My husband is turning into a tree.
One day while on the treadmill, I heard my husband scream in agony. I ran outside and saw that his feet had turned into the base of a tree. He was rooted into the dirt in the front lawn. His legs and torso slowly followed, and now, three months later, only his face remains. His arms and fingers have become branches. The hairs on his head and chin have become tufts of leaves. Soon his face will be covered up with bark, and my husband will be gone forever.
I bring out a bottle of mineral water and a funnel. I place the funnel into my husband’s mouth and pour the water so he can drink. The only part of his body he can move anymore are his eyes. The mineral water is a mixture of soil additives and tap water. I buy multiple brands at Home Depot so my husband can pick which one he likes best. I bring out the different bags and he blinks twice when I hold up a brand called MEGAthriveTM. The bag is printed with a personified sunflower wearing sunglasses. Why a sunflower would want sunglasses is beyond me. I like to think this small choice means my husband is still human.
When only his legs had turned into wood, and we could still carry on a semblance of a normal life, I brought out a folding table every night and we ate his favorite foods. Roast duck, corn congee, takeout from Burger King. Sometimes we watched Cheers on my laptop. A part of me hoped this was the change that would bring us closer together, like in those movies where a certain tragedy befalls the husband, cancer usually, pushing him to finally reveal his true self, a self that is so much more beautiful. But nothing like this happened. There were no late-night conversations about his childhood under the patio lights. No sharing of grand secrets. We went through our meals mostly in silence, like we had long done, as if nothing had changed at all.
I contacted many scientists without luck. Eventually, my brother put me in contact with a botany professor. He came by to take bark samples and concluded that my husband was turning into a Juniperus phoenicea, or Phoenician Juniper, a species indigenous to the coasts of Northern Africa and Southern Europe. He told me there is nothing particularly special about this species, although juniper berries in general are used to make gin and certain spices. I’m not sure what to do with this information.
I saw to my husband’s personal affairs. I called his boss and said that my husband could not sell vacuum cleaners anymore. I canceled the gym membership he’d never used anyhow. I returned his overdue library books. Heavy atlases and encyclopedias about the Arctic. He had always wanted to go there one day, not as a tourist but as an explorer. I paid his gambling debts to the K Street Dragons. They wanted to cut off my husband’s tongue, but I told them he was turning into a tree and they seemed satisfied. I canceled his subscription to Sports Fishing Monthly. I told everyone in my husband’s life that he was suffering from a strange sickness and would soon be gone from this world.
I started watching more TV. Before, my husband had only watched the news and always complained about everything he saw. He hated both sides of the Syrian War. He thought the conservationists in the rainforests were airheads. He criticized anyone with a political opinion. He didn’t care about the manatees going extinct. He thought everyone should go back to being hunter-gatherers. Every other night he’d proclaim he was done with society and would sell the house and live in the woods, hunting deer and picking mushrooms. I simply nodded along to his words.
With him stuck outside, I finally watch the programs I want to watch. I watch documentaries. Documentaries about sushi, The Kinks, identical twins, street photography, Michel Foucault, kimchi, all the beautiful things in life.
I remember our last conversation. We were having dinner at the folding table. It was raining so I brought out the patio umbrella. I made a light ginger soup. He was half tree by then, all the way up to his hips. He couldn’t stomach solid foods but could still move his arms and torso. I drank a bottle of white wine and he drank a few beers.
“I want to go somewhere up north. Maybe Norway or Canada. Somewhere on a seaside cliff. I’ve always wanted to see the glaciers,” he said.
“You’re a temperate species. You’ll freeze.”
“Then put me in a botanical garden. The northernmost one you can find. They can regulate the temperature.”
“Who will want a common juniper in a botanical garden? Gardens want exotic species. Like the Queen of the Andes plant. It blooms only once every eighty years. Or the Corpse Flower. That one smells like rotten meat to attract pollinating insects.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Never mind. I just don’t want to fall into debt shipping you across the world. Think locally. You could even just stay here in the front lawn..”
“Well, it’ll be up to you in the end. You’ll be able to do whatever you want once I’m gone. You’ll love that I bet.”
It was quiet for a moment. I finished my wine and kissed my husband.
“Good night. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
By next morning his vocal cords had turned to wood. I wish we had talked about something else that night.
One morning my husband is no longer able to blink or move his eyes and we lose our last method of communication. Only his eyes and the bridge of his nose aren’t covered in bark. He reminds me of an old renaissance painting, the way his eyes are fixated on some distant point, his body frozen in a grand gesture. I used to have to pester my husband to go to museums, to go anywhere really, but now, if I wanted to I could just uproot him and put him in a large planter. We could go on all sorts of trips and we would get along perfectly well.
I water him every day. I pull the weeds around his base. I keep insects away, except for ladybugs, which are supposedly the good kind of insect. I brush away cobwebs. I shoo away the neighborhood stray dogs when they pee on him. I trim the tufts of leaves on his branches.
“You always looked better with short hair,” I say, holding the hedge trimmer in my hand. My husband has turned into quite a good listener.
One night I hold him in my arms and dance. I never had the courage to ask my husband to dance before, and now I don’t need to. I sway back and forth gently while my husband stands completely still. I move my hand up and down his trunk, feeling his hard exterior. With my other hand, I hold the tufts of pointed leaves where his right hand used to be. They leave a fresh, earthy smell on my hand. I see tears running down from his frozen eyes. One last sign that he is still human. I imagine he is thinking the same thing I am, wishing that things had turned out differently for us.
By next morning his eyes and nose are gone, too. There is nothing to indicate my husband was ever human. I call the downtown nursery. They agree to uproot my husband in exchange for a right of sale. I have a cup of coffee outside while I wait for them to arrive. I pluck a berry from his branch. I have wanted to taste them but worried that plucking them may cause my husband pain. Now that he is all tree, I don’t worry about it. I squeeze the juice into my coffee. It has a sharp, bitter taste.
“Do you see me? Do you hear me?” I ask.
During the next few days I am tempted to visit my husband at the nursery. I occupy my time by watching documentaries and working extra shifts at Costco. A week passes before I finally visit. The workers have put him in a large ceramic planter. He is on sale for $14.99, which is my hourly wage. I am tempted to buy him and bring him back home, but I buy a small succulent instead. I leave my number with the nursery manager and tell him to call if someone adopts my husband. I imagine that one day, many years later, I will visit him wherever he ends up.
A week later the manager calls. No one has adopted my husband, but the manager asks me out for drinks. The invitation catches me off guard. I reply that I will think about it and call back. I open a bottle of wine and watch a documentary called The Miraculous World of Baobabs. Near the end, the narrator tells the story of a young boy who got lost in the savanna during a field trip. The boy took shelter in the hollow of an ancient baobab and died there. Years later, the boy’s family found that his corpse had been absorbed into the trunk of the tree. They initially wanted to cut down the tree to retrieve the body but decided against it. Instead, the family started caring for the tree as if it were their lost son. A part of me thinks this is a beautiful story, but another part wonders what the point of it all is.