Dan Reiter

Ghost Sprout

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.

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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.