Cherry blossoms mark the passage of time. Another year goes by, and bright colours welcome the sun on its next lap.
We bought a duplex unit near the suburbs. Work had picked up at my architecture firm. Her teaching gig blossomed into a full-time position. We planted cherry blossom seeds in the yard for the future we would get to see.
Youth soon left us by, but love stayed behind. Our carefree days wilted away; our future still in early bloom.
Next door, our neighbour’s marriage grew stagnant and died. We could feel the silence of it through our walls. It was a promise of what we would never be. An obscure cautionary tale we tried our best to listen to. Their failure lulled us to sleep.
I bought their house soon afterwards.
The walls from the inside looked much like our own. The baby blue wallpaper just as innocent as ours. Both were to come crashing down. With kids in the future, we had decided we needed the space of the second house. Construction would start as soon as the baby was on its way.
Blooming season came and went, but our voices remained alone.
I sit across from my neighbour of over twenty years. Each of us sitting on our porches. Cherry blossoms hang overhead like barren mistletoe.
“How is your son? Is he coming home for the summer?” I ask.
“I don’t know. At his age, I wouldn’t,” comes the reply. “With kids, you always hope they won’t be like you. No one wants to see the same mistakes all over again.’
“That’s how you end up butting heads, though, isn’t it?” I say. “Agree on too much and they’ll make the same mistakes. Disagree and they make mistakes you can’t help with. It’s a tough business, not much you can do about that.”
“Oh God, can you hear us fighting in here?”
“Not often. That’s a good sign, I would think,” I say.
“Sure, maybe that means I’ll be seeing him in the summer. If we’re fighting, we’re probably not that alike after all.”
“Fighting is healthy,” I say. “From my experience, the moment you stop fighting, that’s when you have to worry.”
“The silence,” she says, looking inside. “It’s a little more than I can handle sometimes.”
Any answer I could muster dies in my throat before it could sprout.
The cherry blossom saw me through five years of marriage. Every year it met with fresh rays of disappointment. I pruned the tree in expectation of seeds that I hoped to grow. On windy nights, we could still hear the promise of the cherry blossom tapping against our window.
Three coats of fresh paint covered our second bedroom over the years; from navy blue to pink and back again. Yet, to match the house, the room remained barren.
We tried to make it work. I drew houses for new families at work, but my own construction plans remained untouched. My wife gave her all as a teacher. She raised kids in hope one day to raise our own.
As the years went by, the carcass of our cherry blossom appeared too soon. A summer storm took its glamour while it was still in full bloom. Half a decade of pruning could do nothing for such a blow. I buried it in the yard with the kids I could have had.
The death left us with no shade from the sun’s clear light. The swing I built under its branches just as useless as the carcass.
We divorced not long after. The silence in the house was too much for her. Death was the only thing tapping outside our window now.
“Did you hear?” my neighbour says after a pause. “I have grandkids on the way.”
“No! no, I didn’t know!” I say, more in surprise than joy. “Congratulations. When did you hear?”
“Just last week.”
“I didn’t even know he was seeing somebody,” I say.
“He wasn’t,” my neighbour says. “At least, he says he wasn’t. She’s just a classmate of his. They got more friendly than either expected. Crazy how these things happen.”
“Are they--you know?”
“What?” she asks.
“Tying the knot?”
“Well, now,”shes sighs. “I think you’ve been listening to our fights after all.”
I smile complaisantly.
Two houses made the divorce simple. Our secondary house became hers alone. Where our tree once stood, she planted a ‘for sale’ sign.
Yet, for better or worse, she took it away a month later.
By the following year, a new tree had sprouted over where our old one was buried. Its branches were more delicate than the first, but the roots dug deeper. It covered the entrance to both our homes before her son learned to ride a bicycle. When he was seven, I tied the strings of the old swing up again. Her husband helped.
“If he loves her, then it shouldn’t matter,” I say.
“If he loves her?” My ex-wife laughs. “He says he ‘loves her as a friend’, whatever that means. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but there shouldn’t be any ifs where kids are concerned. They deserve better than that.”
I give her my complaisant smile again.
“You don’t agree?” she asks.
“Life is full of ifs. Parents--people can’t change that. Maybe he doesn’t love her like he should, but we both know love doesn’t make a family. If they can make it work, who are we to judge?”
“You sound like his father,” she says, looking up at the tree above us. “If he were here, I think he would say something like that. God, that man was good at making you feel dumb sometimes.”
She gets up from the chair on her porch. I do the same.
I wave my goodbye, and she turns to go.
“Actually,” she says with her hand on the doorknob. “They’re coming down for a dinner this weekend.”
“Yeah, he doesn’t know if he can come down in the summer,”she says, hesitant. “She might not be able to make the drive and all of that.”
“Would you like to join us?”
I look inside my house. It looks emptier than the day I moved in it.
“Sure, I’d love to.”
“Great,” she smiles. “I’ll see you then.”
I wave her goodnight as she heads inside.
The starry night sky is visible over the careful branches of rouge. Closing my eyes, I can still hear them. I feel the wind tapping gently against my skin; like a whispered promise of new beginnings.