The Breath of the Wind

            The wind whirled and cracked.  Or maybe it had cracked something.  The house, perhaps.
            Stepping outside in the midst of the storm was inadvisable, but the man wanted to survey the damage.  It was not the house that had cracked; it was the old apple tree.  The wind had split it down the middle.
            He shook off the snow from his boots as he stepped back inside.
            ‘Nothing hit the cottage,’ he said to his wife.
            ‘That’s a relief,’ his wife replied, then went back to her sewing.
            ‘But,’ the man began.  The wife looked back up.  And then she saw it.  The look in his eyes.  And she knew, even before he said, ‘It’s the apple tree.’
            He left it at that, but a knot found its way between his brows.
            His wife started to sink.  As though she could fall through her chair, as though the solid outlines of her world had begun to fade.  He watched her begin to slip away; it was a sight he had not seen in a long time.

            Nights passed sleeplessly for the man, because nights passed sleeplessly for his wife.  And in the day, he watched as she stood before the apple tree, its trunk no longer an upright beam, but two swooping stems.  For one side had fallen to the east, the other to the west.  And her eyes seemed to bore into the crack. 
            He knew she must be wrung with grief, but she did not say a word.  The first day passed, and still she stared and said nothing.  The second day was much the same.  And then the days began to blur together.
            There was no watering to be done between Winter and Spring.  The snow insolated and kept the dormant things alive without toil—no task need be done to ensure the continuation of life.  There was no harvest; that had already been brought in, dried or canned.  That made the man’s burden easier, for he took on his wife’s tasks as best he could.  The meals were bland at first, but his wife didn’t notice; and slowly he learned to add flavor.  The laundry’s stains had become part of the cloth itself, but this task, too, he conquered sufficiently with time.  The sewing he left, after too many bloody fingers.  But that, too, he would try again, if enough time passed by.  And still he hunted and skinned, chopped and hauled, grateful for his mass of work.  For otherwise, he knew he would lose himself staring at his wife, as she stared at the tree.
            The snow melted, and all was stark and bare.  It was as though all the living things around them would never return to life.  The man grew weary and his soul darkened, watching his wife stare at the innards of the tree.  Slowly, one by one, flowers popped out of the ground.  Birds chirped once more.  And all the trees, save one, began to show their green.  But, of course, the apple tree lay barren. 
Still his wife watched it.  And he waited.
            Then came a day that was not like the others; the day that began with the flexing of his wife’s shoulders.  It was as though a heavy weight had been lifted onto them.  Her breath itself seem to deepen, as though it were readying itself for a great task.  He could almost sense the pivot of her feet, and he knew that when the moment of strength came, she would walk away.  He let his task fall to the ground and went to his wife’s side.  He placed his hands on her arms, as though he could make the weight of her burden less.  And it was then that he realized she was waiting for something too.
            Several moments later his eyes grew wide.  For in the center of the tree, there sprouted a shoot.  Tiny at first, then larger.  Flowers began to bloom.  The pale white of the wedding dress his wife had worn when they planted the tree.  Pale white with blushing cheeks, like the newborn they had buried beneath the shadow of its branches.  They stood, no longer waiting, resting in remembrance.  And the breath of the wind seemed to nod, as though it understood.
            At the end of the day they turned as one back to the cottage, for it was time to take up their tasks again.

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