A Pure Stand

Heather Macpherson

Quaking aspens are known to grow in sandy or craggy soil, so you can imagine how puzzled I was to see them growing around my navel. My navel is dry but not craggy or sandy. There are no rocks or pebbles knocking around, certainly not a scrap of lint because I never wear sweaters, and I use a lint roller on every t-shirt and top before I lower it over my head and stick my arms through the armholes and pull the edge taut over my hips. My hips sit below my navel, sharp and wide, slightly crooked—I walk with an unseen quiver, but I know it’s there. 

          A rise surfaced in my throat, and I thought I might vomit. I went to the bathroom, dropped to my knees, but the trees got in the way, the hairless twigs poking against the porcelain, and I missed the bowl entirely. The quaking aspens dripped with an acidic stench. I felt bad for them.

          I took a shower and cleaned myself and the trees. Their bark was smooth and drab in color. The branches were leafless, and I wondered how they got there, how anything could grow around my navel. I stuck my right pointer finger into my navel and moved it around. The skin was smooth except for a small, gathered knot with a protruding bump. Nothing unusual since the protruding bump was a scar from a long-ago surgery. But maybe that long-ago surgery left something behind like that time I was at lunch with Floyd and Nico, and Nico took a bite of a pizza slice and cracked a tooth—there was a bolt cooked into the sauce and cheese; it was left or placed in there and maybe my long-ago surgery left something to cause growth. But that didn’t make sense because the aspen was rooted to the flesh around the outside of my navel not inside, at least not that I could see.

          I went to an x-ray technician friend of a friend, and I laid on my back on the table. He placed the lead blanket over me and the trunks and branches now taller by several inches made the blanket look like a mountain and I thought the mountain was a familiar place. I was supposed to stay still during the x-ray, so I followed the mountain ridge by sight to find its match in my memory, but I couldn’t find it. When the x-ray technician friend of a friend came back and removed the blanket, I slipped off the table and stood steadily but unstill.

          My doctor called and said he needed to see me about the quaking aspen growing around my navel. I said I’d like to come in to see him, but I could no longer fit behind the wheel of my car or sit in the backseat of someone else’s car because the trees were now so tall that I could not squeeze between spaces less than two feet, two inches wide. My doctor said he did not usually make house calls, but it was important to see me face-to-face, that what he needed to say should be done in person. I said sure, come over. We hung up. 

          The doorbell rang and I said, come in, it’s open, because I could no longer reach the doorknob or locks to open or lock the door. My doctor came in, and I caught his glance at the center of my body. He followed me to the living room where I offered him a chair, and I laid on the floor, the rounded crowns facing the ceiling.  The doctor moved to the edge of the chair. I noticed he didn’t take off his gray overcoat and his hat was held by his hands. I never noticed that dimple in his chin before, a slight depression that, in his youth, was likely attractive. What is it doctor, am I dying?

          He cleared his throat, held his gaze and when he spoke, all I heard was birdsong. 

Heather J. Macpherson writes from New England. Her work has appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, Bennington Review, 580Split, Dr. TJ Eckleberg Review, Blueline, and other fine places. She has work forthcoming in Soundings East. Heather teaches writing at Worcester State University and Clark University.

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