The tree is cut down, and the yard they played in as children is paved over.
“I used to see those little white petals everywhere—blocks away from home. I guess it gave me a sense of comfort see them fluttering in the air., on the sidewalks, in the school yard, even under the El—everywhere!”
Cara is talking to her sister as they stand in the place where a green wrought iron fence used to be, marking out a tiny house on a narrow, crowded street. It had been forty years since they lived there.
Now they have come back to see the tree, but the tree is no longer there.
“Maybe the petals you saw weren’t even from our tree.”
“Well, for me there was only one cherry tree in the universe, and that was the one in our back yard on Silverwood Street.”
Her sister shakes her head. “It’s funny, the tree is gone. Why are we so surprised? After all this time we were expecting it to still be there? Maybe it was even cut down right after we moved.”
“Maybe, but for us it was living all these years in our memories.”
“Remember those big white flower bushes on either side of the front door behind the gate”
“Yeah, we used to call them snowball bushes, but they were hydrangeas—they’re gone too—everything is paved over!
Cara shakes her head again,making a small sound of disbelief at the passing of time, the fading of youth, and a tree that was living only in her imagination all those years.
Gone, just like those endless, unaware-of-time summers—so free.
Cara remembers standing under the tree’s branches for shade, protected from summer sun or rain shower. And then there was those white, fragrant shower of blossoms in the numbered springs of childhood.
“Let’s walk up the hill and back before we go.” says Cara
“Okay, but it’s not going to be as easy as it was back then, that’s for sure; looks like it got a lot steeper.”
They pass the house where two unmarried sisters had lived with their grey-haired mother.
“Remember the old lady always wore that purple dress, and when she died Mom took us to her viewing in the house. I was so scared when I saw her laid out all white and stiff.”
“Yeah, and she was wearing that same purple dress!”
They laugh, but Cara shudders when she thinks of the dark coffin in the cold room, the smell of carnations and the strangeness of the mourners chanting in Polish as a priest led prayers for the departed.
Crossing the side street just above Ebenezer church, now empty and in disrepair, she says,“We played games on the church steps in summer.”
“Oh, yeah! Remember how the they still felt warm at night. Hey, didn’t the Wheelers live in that red house across the street?”
“I think so, hmmm. I do remember we played hide and seek, and go fish, sitting on the their sidewalk, and what was that game, truth or dare?”
“I loved that game! You had a crush on their son, right?”
“I did not! But I do remember we dared him to take off the culvert cover and put his head down in it, and he did!”
“Me too! We did have a lot of fun on those summer nights. It was always after dark…after the streetlights came on, and we were still playing outside. What were we doing up that late?”
“It was summer. Kids had more freedom then. Parents weren’t concerned with schedules, like we were when our kids were young.”
The women cross the street at the top of the hill. They start back down the other side and pass the spot where their grade school used to be, condos now in its place. They aren’t sad to see it gone with memories of grave nuns in long black habits with veils stretched over tall, starched squares of white at their angry foreheads.
“I can hear those clickers now and rattling rosary beads,”
Cara says, putting her hands over her ears.
“Mother Superior!” they both shout at the same time, then laugh.
Then their thought turn to visions of a young man stumbling up the street, as they pass the house he had lived in.
“Every night that guy was so drunk he barely made the curb when he tried to cross the street,” Cara half whispers.
“We thought it was funny then, but how sad it must have been for his family, and him…geez!”
“Oh, look at that place, all spruced up.” Cara points to a house a few doors down. “Seemed like fire engines came at least once a week and took out a smoldering mattress when the old man fell asleep smoking a cigarette, and everyone came out of their houses to gawk.”
Their laughter echoes down the street. The sun’s rays slant in from casting a raking light. A train rumbles over the El at the bottom of the hill. They stop in front of the old house and gaze at it together from across the street.
“Yeah…life was different then.”
“You mean it’s different now!”
Though the house does not look the same as it was thirty years ago, they each see it as it had been—under the glow of a streetlight, snowball bushes on either side of a green gate, and a sheltering cherry tree in the yard where they played—once upon a time.”