The tree sits on a slope beside the porch, and ivy blankets the ground beneath it. Squirrels dodge between the leaves in the dappled shadows, content within their world.
In the backyard, Lucas and Jack Valley are playing freeze tag with the Evers sisters. The air smells like fresh-turned dirt.
In the attic, oblivious to their shouts, Arthur Valley is taping the finishing touches into his diorama, which resembles the family home: two parents, four brothers, three stories.
That evening they have a campfire. Mr. and Mrs. Valley stare at the flames while Mr. and Mrs. Evers offer to do the dishes. The kids halfheartedly make s’mores.
“I miss Robert,” says Arthur to his mother before bed. Jack and Lucas think it, too, but can’t put it into words.
At school there is a special assembly. Arthur and Jack squirm beneath the weight of everyone’s attention, all those eyes staring, gleaming like frogs. Lucas is too young to really notice and not old enough to keep from crying.
A few weeks later their parents go dancing. The babysitter sits on her phone in the living room; the boys go up to Arthur’s room and close the door. “What do they want to dance for?” asks Jack. “Mom said they need a change of scene,” says Arthur. Lucas looks up from his word search for the first time. “What does that mean?”
The leaves become more full and green. When summer comes their mother won’t let them go near the diving board. The foliage turns and falls unstoppably. The squirrels bury sustenance. By winter the boys are beginning to recover.
Arthur comes home one day and is surprised to see his diorama on the mantelpiece. “I thought you got rid of this.” His mom shakes her head. “Found it in an old box.”
“To three grown men,” their father says, raising a glass. He inclines his head to each of them in turn. “And if you don’t mind me saying,” he adds. “There’s something of your brother in each of you.”
Outside the oak tree rustles, keeping secrets. The squirrels go about their business, trying to remember where they buried last year’s harvest. Some of the acorns will go forgotten forever; some of them will find their way to being trees.
Wilson R. M. Taylor writes poetry and fiction in New York City. His work appears in Superpresent, Apple in the Dark, Blink-Ink, and a few other places; for more, please visit wilsontaylor19.wixsite.com/wilsonrmtaylor.
A Song for Wilson