A father, a son, and little trees
His young son, Hunter, broke his silence. "Was the tree thirsty?"
George smiled, sweeping the cut leaves into his hand to carry them to the garbage can. "Yes, it was thirsty, but now it's happy."
Hunter nodded, as if he expected the answer. "That's good. Can I grow my own trees?"
George nodded, then carried his now-empty cup to the sink, and began washing soil from his hands."I hope you do, son. I hope you do. When you're older. A bonsai can live a long time, much longer than we do, but only if they're taken care of properly. Some of these were given to me by a close friend, and they are older than I am. I might buy you your own, but your mother has hit the limit for the number of plants she will allow in the house."
Hunter's response was earnest. "It's Ok., Dad. I'll wait."
George wiped his hands dry and ruffled the boy's sandy hair, then paused to put away his clippers. He spared a moment for his pride in his son before admonishing him to do the dishes.
The apartment door opened opened to a bright smile. "Dad, it's good to see you! I'm so glad you could come."
George stepped through the threshold, then glanced about with with deliberate curiosity. The couch was upholstered in soft earth-toned cloth that complimented the short ivory carpet. An anachronistic clock adorned the wall, sandwiched between a brilliant satellite picture of the earth's skyline and a paper-thin television screen. There was a vase filled with lilies on the counter separating the kitchen, next to a pressure cooker and a steaming cup of coffee. Opposite the clock on a stained wooden shelf was a small wooden pine tree in a square ceramic tray.
George stepped forward, clasping his son's hand, and passing over a bottle of Chardonnay. "Hunter, it's so good to see you! And your home, now that it's a home and you've moved everything in. I don't suppose Linda is here?"
Hunter shook his head. "I'm afraid not. Don't worry, she's not hiding, though I know you'd rather we got married before she moved in. Seems like she’s always on call until she finishes her residency. They dragged her in again."
George shook his head and gave his son a clap on the back even as he offered a sheepish smile. "Nonsense. You’re good for each other, and I’m sure it wouldn’t be a home without her. But what's that I see behind you? Have you started a Bonsai of your own?"
"Well..." Hunter began, then trailed off, ducking his head sheepishly.
George breezed over to the mantle, lifting the ceramic tray to examine it, then frowned. "Plastic?"
His son answered the question. "It's just an apartment, Dad, and you know I'm busy at the plant. They're putting in a new reactor, and the whole automation system around the solvent injection is changing. Half the time I don't even remember to do the laundry until I'm on my last pair of underwear. If I killed a Bonsai, you'd never forgive me. Besides, I thought it looked pretty real. How could you tell?"
George replaced the tray after a few moments, and his arms dropped to his side. "The needles are too long and too waxy, and pines are better outdoors. The air in here is too dry and there's not enough sun. The bark is atrocious too. There are tags where plastic wasn't cut properly and scratches from handling. But then, I've spent a lot of time with trees."
Hunter raised his hands defensively. "You've got me, Dad. You've got me. What do you say we start on that bottle of wine and catch up?"
"Fine, son. Fine. Grab the glasses, and I'll warm up the table."
George stepped from shuttle to the curb, rolling his carry-on behind. He scanned the flowers and the too-green grass the Home Owner's Association put in, then his eyes continued from door to door until he settled on the number forty-seven. His feet followed until they reached the condo. It wasn't a house, but it had nearly the square footage of one, and it was only thirty minutes from the center of Boston. He smiled and raised his hand to ring the bell, but the door opened before he could reach it, this time to show Linda's tired but joyful face.
"Linda, you're looking more lovely than ever," George grinned.
Linda enveloped him in a hug, then shepherded him in and onto the leather couch. A guitar lay neatly in front of a large fish tank to the right, and an enormous screen covered the wall ahead. To the left were a collection of tasteful abstract art pieces, one partially obscured by a cat-climbing house. The kitchen was barely visible through the doorframe to the right, and another to the left that led to an open stairway. His curiosity was interrupted by a nudge against his ankle and a fluffy tail peeking out beside his leg. A separate pair of eyes stared out at him from the kitchen.
Linda laughed, a warm and welcoming sound. "Oh, you've met my babies!" she exclaimed.
George reached down to scratch the ears of the cat at his ankles. "It seems I have. It's a nice place. They've been good to you at the hospital, but it's nothing more than you deserve. Congratulations on the promotion, of course."
Linda nearly blushed. "Thank you. I'm so excited. Hunter, get off the computer and come down! Your Dad is here!"
A set of thumps from the stairway yielded a young man with blue eyes, close-cropped light brown hair, and a day's worth of stubble. Well, not quite so young: he was into his mid-thirties now. "Dad, I'm so sorry. I didn't expect you so soon, and I was just checking in on something. How was the flight?"
George eased to his feet and gave his son a hug. "Wonderful. I think I slept almost the whole way. This is quite the place, as I was just telling Linda. Your mother must love it."
Hunter's eyes darkened for a moment, but he shook it off quickly. "She hasn't driven up yet, but I'm sure we'll see her soon. She's staying with Aimee right now. Would you like the tour?"
"Sure, sure," George answered, accepting a hand up.
He climbed the steps with a hand on the railing, and nodded in appreciation through the introduction of the washroom, the bathroom, and the spare bedroom, only to be whisked up to the third. He whistled softly as Hunter showed him into the office. "A clear skylight? They spoil you. What's that simulation you're running? Looks technical."
Hunter nonchalantly switched off the monitor, which currently displayed the latest of the new racing games, and turned down the sound to hide the engine's roar, eyes sparkling at Linda's gentle laughter. "Well, I was working earlier."
George's eyes turned to the wooden stand under the skylight, another small Bonsai. He raised a hand to stroke the needles of the pine, and their sticky, sharp edges. "You've got a real one this time, boy."
Hunter chuckled. "You can't tell, then? I couldn't but I thought for sure you would."
George dipped his finger into the tray and it came up with real dirt, then sniffed and smelled nothing. He touched the bark, then handled the branches, frowning. "It's not alive at all, and I couldn't tell. It's the most realistic fake I've ever seen."
"I knew you'd like it," Hunter beamed.
"I - ", George began, but he couldn't.
Peering over at the affectionate couple, Linda's dark, shiny hair aside over her husband's shoulder as they stared, George suddenly leaned up against the wall, face broken, and a tear fell from his eye.
"Dad, is there something wrong?" Hunter's concern bordered on anguish.
"No," George answered, shaking his head and straightening his posture.
"No, everything is fine," he lied. "It's lovely. Should we move on?"