Everyone was going to be there. That made Marcus nervous. He wanted to wear his shoes, but his mother told him he must be barefoot. The early morning dew made his toes cold.
He asked his mother again if she needed to be carried. She declined through labored coughs. Blue veins erupted across her forehead and down her arms through her paper skin. They could see the base of the tree through the clearing fog.
Marcus remembers the ceremony for Felix under the tree. They were both young, but Felix’s father kept having seizures. It was scarier then, not understanding the purpose of it all. It was easier now.
The crowd was starting to form. He saw Dru towards the front. Her parents were still in good health. Marcus hoped she would be able to experience love again before it was her turn.
The grass was warmer around the tree. It was soft and smelled crisp. With his mother’s guidance, Marcus laid down at the base of the tree between two prominent roots. He thought the tree would be hard against his bare skin, but it was tender and pulsed with a gentle rhythm.
His mother took out her blade and cut along his chest with an unsteady hand. He thanked her as she did it. He was happy to give her this gift as she had given it to him.
He couldn’t hear the chant of the crowd. There were only the shallow breaths that echoed in his head. He could feel the small roots of the tree burrowing into his skin, through his back, beneath his fingernails, under his eyeballs. With each new root, he was filled with rapture.
He saw her there. Legs strong. Skin smooth and tight again. She smiled down on him: her child, her gift, her miracle. She has given that smile to her children before, and she will give it to those to come, but right then, for that glorious moment, the smile belonged to Marcus.
Zack Peercy is a playwright based out of Chicago. His work has appeared in Occulum, Memoir Mixtapes, Chicago Literati, Show Your Skin, Toasted Cheese, Every Day Fiction, The Sandy River Review, and others. He also performs comedy sometimes. You can follow him on Twitter @zackpeercy because he can’t afford a website.