Right this Instant
"Get out of the god damned tree right now," Gwen yelled.
Raymond cringed at the yelling as much as the curse and he wasn't the one it was even directed at. It was directed at their son. He was the one up in the tree. Fall had gotten started and the tree was bear of any leaf in sight. Summer then decided it wasn't finished yet neither and came back to make the last few days hot. Raymond guessed that the unseasonable warm was the reason for his son scurrying up in the tree in his Sunday best right when everyone was trying to load up in the car.
"Watch your language now pumpkin," Raymond's father-in-law advised.
"I don't believe this. This is ridiculous," Gwen said to anyone that was listening. "Get down from the tree right this instant!"
It didn't matter who was intentionally listening. Everyone could hear every word. The threats, the curses, the asides and the sighs all laid bare and bleeding on the front lawn.
Raymond and Gwen's family littered the front and driveway. Some were looking at the boy in the tree, cupping a hand over their brow to shield from the sun to catch a peek at the rebellion. Some were sweating in their cars, already tucked in, seat belts on. Some shook change nervously in navy blue slacks, pacing the lawn. Raymond's father-in-law cleared his throat and stepped closer to Raymond, hinting at involvement.
"We are going to be late for the potluck," Gwen stabbed the ground with the tip of her heel.
Raymond could tell she was trying to decide what to do with the container of food both her hands held. Should she put it down? Put it in the car? Put it back inside? Or should she hold on to it in hopes it would show resolve. That it would prove she trusted the child would in fact come down and behave and that rerouting her plans was not a consideration. Raymond held two brown sacks of food himself. He didn't know what they held, but he was sure he probably bought it himself after work maybe 2, 3 days ago.
Gwen stomped to where Raymond was. She was close so the words wouldn't be heard this time. The container, still in her hands, was warm and Raymond could feel the heat of it as it pressed into his belly. "Will you please fucking do something?" Coffee breathe hissed into his nose.
Without word, Raymond made a half squat to lower the brown bags to the ground. His short sleeve button up shirt was already coming untucked so he untucked it the rest of the way. He walked to the tree and put his hand on the lowest branch. The pale white bark was surprisingly cool to his open palm. The sun dried the sweat on the back of his neck and then made more.
"He's going to have to get him himself," an uncle or nephew or cousin said.
Raymond swung his right foot to the trunk to start the climb. His brown dress shoe was flat on the bottom and his foot found no purchase and slipped off. The quick dip made Raymond's heart pound one time hard. He could feel the relatives rolling down car windows and looking on. Raymond took off his shoes and dress socks. His feet felt a quick prick of dead grass before also feeling the cool of the bark that both hands now felt. Raymond's son had stopped his ascent and sat with legs crossed in between branches. Raymond thought his son looked like a picture of an Indian guru he had seen once. His son was peaceful, legs in a nest, a young Brahman. Raymond climbed to where the tree veered off to two paths, one to his son, and one to an equally high place across from his son. Raymond climbed the other way until he was directly parallel with his boy.
"What are you doing?" Gwen was trying to fathom the logic. Would he jump across and grab their son and land on the ground?
Raymond crossed his legs and smiled back at the boy. Raymond looked at the rest of his family below. His head swam the way it would after two beers on an empty stomach on a hot day before the burgers were done. Now he was looking down on his family. Both he and the boy’s shirts were untucked and their hands were red from climbing. Raymond had noticed that both of them had corresponding tears in their khakis. They were with each other now. Raymond had not climbed the tree to get his son.
Joshua Wann lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma with his wife, son, and daughter. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Northeastern State University and is a current student at Oklahoma City University’s Red Earth MFA program. He teaches Creative Writing and English at Broken Arrow High School.