We planted the coconut palm our first fall in the house, and baptized it by hose, and sawed the lowest fronds off with the corona, and loved it as you love a pet or a handmade thing. This was the year of the thirty-year freeze, the winter of our second baby, and when the tree died and the crown hung like tiki thatch, we were too exhausted to cut it down.
In spring, a green steeple pricked up from the ruff, and after a rain it unscrolled into a pair of lucent fronds. Summer brought more rain, and more steeples; the fringe shed, and the tree lushed out as before. But the trunk darkened, and bloated, and the bark began to peel away from the base in wet, black tendrils.
Trunk rot, a fatal disease in the cocos nucifera, is sometimes accompanied by a “ghost sprout”, a final flourish before the tree’s inevitable doom. So the fronds unfolded into autumn, the first drupes fell––waxy, yellow things, the milk too sour to drink––and when the winter nor’easters thrashed and whipped the tree about, chunks of fibrous bark flew across the yard, and we waited for the wood to snap, but it held, as if pinned into the earth by a flexile rod.
Another spring came, another growing season, and even as the sprawling headdress soared beyond the reach of our pole saw, the trunk decomposed, and it was certainly a trick of the eye to see the weight of the thing balancing on such a sliver of damp wood. One morning, we passed our hands through the trunk without touching anything, and the cogwheel of our assumptions audibly clicked, and all the rest of that summer we glided about the yard with the silent detachment of monks or yogis, raking away the remnants.
The children were always forbidden from playing under the tree. When they asked us where it took its water, we told them we didn’t know. Maybe low-drifting clouds. This did not satisfy them. Nights, we lay in bed and watched it drowse and sway, high pinnae nickling the moonglass like icicles, and if we looked straight ahead we could fool ourselves into believing that the coconut palm was not there at all. But at noon its shadow roved the yard, and when the east wind blew, the coconuts bombed the sod and made divots, and they were a new species of fruit since the disconnect: furry and brown, with sweet white meat and vanilla milk.
The children are grown now, uprooted, and when they come to visit, we hold their babies in our arms and point up at the green sky flower, and they blink and coo in delight, but when the thing shivers aloft, they are suddenly overcome, for they perceive that it is falling, and they open their mouths to cry.
Dan Reiter spent the past year experimenting with the ultra-short form. You can read some of the results at Tin House, Word Riot, Spork, Hobart, [PANK], McSweeney’s, and at www.dan-reiter.com. He is a winner of the Florida Review editor’s award, an occasional journalist, and a longboard surfer from Cocoa Beach. A long-form fiction is forthcoming in the fall issue of Shenandoah.