What Spring Does with the Cherry Trees
Hours after Marie promised herself she wouldn’t be tempted to sleep with a man on the first night, guilt overwhelmed her as she laid in bed next to him. Tears began to well up in her eyes. “I’m not looking for a relationship.” She remembered him say that before she agreed to go back to his house for a movie. “Me either.” Marie assured him, hoping she’d change his mind and make him a keeper. Things were going well until a glass of wine became two. Now the sun crept into his room, bringing everything in darkness to light as the clock on the wall struck six.
Marie checked her phone for messages and pretended to still be sleeping — unsure of what to do — when his body moved. She had met up with Carson at Laslo’s the night before while hanging out with Sabrina and Becky. They were out meeting new people, and she matched with Carson on Bumble. Sabrina and Becky went home alone, and now Marie wished she wasn’t so lucky. Carson raised his head when the invisible ultraviolet rays brushed his eyelids.
“You’re still here?” he asked, lowering his head back down on the pillow.
“Um. Yeah,” she said. The smile on her face faded.
“I guess I should go,” she added, reaching for her clothes.
“Yeah,” Carson responded, propping himself up on his elbow.
Marie got dressed, picked up her shoes, and headed for the door. She realized, for the first time, how small his studio apartment was. He had convinced her to come over after raving all night about the beautiful view of the city from his balcony. They sat out there, overlooking the Potomac and admiring the moonlight. Never watching a movie. She looked around once more, noticing the pile of dishes in his sink and scattered clothes, still hoping he might change his mind.
“I had fun,” he said.
“Me too,” Marie hesitated. She stood in the doorway, afraid of what he might say next. A light breeze sent chills up her spine. The breath of winter lingered longer than expected.
Carson closed the door and locked it behind her. She stood there for a minute, staring at the unit numbers on the wall panel. Marie couldn’t hold back the tears any longer and rushed off, wiping her face dry with her hands. She came up to New York Avenue and pulled out her phone while heading towards the Metro. Becky was calling.
“Hey, girl! So, how’d it go?” Becky sounded more chipper than usual.
“Hi,” Marie concealed her anguish.
“Just calling to make sure you’re alright. That boy was hot. What was his name?”
“Yes! That’s right. You had two guys after you, though. The other dude was so weird. I Googled the shit he was spewing and found out he was quoting some poet named Pablo Neruda. Apparently he won the Nobel Prize or something. Ever heard of him?”
“Yeah.” Marie choked on more tears.
“What’s the matter? You okay? Where are you now?”
“I’m fine, Becky. I can’t do this right now.” Marie hung up the phone.
She sat motionless on the Metro — ignoring the other passengers as they moved around her to get on and off the train. She kept thinking about how naïve she must have been to fall into Carson’s trap. Marie replayed the scene at the bar and began to feel remorse for not choosing the guy who came up to her while waiting for Carson. He was cute. Different, somehow. She considered how much of a better time he would have been. Marie knew the pick-up line he used was from one of Neruda’s love poems. She half-read his work in 20th Century Poets sophomore year and relied on Spark Notes to complete the assigned critical essay.
She was quick to dismiss the guy — whose name she couldn’t remember — as soon as Carson arrived. Perhaps it was because Carson was taller and seemed more masculine. “What guy quotes poetry and speaks of love?” She scoffed, which made her unhappier. She curled up into a ball and started crying again.
“Ma’am are you okay?” A man sitting across from Marie held out his handkerchief. “Do you need help?”
Marie laughed between sobs.
“No, I’m fine. Thank you. Really, ” she responded, leaving the man hanging with his hand stretched out. He sat back down, and Marie pulled out a tissue from her purse before stepping off the Metro at U street.
“Step back. Doors closing,” the automated voice announced.
Sabrina and Becky were Marie’s friends from college. They had all moved to DC after graduation and each found jobs working on the Hill — even though they could have easily found more lucrative opportunities on Wall Street. Instead, they jumped on the Obama bandwagon.
But the city turned out to be a single person’s nightmare — especially since many of the men the girls encountered were intimidated by educated women. God forbid they went to Harvard or Yale too. The dudes they typically met were self-absorbed and bragged about their big jobs on 13th Street.
The girls enjoyed going out after work, but noticed that most men wouldn’t talk to them if they wore a suit — even if it was tailored for a woman. Of course, after changing their attire, more men talked to them, but were usually middle-aged and divorced. The men they sought were always on their phones, so they took to their own devices and got on Bumble. Marie was shocked to see the guy at Laslo’s walk up to her. She had gotten so used to making the first move. Although he was nervous, she appreciated his courage.
When Marie walked into her apartment, Sabrina and Becky were sitting on the couch. She had four missed calls.
“There you are!” Sabrina rushed up to give her a hug. “We’ve been worried about you.”
“I’m fine. The ride on the Metro helped clear my head.”
“Well, what happened?” Becky asked.
“It didn’t sound like nothing on the phone,” Becky fired back.
“I made a mistake and broke another promise.”
“You can’t keep making those foolish promises,” Sabrina scolded.
“You had fun though, right? Was it big?”
The girls laughed.
“It was all right.”
“Men,” Becky huffed. “They talk about their package as if it’s something to be worshiped, even though it’s often not worth praising.”
Marie sat on the couch next to Becky. The TV was tuned to the latest episode of Thirteen Reasons Why.
“Hey, do ya’ll remember the name of the guy who quoted Pablo Neruda?”
“Hmm…You mean that freak who came up to you at Laslo’s?” Becky asked.
“I think he said his name was Paul,” Sabrina answered.
“Paul means Pablo in English.”
“So?” Becky wasn’t enlightened.
“I want to find him,” Marie declared.
“And how’re you going to do that?”
“I dunno. I have one of Pablo Neruda’s anthologies in my closet from the survey course I took as an undergrad.”
“So, you’re going to find this Paul guy by reading some poetry?” Becky was confused.
“Sure,” Marie said, shoving a throw pillow at Becky’s face.
“Good luck!” they shouted as Marie ran towards her bedroom and shut the drapes.
She didn’t keep all her books, but Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair didn’t seem like something that should be tossed with the garbage. It was hidden in the middle of a neat stack on the shelf above the bar in her closet.
When she pulled out the book, Marie sat down on the corner of her bed and skimmed the contents. She flipped to number XIV and began reciting:
My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
I go so far as to think that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
Dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.
Flashbacks of the boy from the bar entered her mind. She remembered how clumsy and weak at the knees he seemed when he tried to impress her. No guy had ever worked so hard to steal her heart. It was always her trying to get men to take notice and tie them down. She even went so far as to pretend to like football and memorize the latest stats. Sometimes it worked. Most times it backfired, and men felt inferior. The idea of finding him now, in a city of over a half-million inhabitants, was absurd.
The rhythms of Neruda’s poems compelled her into reading the entire anthology before realizing it was mid-afternoon. She felt a connection to the poem Paul quoted and hoped that, by some miracle, it would lead her to him.
Marie shuffled around for her keys and found them in the pocket of the coat she wore last night. She also discovered a flyer for a concert in the park. The concert started in forty-five minutes and would kick-off the Cherry Blossom Festival. Marie freshened herself and raced to the tree-lined promenade along the Jefferson Memorial in her running outfit without saying a word to her roommates, who were still sitting in front of the flat screen.
On her way to the concert, Marie recalled that cherry trees bloomed for a short period of only two weeks — which could be impacted by inclement weather or high temperatures. It was much like how she reached a high point with Carson. It wore off after two minutes of intense heat.
The temperature outside, however, was just above 60 degrees with partly sunny skies, making it the perfect day for something new and different. But as if things couldn’t get more worse, Marie stumbled on a rock after crossing Independence Avenue to get to Main.
“Hey, are you alright?” A man helped her to her feet.
“Yes, thank you.” She dusted her knees and kicked the rock aside. She looked up at the man. It was Lucas.
“Oh, hey. Fancy seeing you here.”
“Hey!” Marie tried to hug him, ignoring her scraped hands and bloody knees.
A woman came up to Lucas from behind.
“Who is this, honey?”
“Uh… This is…” Lucas couldn’t remember her name.
“I’m Marie,” she introduced herself.
“Yes, this is Marie. We used to… uh… work together,” Lucas lied.
“Oh, so you used to work at Booz Allen? I’m Ava. His fiancé.” The woman stretched out her hand.
“Ye…Yes.” Marie said in a soft tone, piecing together Ava’s statement. “You’re getting married?” She raised her voice, slightly confused.
Marie had met Lucas before Thanksgiving. He swore he wasn’t looking for a relationship. She believed him, of course, figuring he was focused on his career since he traveled a lot. After all, he’d check-in with her via text and invited her over for wine whenever he returned from a trip. She used to think that maybe he’d come around someday. Love was supposed to be patient.
“She isn’t very friendly,” Marie heard the woman say. Then, she placed the earphones back in her ears and continued running.
Marie almost turned around when she saw the outline of a man that looked like Paul, sitting under a cherry tree. The adrenaline pumping through her veins made her feel vengeful. She perspired and realized that maybe she shouldn’t have run the whole way. She slowed to a walking pace and tried to fix herself when a girl holding a violin approached him. “Just my luck,” she thought. But it was too late for her to not say something.
“Hello,” the woman said, looking up from the man’s notebook.
“Are you looking for the concert?” he asked. “It’s that way.” The man pointed in the direction of the Jefferson Memorial without looking away from his notebook.
She recognized his voice and was now certain it was him. Chairs were set up, overlooking the Tidal Basin in front of Jefferson’s statue.
“No. No,” she kept saying, trying to decide what to say.
“Well, do you want to sit down then? My sister was just reading over some of my poetry before her solo. She’s playing Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D Minor, Opus 47. Have you heard it?”
“No. I don’t think so,” Marie couldn’t help but laugh at the strange idea of listening to a classical performance. She was underdressed for the occasion.
“That’s unfortunate, but here’s your chance.”
“I’m looking for Paul,” she said, watching his sister pass by in front of them.
“You found him, but my sister is about to play. Come; let’s listen.”
Marie took his hand as if she didn’t have a choice. He was darker than she recalled. Did he remember her? He waved his right palm to an empty seat in the front row. She noticed the veins pop out of his forearms.
As the music started playing, she fidgeted — trying to whisper her name in his ear.
“Shhh…I know,” he said.
She smiled, settling into her chair.
“Wait. How’d you know?”
“The flyer,” he said, placing his index finger over his mouth.
“The flyer?” Then she saw it stuffed in her armband.
She took it out and turned it around. It was the final stanza of Pablo Neruda’s love poem number XIV and mentioned that he’d be waiting under the cherry tree closest to the Jefferson Memorial. She looked up at him. He smiled.
“You didn’t read it?”
She shook her head in embarrassment.
“It happens,” he chuckled.
“So, what does spring do with the cherry trees?”
“It makes them bloom,” he whispered.
“Close your eyes.”
Marie half-closed her eyes in uncertainty about what might happen. She could only hear the screeching violin.
“No peeking,” he said. “Wait for the allegro.”
Five-and-a-half minutes into the piece, she heard the entire symphony storm into play. She grew anxious.
When she opened her eyes, she noticed the cherry trees bloom. It was the moment they would be at their highest peak. The colors were the most beautiful pink and white she had ever seen. Tears watered her eyes. The music made her heart race. He looked over at her. She blushed, and her emotions overflowed.
“Here’s to new beginnings,” he said, trying to snap a photo of them.
“No, I look a mess,” she pushed his camera phone away.
“I just want to share this moment with you.”
Marie laughed at the irony of it all. She liked him. He was creative and saw the world in a different way. Marie didn’t have to pretend to be someone she wasn’t. This was a shot at a new beginning. What love might have been dead and pushed aside was made whole again. The basket full of happy flowers were the butterflies she felt in her stomach because of what spring does with the cherry trees. It makes them come alive. It makes them beautiful. It makes them bloom. That’s what spring…No, that’s what love does.