The Tree In The Yard and Two For The Price Of One
Twins! How does anyone survive them?” Adeline asked herself while shaking her hands over her head, a pose that Martin had become very familiar with. In 1959, the twins, Theron
and Twila, were now toddlers. “The terrible twos.” Adeline said.
“They got that one right.” Martin replied adding, “What do you call two twos that are in their terrible? Torture,” Martin said, and then laughed. Adeline put her hands on her knees, tossed the glance that mothers do to smart alecks, and then laughed with him.
“You are a pair.” Martin picked up his little sister to get her away from the white bread flour she had covered herself with. Adeline had already put Theron into the kitchen sink to wash away the broken eggs that he had sat in after pulling them off the counter and breaking them on the floor in the flour. Both twins’ golden-brown curls were pasty white, caked in flour. Their red spots might be pesky, but the red clutch on the right side of Twila’s head and on the left side of Theron’s, each about the size of a silver dollar, had shaken themselves free of any dust. They were the color of sandstone and grew faster than the rest of their hair.
“How weird was that?” Martin thought, watching the hair spin about all on its own. “Not to trend-setting for hairstyles, but pretty cool.” Their red hair would find a place, or find a reason some time in the future. Right now, being babies, it was hard to tell them apart. Same skin color, same
size, same hair. All that was different were the sides of their heads where the red spots resided. “Theron’s always right and Twila’s never left. That’s how I tell them apart.”
Their birthmarks were helpful. Theron had a mark on his right shoulder, composed of three perfect circles linked and intersecting each other. Twila had her mark on the left shoulder. It was similar to Theron’s, the difference being the number of circles. She had four in a pattern similar to her brother, but with four intersecting circles. It was odd for the position of the marks, let alone the way they were so close to the same, but after all they were twins. Then the real difference was, of course, one that was a boy and the other a girl, a natural slight difference.
“Twins double the fun, double the trouble,” were the words Adeline repeated whenever friends came to see her little matched pair.
The Salter’s had lost all thoughts of returning to the Grand Canyon. The twins’ needs had consumed them, both in time and energy.
Another morning crept its way into the world. Adeline could hear whistling coming from the kitchen where Martin, her 10 year old son, attempted to fix breakfast for his mother.
“What a night.” She had spent the night in the twins’ room again, sleeping in the chair. Martin had already gathered the eggs from the henhouse in the backyard and was making French toast, well, egg toast. Martin had sliced a loaf of Adeline’s homemade bread into slabs, not one slab the same. Some were two or so inches on one end, then tapering paper thin on the other. The kitchen bellowed with smoke from the melted butter in the frying pan. Adeline, in her robe and fuzzy pink slippers, stood in the doorway watching her son, never prouder. Martin stood next to the stove, a spatula in one hand and dripping freshly battered toast in the other. His whistling stopped while he showed a grin of satisfaction.
“Martin, I love you,” she heard herself say. Adeline slid open a window for the smoke–filled kitchen. Her smile was warm. “This is why I like being a mom,” she thought.
Martin became the watcher of the twins. He watched them on long summer days. He would take the twins to the backyard to play. He watched them, entertaining them in the cool of the morning, and through sun– drenched afternoons, they rested on his bed in the cool of the basement, while Martin read them stories from one of his books. This made it possible
for Adeline to catch up on all her chores and to produce a meal with substance. Adeline leaned out the door that led to the back yard and called out, “Martin, come and please help me with this!”
Martin rose from playing in the sand with the twins, and then went to help his mother, leaving the twins playing alone in the sandbox.
Theron pushed his jeep through the sand. “Vroom, vroom.” He made the noise of a car running while Twila shoveled sand into a painted pail that had big flowers all over it. She dumped the sand all over Theron’s toy jeep. Theron put the jeep over Twila’s head and dumped the sand on her. Sand streamed through her hair into her jumper and filled her diaper. The red hair circle spun and twisted, throwing sand in every direction, cleaning itself. Twila responded to the sand drenching by crying. She cried a howling cry, tears streaming down her face and streaking through the sand, making mud.
“What’s that?” Martin heard her crying and darted for the yard. He leaped out through the screen door, which slammed as he jumped off the porch. He ran toward the sandbox as quickly as he could, fearful that something had happened to his sister in his absence. He looked back when Adeline called his name.
“Martin.” He turned only for a moment to look for her while still running. “Smack. Ker plunk.” Martin ran full stride right into the Winter Tree.
The tree cried, “Ouch!” and Martin was flipped to the ground on his behind. He was stunned for a moment, more from the cry of the tree than from the double bounce he had taken, once hitting the tree and then bouncing onto the grass.
“Where did you come from?” Martin said, talking directly to the tree, a habit he had gotten from his father, who often talked to inanimate objects. This one apparently could respond when he wanted to. The tree had not been there before. It had moved itself from the spot where it had grown.
“How did you get over here?” The grass had torn a hole where the tree had been. His roots were deep and solid, as if that was where he had always been, right where he now stood.
“Mom, Mom!” Adeline was watching Martin during his accident. She
had scampered to Martin as he maneuvered to his knees, still on the spot where he had landed. He laughed. Twila cried, still dirt covered.
“Are you okay?” She asked.
“I’m okay Mom,” he replied. Twila sat in the sand sniffling and rubbing the sand from her eyes.
“What’s the matter, little miss?” She was rescued by big brother Martin while Theron was disciplined with a scolding and smack to the bottom by Adeline. The Winter Tree was another story.
Through the years the family would become used to the tree and its moving about the yard. Martin grew tired of patching the holes he left and even scolded the tree a time or two. The Winter Tree always had its leaves beautiful green, always keeping watch over the Salter’s, especially the twins. One day when the twins were about six years old, they bounced out the back door, leaving the screen door quivering in their wake. The backyard was their playground and they loved it, from the swing set to the sandbox, with running room on the quarter acre of green lawn. It was a kind of paradise. The Winter Tree had grown nearly seventeen feet tall. He spread his branches, giving cover to wherever he came to rest in the yard. Today the sun was hot and the tree’s shade was welcome over any spot on the big lawn. Garden water flooded the back lawn for the Salter water turn. Two inches of water from the ditch covered the grass where the twins usually played. That was okay, for the little brunette pair, covered with clumps of grass and with clothes dingy brown from the soil, they enjoyed the cool water and the new game it made for them. Theron slid on the water and grass after running a bit. Twila, however, was content to just sit in the cool water, pretending the clouds in the sky were animals.
“Look, that one is a castle.” She pointed at a billowing thunderhead that would surely pass out of the county before it dropped any rain. The Winter Tree began to shake his limbs and to mumble undeterminable things. He twisted his limbs into something like a braid you might see in girl’s hair. Then he unleashed his branches, uncoiling like a tornado. At first it moved too fast to see, whatever it was he was tossing from his branches. A long harried white cat sneered its terrified snarl as it flew into the air and out from the branches. Winter Tree’s branches rustled, settling back into their normal position. The cat landed in the water next to Twila. They were eye to eye in surprise. The weary cat locked its one green eye on
Twila’s brilliant blue ones. The mysterious cat was crouched, prepared to leap directly into her face, his faded gray eye focused toward an entirely different intention. Escape. Twila reached her hand out to touch the wild– eyed cat.
“Here kitty,” she said, reaching toward the animal. It was as if the rubber band inside the animal burst. His feet went four directions all at once, rolling in the water and mud and grass, and then spurting with all parts churning. The once fluffy white cat shot like a rocket to attack the unprotected little girl.
Normally, Martin would have been there to chase the cat away, but today it was Mom’s job to keep an eye on the twins. She was in the kitchen making lunch and watching them through the window. The wild one struck, launching to attack the little girl, but in that instant, a branch from the Winter Tree swung, slapping the cat into the air, cat howling and screaming. The cat took flight in sheer terror, knowing it was about to lose one of its nine lives. The animal landed in the neighboring vacant yard near the wash in several clumps of brush. All four feet running when it hit the ground, scurrying as fast as it could into the undergrowth, it disappeared. Twila sat in the water, calling, “Kitty, here kitty.”
The next day, the tree had moved to the far corner of the yard where the other trees stood in a line on the ditch bank. He stood proud, erect. His limbs folded as if he had arms.
“If that tree had a face, it would have a smug look on it. Master of his domain,” George said, looking out the window. It seemed like the tree might stay in that spot for awhile. Glad the tree had been there to protect his little girl, George muttered quietly, “Thanks, old boy.”
Weeks had passed since the cat had been ejected from the yard and the Winter Tree had stood guard along the ditch bank, not moving, not showing any hint of his real nature. He just soaked up the water from the ditch, growing another foot. His leaves shimmered in the evening breeze while Martin cut the lawn beneath him. The Winter Tree stayed in that spot through the winter, only unfolding its limbs to reach toward the sky, shaking for a moment to loosen the snow so it would fall to the ground. For a time, he seemed to be quite content. Most families would have been bothered by the tree moving about the yard, but the Salter’s had decided that their tree was a special gift, and what good would it do to tell anyone
about their moving tree anyway? They would just say they were crazy and lock them all up.
“Let me see the news.” George was worried about the state of affairs in the country, fearful that his son would be sent into the conflict. “Turn it up.” The black and white picture was a marvel and Walter Cronkite gave the totals of the dead that day in Vietnam. His sober voice gave the grim words even more reality.
“Those poor mothers!” Adeline exclaimed. Martin, who was now nineteen years old, was in boot camp in Alabama. The twins were eleven years old and watched with a new reverence. The entire family had their fingers crossed, praying Martin would not be sent to the war. It had become a nightly ritual to keep up on the five o’clock news. Tonight there were fourteen boys lying on the ground motionless, blankets draped over their faces and their boots exposed. They said they were dead. “That isn’t going to happen to Martin. It couldn’t,” thought Adeline.
“Did you mail the letters to Martin?” George asked, directing his inquire to Adeline.
“Yes dear and we got one from him,” she replied, waving it in the air. George read the letter aloud. It was all about how well Martin was doing in training, especially the shooting, which he had done since he was a boy. “At least he can defend himself.” Somehow the war wasn’t here, so
it wasn’t real. The news ended and on came “Rudolf the Red Nosed
“Theron,” George said as he shook Theron’s shoulders. “Wake up, son. It’s time to go to bed.” Theron had grown to the point when it was too hard to carry the boy to bed. George stood him on his feet. Theron, still not awake, stood balanced by his father. George stood behind his boy, hands on his shoulders, and began to walk him in his dazed state. He walked him to the front door, opened it and guided him out the open door. He continued walking him to the edge of the yard. George then turned around, leaving Theron standing in the cold. George hurried back to the house, where the rest of the family watched giggling. Twila held her hand over her mouth as she giggled, muffling her sounds. Adeline smiled at Theron as he awoke enough to realize where he stood. It was in that moment that a revelation about who Theron was became exposed. He turned toward the house while rubbing his eyes. As he stumbled back to
the door, the blueness of his eyes intensified in its brightness and a glow encompassed his entire face. George, Adeline and Twila were all shocked at his appearance.
“Son, are you okay?” Adeline inquired. His face glowed as bright as if the sun was shining from his eyes, not with yellow light but with a light blue as the ice of a frozen glacier. Theron looked for the snowman that he and Twila had made in the yard. It was gone, it had disappeared. His eyes mellowed, returning to their former appearance.
“What is that?” Adeline knew, as did Theron, that something was wrong, very wrong. Now on the lawn, where the snowman had been, grew a bent–over tropical palm tree. Coconut–like fruit hung under its fronds. The grass that had been covered with snow was gone and a small pond with swamp grass surrounding it had taken its place.
“Get into the house!” George pushed on Twila’s arm and Adeline’s back, recognizing danger. The whole of the front yard had been changed. Even the neighboring yards looked like the everglades. An extraordinary thing always seemed to happen to the Salter’s and tonight was no exception. The palm tree rose from the swamp and was not a palm tree at all. It was a reptile that had been resting in the warm steamy waters of the swamp. The neck bent and the palm branches were not branches at all. They were a collar around the reptile’s neck. The face of the beast was round with a tubular snout, something like the trunk of an elephant, until the mouth opened, exposing four rows of teeth undulating in waves to draw whatever entered deep into the throat.
“How is this happening? Something like this could not have existed in the hills of Utah,” George thought. The word ugly only touched on the nature of how hideous the monster was that possessed the body rising before them. The titan’s fearsome, wide-open mouth was reaching down to devour Theron, who had not yet reached the safety of the front door.
“Hurry, Theron, hurry!” George waved his hand in the signal to steal second base, waving his son on to a double. Theron dropped to the sidewalk, narrowly being missed by the palm–necked monster. Theron leaped to his feet, no longer in the grip of sleep that had muddled his mind. Diving with all the power in his legs, he leaped through the threshold of the open door. George slammed the door with a force that quivered the glass in the windows.
“You’re safe, son.” Theron made it into the house when it had seemed he was about to become food for that monster.
“What was that? Theron squealed in his unchanged little boy squeak. “Is it still out there?” Twila pealed back the curtain from the window
to see. She didn’t understand how this had happen or how the creature had gotten in the yard. Where had the snowman gone? “He can’t get in here, can he?” Twila thought that her family was about to be eaten by a giant slimy coconut monster. She commanded, “You go back to where you came from you skazbit, you!” Her voice was penetrating. It was not loud, yet it pierced the fabric of space and time. The monster withered, its head whipping back and forth, disappearing with the sound of the popping of a bubble. The swamp was gone, along with the grassy marsh that had surrounded it, being replaced by the shining white snowman that stood like a sentinel in all his glory.
George looked out the window, surprised that everything was back to normal. He opened the door that he had braced himself against moments before to protect his family from the monster on the other side. He marveled as he walked over the yard, leaving his tracks in the clean white snow.
It was true. Salter’s could do anything. Just like George had always said.