She lives in a tree now.
It’s the only place left where she can get some peace and quiet.
The windows of the little houses in the neighborhood wink and blink and flutter at her, their blinds opening and closing every time she walks past. Every time she bikes by. She is never alone. Even after Jed left and she thought she was going to have long silent hours to write, long hours alone with the noise in her head, with the words cramping her hand as she tried to keep up with her imagination. The words making her fingers stiff with premature arthritis. But even then. Even then they came.
First there were the next door neighbors, three of them, a trio of father mother and son all dressed the same. Like elves. They came bearing gifts. A curious jar of something pickled and a black cake they had baked themselves “No, it’s not burnt, that’s the way it’s supposed to look”.
Even the postman never just left the mail in the box anymore. He knocked so many times one day she flew down in her bathrobe, toothbrush in mouth; “I wanted to hand it to you personally, that’s all.”
Shyness had always been her problem. She could never say no. Never slam the door. Never muster the courage to turn them flat away.
First, it was friendly visits. Small favors. Casual waves from the dog walkers as she sat on her chair in her garden, book on lap and pale long legs stretched out under the sun.
But someone must have talked. Someone must have said something. She doesn’t know how it happened. She doesn’t go online anymore. Don’t ask. She’s still taking anti-anxiety capsules from the last internet campaign a wave of ultra-feminists launched against her collection of princess tales.
One day to the next her neighborhood is overrun.
She thought she’d picked a private spot. A quiet place. A nondescript cottage. Tucked in the thick, hairy arms of the forest trees with the smell of sap and rain on its morning breath. Not even the sound of a car for miles.
But today everything changed. Today there was a tour bus parked out front, spewing a volley of picture takers. She didn’t know what they hoped to catch. A snippet of her eating chia pudding for breakfast. A snap of her taking out her trash and watering her ferns. As though to create a modern art ergo seemingly pointless collage of her routine; “See, writers do boring stuff, too!”
Next, reporters were found nestled in the fir trees around her property, leaving their sandwich wrappings on her grass. One bastard had gotten as far as her front door before she opened it and turned on the hose.
She called the police. He showed up two hours later. An officer as old as her great grandfather strolled up whistling and stopped to admire the paintwork on her window wraps. She complained about the unwanted visitors. He laughed; “What did you expect, young lady, going out and getting all famous?”
She tried to tell him she hadn’t meant to ‘go out and do’ anything. In fact, she never went out at all if she could help it. Not past her front yard. Even going to the corner store down in the town made her hands shaky, her stomach swishy. She picked the wrong detergent and dropped a can. Loudly. People were watching her. Whispering. Her legs felt awkward and long, she walked fast and hunched down the aisle with her hair in her face as though she could hide within herself.
When the store clerk asked her to sign the receipt, the edges of her eyes turned blurry and white and her throat narrowed tight as a tunnel.
“Hey, now I have your autograph.”
Jed at least left her alone. He understood her need to hide. To lock away. He knew that the only place she felt safe, felt completely in control, was away in her own head. Conjuring wood sprites and talking beasts and beautiful demons; “I’ll be here when you want to come up to breathe.”
Because he was her air. Her still water. They’d met in a bookstore, both buried in the darkest corner they could find; “Sorry, didn’t see you there.”
She watched him read her stories. Watched the way his brow would arch in surprise and the corner of his lip would twitch as he fell slowly in love with her words. And maybe she was a little narcissistic but she loved him for loving what she did and what she was.
But now he was gone. Like a page torn out of one of her books, like the end of a sentence, an ellipses, and then nothing.
It was when they set up tents on the road outside her house. That was the day she decided to leave. To disappear into the night. While the tourists were sleeping on their fold-up chairs. While the reporters were huddled in their vans.
She didn’t take much. A backpack of the essentials and a stack of notebooks, of course, because her publisher still had demands no matter where she lived.
She wandered the woods. She climbed branches. She fell once and sprained her ankle. She tried to learn the language of the owls as they passed messages along. She tried to understand the lyrics of the cicadas. She followed the sign language of the wind in the trees. At least the forest had better things to do than watch her all night.
She lives in a tree now.
They still haven’t found her. Not yet. She prays they never will. Her fingertips are stained black with ink and her hands are always cold and her eyes aren’t as good as they used to be when the light dims. She feeds the unwanted pages into the fire to keep warm. She drops her handwritten stories off in her publisher’s mailbox. She waits in the trees but no one sees her, no matter how far or how deep they look.
She hasn’t spoken to anyone else. She doesn’t know how to talk to her old kind anymore.
Sometimes she picks up the newspaper off a stranger’s doorstep and reads about herself. They’re still looking for her. They’ll never give up; “It’s like she died but her ghost is still writing.”
Her next book comes out in the winter. She left an inscription on the jacket. Maybe Jed will untangle the riddle. Maybe he will know where to find her. Maybe one day he will show up at the bottom of her tree, knee-deep in snow, demanding she stop putting him in all of her stories.