FIFTY-THREE, 2.0

Ronald was pissed at the tree. He hated their leaves, even though they were mostly green.

He despised the tough branches that scraped his windows. He was annoyed by the bugs that crawled to the ends of the branches and skittered across his window at all hours of the day and night.

He’d asked his landlord six times in two weeks to trim the trees, and she’d promised him it’d happen soon. But when was soon going to happen?

To most people, and to Ronald, soon typically meant within 48 hours. Surely he wasn’t the only person in the complex to be complaining. Looking outside, from what he could see, everyone’s windows were blocked by the trees in their complex. But maybe he was the only one who saw this because he was the only one who worked from home.

He hated going outside, had no desire to venture anywhere. So he’d set himself up to work from home and never have to leave on purpose, because outside there were toxins. Around every corner, down every alley, no matter where in the city one traveled, there were toxins. But still, he could not function even from home if he could not see the outside world. He could not write his letters to congress if he could not see the state of his neighbors’ disabilities. He could not threaten the environmental scientists against Global Warming if he could not see the weather. And he could not devise tactics based on the flights of birds if he could not see the sky.

He wished he could get another glimpse at his neighbor across the way, a young woman recently broken up with her boyfriend. Ronald thought they’d broken up, at least, because the man stopped coming to visit as of six days ago.

Ronald had tried to ask the woman why, or even talk to her at all, but since he didn’t venture outside his window of opportunity was about 4 seconds every morning as she walked by his apartment door on her her way to work. He’d try to be at the door, just happening to water his plants at that time each morning, but he could not seem to pin down the most accurate time that she’d be leaving.

He looked at his notebook, focusing on his records to try and drown out the sound of the branches scratching at his window in the breeze. She’d left at 6:45 Monday, 7:02 Tuesday, 7:01:30 Wednesday. There was just no consistency.

Of all the things Ronald studied, the habits of nature and the environmental disruption caused by his fellow humans, the young woman’s habits and schedule seemed to be the most elusive to a recognizable pattern. In the grand scheme of his studies, the course of his lifetime of analysis and statistics, humans seemed to be the one factor of unpredictability. Sure, one could point to habits and actions over time that had caused the pollution and environmental collapse that was causing the yellow sky to burn orange, a deeper and deeper shade each night. But one could not pinpoint, to an exact degree, time, pattern or method, how humans had precisely caused the collapse.

Humans would forever be unpredictable to Ronald.

Case in point, his landlord was now leading the landscaping company to the first tree on the property. Ronald watched her pointing out all of the trees, finally landing on his own — which was right at the window through which Ronald was peeking outside. She pointed at the tree, then shook her head.

Hours later, the tree was still full, and the landscaper was long gone. He’d have to write his landlord a strongly worded-letter. That would surely do the trick, as the odds of someone responding to a strongly worded letter, in his experience, was so slim, and so far no one had responded to any of his letters, that he was due.

Statistics told him it would be so.

Familiar footsteps told him the young woman who lived across the was was finally arriving home. Ronald didn’t think, he just found himself moving, fast, to the door and opened it in a flourish. The screen door opened, too, and he felt sick as he stepped outside, in her path. He said, “What’s your name?”

Before she could answer, he took a deep breath and could feel them, the toxins and the germs and the world closing in. His vision got cloudy, his hearing muddy.

He was right all along, despite seeing those outside without masks, without hesitation, making fun of him and making him think that being outside was going to be okay.

When he woke up, she was above him smiling. The young woman told him her name, but he didn’t hear it at all. He was busy breathing, realizing that he could breathe, and wondering just how long he would’ve stayed inside if it weren’t for her footsteps.

His landlord was also standing over him. “Trim that goddamn tree by my window,” he said.

And she nodded.

The next day, he could see everything, and when the landscapers trimmed the tree and threw the chopped branches into a wood chipper, he added his books and ledgers, all of his records. He’d start from scratch, to tell the world just how beautiful it was.

But first, he’d walk the Young Woman to work. Her name was Lisa.

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