Every day at dawn, Aimee stands at the sole window in her studio apartment and opens the drapes. She then pulls up the blinds and allows the warm sun to flood her room while the empty branches of the nearest sugar maple are teased by the subtle early morning breeze. Aimee stares at the branches as though her hope would transmit to the tips and sprout the leaves that have long since fallen, but her efforts are futile, and she, like the tree, is left with a broken heart.
Aimee looks beyond the branches, to the vacant plot of land across the road. She imagines buildings, tall and glistening. She pictures plain rectangular towers and some mornings she’ll imagine staggering monstrosities constructed out of windows, a glass house that can be broken only from within. Dirt and broken stones line the borders of the lot, and the shape of the outline seems to change overnight. Aimee appreciates the changes, and is never curious who makes the adjustments, or why. There are only changes, and nothing else to wonder about.
After two hours at her window, most often with a steaming cup of tea cradled in her hands, Aimee will venture to the opposite side of her room for her stretching exercises. She stands, touches her toes with legs remaining straight as arrows. Her shoulders are double-jointed, providing a grotesque movement of muscles that would appear to be painful to one who is not a contortionist. One at a time, her feet will rise above her head, such that she nearly taps the ceiling with her toes while her other foot rests quietly on the floor. She will lie on her stomach and place her feet above her own head, watching her toes tap across the floor like an impatient pianist drawn from his instrument for one minute too long. When she rotates to her side, Aimee might decide to paint her toenails a new shade of blue. She’ll bring her foot next to her face, resting it on a soft pad while her head lays on a down pillow. The close proximity of her toes allows a meticulous painting and coloring to occur, and not one corner of her delicate toenails is left uncovered, while her skin remains pristine and naked.
After her exercises, Aimee becomes hungry, but she will not eat until the evening. Her stomach is fragile and requires an intricate recipe, constructed the previous day and placed delicately on four pounds of ice. If left to room temperature or in a warm climate, the dish will pool into a dark puddle of waste that not even the hungriest rat would approach. If frozen for more than a day, the cuisine would cease to be nutritionally valuable. Fourteen years was the length of time Aimee spent developing this recipe, and now that it’s right, just right, she cannot risk another day without it. She would call herself healthy, while another might say she is an addict. Aimee, upon hearing this, would quickly respond that she’s addicted to survival.
As we all are.
While preparing her meal — shaving off the molded corners, draining the fat from the center deposits, seasoning just under the skin, mixing three uncommon layers of sediment collected over ten years of travels — Aimee will find her eyes drawn to the window once again. She will not admit what she is looking for, through the branches and beyond the vacant, raw lot across the way. Instead, one will only find a sense of longing, a memory, perhaps, which cyclically haunts a young woman who remains beyond repair.
In the afternoons, Aimee will admire her collection of books. She’ll reorganize them alphabetically, then chronologically. She has read the one thousand titles one hundred times each. She’ll arrange them by color and then by author’s first name, then back to alphabetically before choosing one and reading while standing at her window. She’ll glance at the branches as they brush against the glass, softly, kindly, waiting for more than the soft touch of each branch, which punctuates the end of each chapter in her chosen volume.
This night, Aimee sits to dinner at the small table in her room. She sets it out each morning after her stretches, along with the four-legged chair, and there it sits, empty, until dusk. A plate is set, a bowl on top of the plate, and one serving spoon on top of the lonely napkin. An empty glass, covered with her own fingerprints and dust, is placed across from her seat. She fills the glass with water from the tap, water which pours slowly, dripping just over eight ounces over the course of one day, morning until night.
On the plate, Aimee carefully sets a single leaf from a clover, previously frozen and covered with drops of condensation. Over the years, Aimee has watched an entire freezer full of clovers, each plucked day to day, one leaf at a time, dwindle to an empty box.
Tonight, Aimee will enjoy the final leaf.
By this time tomorrow, she will become sick with disease. Within 48 hours — Aimee knows this — she will be too weak to leave her bed. Her nails will crack, and the bright blue color — formerly the color of the sky — that adorn her toenails will crust off in the bed sheets. Her lips will becomed chapped, and her muscles, limber from years of practice, will fall sore and ultimately fail her. The tree outside her window will continue to brush the glass, blowing softly in the breeze. But leaves will never grow, and the last days of humankind will fall like drops from her faucet, as Aimee slowly passes into nothingness. Aimee knows this.
But tonight, Aimee enjoys her final meal. This one clover leaf, and the tiny piece of meat that remains. Meat, another name for the bark of a sugar maple tree, one that has lost the will to sprout leaves that once graced the streets outside Aimee’s childhood home, her final resting place.
She tells herself there will be more — much more to come, leaves and people and gusts of wind instead of breezes. Life will contort itself into existence once more. There is hope still to grow, and become, and exist.
But for now, there is this leaf, this clover, which rests under her tongue and is savored as the last bit of taste to be enjoyed by a contortionist who has been alone for fourteen years inside her home. The branches of the sugar maple brush softly at her window.
72 hours from now, across the vacant lot and among the dirt and soil over a mile away from Aimee’s house, a blade of grass will grow.