corner of her eye.

“Your father is very worried about you,” Dr. Silva said.

Sorrow rubbed her arms and looked away from the window. That cool breeze touching the back of her neck, that was only the air conditioner.

Dr. Silva was, as ever, perfectly composed in a pencil skirt, a cream blouse that complemented her dark skin, and heels so high Sorrow wondered how anybody could walk in them without risking ankle damage. Sorrow had seen Dr. Silva regularly when she first moved to Florida, but it had been two years since her last appointment, and the doctor had moved her practice from a hospital in Coral Gables to a Brickell skyscraper overlooking Biscayne Bay. Boats crawled through the no-wake zone far below, and cars glinted like jewels on the bridges.

Sorrow was leaning in the corner of the leather sofa, her legs sticking painfully to the seat. Dad was in the waiting room, probably paging through a glossy travel magazine, checking his email, checking the time. He had made the appointment, gotten Sorrow out of bed, fixed her breakfast, taken a day off work to come with her even though she was perfectly capable of driving herself. Sorrow’s stepmother, Sonia, had watched it all with worried eyes and a concerned pinch to her lips, but she hadn’t argued or interfered. She hadn’t offered any opinion at all except to say, “I think that’s a good idea.”

Dr. Silva was waiting for an answer. Sorrow thought about rolling her eyes, didn’t. Thought about giving an unimpressed snort. Didn’t. The silence stretched. There wasn’t a trace of impatience on Dr. Silva’s face.

Finally Sorrow said, “I can’t stop thinking about my sister.”

It was the first time Sorrow had admitted it out loud since the party, and once she started, the words were tumbling out: she had been thinking about Patience when she disappeared that evening from her grandparents’ house on the edge of the Everglades, and she had been thinking about her day and night since then. She thought about Patience when she woke in the morning and when she tossed and turned in bed at night, when she went to school and when she came home, when she hugged her stepsister, Andi, good-bye at the airport, when Sonia asked about her day, when she shrugged away from her father’s concern. She had been thinking about Patience when she was blowing off meeting her friends, when she was supposed to be doing her homework, taking a trigonometry exam, writing an English essay, and she had been thinking about Patience when her teachers had called Dad and Sonia into the school to discuss the recent decline in her already unimpressive academic performance.

Every day, every moment, she was thinking about Patience in their mother’s orchard in Vermont, her long brown hair and soft hazel eyes, how she had loved racing playfully through the apple trees while Sorrow tagged along, always smaller, always slower. In her thoughts the seasons turned around them in a film-reel flicker of color—winter brown to pale spring green, summer’s deep mossy shadows to autumn’s blaze of red and gold—and no matter how hard Sorrow tried, no matter how desperately she reached, Patience was always just beyond her grasp.

She had been thinking about who Patience would have been, if she had lived.

There were blank spaces in Sorrow’s memory surrounding the day Patience died. Where before she had always let her thoughts skitter away from those days like roaches fleeing a sudden light, now she turned in to them, examined them, unflinching, and all she found was a thicket of shadows obscuring her view, a tangled wall of branches between her and the past. Nothing she did helped her push through. All she had were questions and the long-ago echo of nightmares tinged with fire.

“Why can’t I remember what happened?” she asked.

Dr. Silva, her voice as calm and deep as the cloudless sky, said, “Memory is imperfect, Sorrow, even in the best circumstances. Your sister’s death was a terrible trauma, and the effects of such a trauma, especially at such a young age, they last a long time. You might never remember everything.”

“It’s been eight years,” Sorrow said, and there it was again, the whisper of wind through remembered trees all around her, the imagined shadows reaching up the walls and bending onto the ceiling. “I don’t have nightmares anymore.”

“Why is it so important to you?” Dr. Silva asked. “What do you think will change if you remember?”

It wasn’t enough to sketch in those terrible days with what others had told her. Dad hadn’t even been there when Patience died; he had visited only a few times a year throughout her childhood. She could never talk about it with her mother; their phone conversations were carefully light, deliberately casual, and they never, ever mentioned Patience. A girl who couldn’t remember, a man who had been hundreds of miles away, a woman who would not even say her daughter’s name. A few lines of empty fact: unexplained fire, unexpected tragedy. It wasn’t enough.

Dr. Silva was speaking, but her words were a murmur at the edge of Sorrow’s awareness. Sorrow was staring out the window again at beaches and bridges and keys, and what she was seeing was the orchard not as it would be now, in the first blush of spring with apple blossoms opening pink and white, but as it had been before Patience died. It had been winter-gray and barren, the naked branches of the trees silver in the moonlight, the nights so bitterly cold she felt it still as an ache in her chest.

The Lovegoods of Abrams Valley, the family of her mother and grandmother and the long unbroken braid of women before them, they had always lived and died by stories they told, their remembrances held dear long after most families would have let old names and old deeds disappear into history.

“I want to go back,” Sorrow said. “I need to go back to the orchard.”

Patience deserved that. She deserved to be remembered.