Trees fell in the road, and we have to climb over .
Josh reached into his pocket, and pulled out the flattened paper package and studied it for a moment in his hand.
Nicotine gum, the packaging promised, four milligrams of the drug laced into it, along with some of the ariticial cinnamon flavoring that money could buy.
“Eh” he mused to himself, “good enough.”
Just as the packaging promised, as soon as he bit into the small firm white rectangle, there was a flood of flavor that brought back the memories of five cent Big Red, usually swiped from the display near the cash register. Moments later, his stomach began to sour as the pharmaceudical grade nicotine began to seep into his bloodstream and course through his body.
Josh looked over at his wife, who was intently driving on the perpetually wet and curvy Redwood highway. Louise seemed to be enjoying snatching gears as she took turns entirely too fast, relying instead on downshifting from fifth into fourth gear, the rental car objecting with a delightful roar from underneath the engine. Her eyes narrowed to slits as she drove, anticipating the next bend in the road. Josh, on the other hand, gripped the handhold tightly, his knucles white.
“Honey, are you okay?” he obsequiously asked.
Louise didn’t give any indication she had heard her husband, let alone a verbal response. Instead, she slid the gear shift gracefully into fifth. A moment later, the beginnings of a smile began to twitch the sides of her mouth upward. Josh, however, didn’t notice.
Louise looked over. “What?”
“I’m going to be si-”
Louise guided the Mustang off the road and let the car roll to a stop. She felt a twinge of resentment, something the engine mirrored when it shuttered off. Josh, however, had opened the door and leaned out as far as his seatbelt would allow. A moment later, his salivary glands started to water and he gave a loud belch just before he felt the bitter vile, then vomit come out of his mouth, covering his tongue, lips, as well as little flecks getting caught in his three day shadow.
“Jesus, what happened?”
“Just the-” Joshs stomach heaved again, and this time, only a small amount of vomit escaped, taking the rest of the complimentary continental breakfast with it.
Louise sighed. “I didn’t think I was driving that badly.” She reached into the backseat and groped blindly for her handbag. A moment later, a clutch of napkins appeared over Josh’s shoulder.
“That,and the damned gum.”
“Oh hone-well, look, you got the four milligram. No wonder. It’s not like you smoke anymore.”
Josh nodded his thanks as he blotted at his face with the napkin. Louise looked over with bemused concern.
“Are you gonna make it?”
Josh shrugged. “Nope. Dead. I’m dying now.”
Louise smiled. “Good, then I can drive how I want to.”
She started the car and continued back onto the highway.
“I’ll make it up to you.”
“You have a lot to make up for.”
Louise looked over. “What? What are you whining about now?”
“This whole weekend was a wash.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We flew four thousand miles to California so you can attend a high school reunion that only had…what was it, seven people?”
“No, we flew four thousand miles to California to visit my parents, AND go to a high school reunion that only had seven people.”
Josh chuckled. “Well, your parents never liked me.”
“How do you figure?”
“We’ve been married ten years. Your parents made me sleep on the pullout couch.”
“Well, I only had a twin bed.”
“We’ve been married ten years. Your parents made me sleep…on the pull. Out. Couch. I had a bar up my ass all night.”
“Oh honey, that was our honeymoon.”
Josh couldn’t help but grin at the jape. Quickly, he pasted a mock-frown on his face and turned to his wife. “Make it up to me. GO!”
“Well…” Louise thoguht for a moment. Josh made an exaggerated motion of checking his wristwatch as Lousie continued to drive. “Any minute now.”
“Shut up.” As they drove, Josh watched as a sign gelled into visibility. GIANT DRIVE THRU REDWOOD the sign promised.
“Thats how.” he said, pointing. “We’re going to the drivethru tree.”
“Oh god.” Louise sighed. “You know that is just awful for the tree. And it sucks. I grew up around here. You pay five dollars, drive up a steep access road, and literally go through a tree that’s no bigger than the car.”
“Your displeasure makes me want it more.”
Louise slammed her hand on the wheel. “You know, you’ve been a real pill this whole time.”
Josh sighed. “I’m sorry, I just didn’t want to go to this thing.”
“It doesn’t matter what you wanted. It’s what I needed to do.”
“Why does it matter? It’s mine.”
Josh sighed and looked out at the road. “Jesus. Okay.”
Louise gunned the engine. Another sign appeared through the mist, and she took a hard left turn. “Okay, we’re going to the fucking tree.”
Neither Josh or Louise spoke as the drove down the two lane highway past broken down ramblers, rusting car corpses, or overgrown pastures with assorted farm animals wandering listlessly. Josh watched as the natural, groomed beauty of the Redwood highway fell away as they drove, now full of the reality along the highway in Humboldt county-poverty, hard living, and bad habits in a perfect storm of shit and modern lifes debris slung across the yard just off a nameless state route.
“I sense a disturbance in the Force, young one.”
“Shut the hell up, Josh.”
Josh stared grimly ahead.
“Do you know why I was smiling there, just now, as we were leaving?”
“I thought you were enjoying driving.”
“Here’s your tree.”
Louise steered the car onto a wide clearing, coasting up to a faded pink plywood shack with a hand lettered sign reading ADMISSIONS FIVE DOLLARS! Along the top. As Josh fumbled in his pockets, Louise shook her head.
“Look at the sign.”
Josh looked in the window. Written on the back of a page from a tear away desk calandar from a few days ago was written in shaky lines “WE TRUST YOU-NOT HERE TODAY-MONEY IN SLOT”
Louise took the five out of Josh’s hand and slid it into the slot in the door and drove up. Ten seconds later, they were at the top of a small hill. Certainly, there was an old redwood with a tunnel cut into the living wood.
“Are you ready to drive through?” Louise asked, pointedly.
Josh got out of the car and walked to the front of the tree. He was hoping for something different about it. Initials carved into it, some kind of lights in the tunnel, maybe even traffic. Instead, he was faced with a horrible, underwhelming realization-it was just an old tree with a hole in it. Behind him, Louise shut the car off.
“That…I was expecting…Jesus!” Josh gave a frustrated laugh. “I guess that’s exactly it. A tree with a tunnel in it.”
Louise sighed. “Alright, so here’s something.” Josh turned and faced his wife.
“You’re my fathers second son.”
“Did you see the family portrait on the wall?”
Josh shook his head. Louise shrugged.
“Well, you slept underneath it. There’s a framed sonogram up there.”
Louise looked at the ground. “That’s my brother. My parents put that up there after my mom had a miscarriage. That would’ve been my older brother, Tom.”
Josh opened his mouth, thought better, and closed it again.
“Yeah. I grew up with that picture on the wall.”
“I…wow. Jesus that’s fucked.”
“Yeah, well, that’s the apple of my fathers eye. Everything I did was in the shadow of that little three by five hanging in a frame. Its why we-” Louise affected a deep, mocking tone to her voice. “Had to fly three fucking thousand fucking miles.” Asshole.”
Josh stammered. “I didn’t…you never said.”
“No, and there’s no way you could’ve known. But it made everything I do extra important. Every hallmark, every graduation, every accomplishment, all of it overshadowed by that little grainy portrait.”
Josh walked over to his wife, and wrapped his arms around her. She was stiff for a moment, then melted in the embrace, pushing her nose into his chest and letting out a deep sigh.
“I love you. I’m sorry I didn’t notice. I wish I could have met him, as weird as it sounds.”
Louise spoke, muffled by Josh’s t shirt. “So do I. Next time.”
Josh stroked her hay colored hair. “Next time.”
Josh chuckled. “You know, that sign off the road promised emus.”
“Indeed. Let’s go look at some damned emus, then.”
Hand in hand, they walked away from the tree, down the drive, and across the two lane road into the grass, Their bellies to the fence, they looked around, and quickly spotted two emus, hunkered down and resting in the rare Northern California warmth. A moment later, they stood, and unfurled their necks. Josh and Louise watched as they walked around the pen aimlessly, only to settle back down a moment later. Looking to the right, Josh noticed a closed resturant next to the enclosure. He gently elbowed his wife and gave a wan smile when she looked over.
“If we go there for lunch, love, don’t order the chicken.”