Flash Fiction: Light Tongues (448 words)

There were two trees in Nita’s yard. She named them when she was three, but forgot to say the names out loud often enough to remember them when she was nine. She thought she might have named them after stars, or like stars, or under the stars. She knew she had snuck out once, after a nightmare. She fell asleep curled up under one of them, cheek against the bark, buried in calm and company, because they were just named enough for her to believe they had heartbeats.

She was seven when she finally stretched tall enough to climb into their branches. She was never sure how it was that she grew enough on the same day that both trees fell into her reach, but she clambered through one, and then the other, for hours. The first had thicker branches and she could pull herself higher before it started to shake the same way her arms and legs did, and the common trembling forced her back down. The other spread wider, and one of the lower branches had a perfect twist for tangling her hips and knees and heels and sitting back for a while.

The branch broke when she was thirteen. The rain tore it down, and the wind thrashed it against the side of the house. It jarred her when she saw the broken thing in the morning, too dark and too large against the ground. When it was cleared, she forgot about it. She had gotten too big to sit in it anyway.

When she was sixteen, she stopped climbing, for no reason at all.

When she was seventeen, she saw between the root knots, and tried to imagine why she felt so small. She was too tall for the trees now. Her head knocked against the leaves when she walked deep into them, and climbing them was like taking five short steps into the air. But on the ground, sitting, feeling her heartbeat echo off the bark as she pressed her spine into the trunk, she was tucked in and hidden.

At twenty-seven, she couldn’t tell you that she had grown any at all. Her legs still only barely touched the ground. Her ribs were only big enough to fit her lungs, and if she could have stretched them a little wider to grab just a little extra breath when she ran, she would have. But she fit. She leaned back and her spine fell into its perfect curve, settled against the tree in the right hand corner of the yard.

Rigel, she thought. The name was familiar at least, and bright on her tongue. The tree was warm at her back.

And Antares.



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