Article"The Cherry Tree" by Lowell Uda
With Susie, it had been easier; perhaps that was the difference between girls and boys. One night soon after the adoption, when the two children had been awful and Meg's nerves had been frayed, feeling as if he were the only reasonably nice person around, he had marched the children upstairs. He hadn't ever spanked them; but when they began questioning his right to send them to bed, when they began comparing him to their "real" father, all the tension he had been living under--suspending graduate school to take a full-time job as a lab technician, the self-exposure of the court hearing where their lawyer called him “a nice guy,” the long awaited court decision granting the adoption and the following period of apparent calm, the sudden anxiety of the first Christmas since the children came to live with him and Meg--turned bitter on his tongue that night. He realized that his relationship with the children was based on false premises. He had been turning himself inside out, overcompensating for what he still believed was an unstable earlier life. He told himself he loved the children. He was, if not biologically, then legally and morally their father. He spanked them, soundly. They looked at him with surprise. Then they bawled. A great relaxation came over Susie, but not Billy. Oscar was no longer the infinite here and now the boy wanted.
"Wake up," said Billy, shaking Oscar's arm. Oscar buried his head under his pillow. Soon he heard the boy scampering down the stairs, followed by Susie, and he felt Meg come awake beside him. He rolled over and began kissing her. At first, she did not return his kisses, but seemed to be listening to the retreating children. But, when the television set came on, Meg relaxed, and she turned toward him. They had their morning bout of love. The warm, rich kisses, the intolerable tension, sweet and bearable only on increase, the lovely, lovely explosions in body and mind, the dreams of women, not of just Meg, but every woman in the world--Was it love? Oscar wondered. Every young man, he reasoned, goes through this. Meg, lovely, passionate, insatiable Meg, had wakened in him a dream, a fantasy of power.
After the blossoms fell, the cherry tree became part of the yard again, part of the green trees lining the street and part of the green rows of corn he saw in the fields surrounding the little town. After that brief moment of white splendor, when it stood at the center of his world with its roots in utter darkness and its tender branches reaching upward toward the moon and stars, the cherry tree descended again into the green spring. And Oscar was busy, traversing the fifteen miles from North Liberty to Iowa City, to the hospital lab.
He went on sugar rounds and drew blood from people who looked out of windows, at the quiet business of spring going on outside themselves and out of doors. They had been stuck with so many needles, they called him “vampire” and “bloodsucker” only partly in jest. Oscar had come to enjoy his job, and he tried to be cheery, greeting his patients with, “Hello, just came to find out how sweet you are today.” But last fall he gave up such greetings when a patient in the orthopedic ward refused to allow him to draw any blood. The patient slapped his bedclothes, sweeping them away, to show that he had lost both legs to well above his knees. “If I give you more blood, will it brings these back?” Oscar was stunned, suddenly seeing himself from outside himself. “No,” he finally managed to say, “but this is what your doctor ordered.” Soon he and the patient were surrounded by nurses and orderlies, who kept saying, “He’s giving you a hard time,” as if Oscar didn’t know it. Finally, with the help of the nurses and orderlies, Oscar drew the required amount of blood after a number of tries. As he walked back to the lab, the fall leaves rattling around him on the pavement, Oscar overheard a young couple in front of him who made it forever difficult for him to forget his encounter with the amputee. The woman, a pretty blonde, was looking up into her boyfriend’s face, saying brightly, “I’m always good at the general . . . I’m always good at the general.”
While he was at the hospital, where some people were actually in the process of dying, this new spring felt as if it was going on outside himself, just as he knew it was going on outside his patients. All that busyness was outside, and he was inside, looking out through windows when he was not wending his way through the underground tunnels that led to the far-flung wards. And even on the drive home, that short lonely way, as he watched the roll of the land, trying to glimpse the Iowa River, he felt inside, shut off. Sometimes winding down the window helped. But the wind was itself a kind of glass, a transparent wall, and again he felt enclosed, shut off. When he got home, he played hard with his children and loved hard with his wife. She was pregnant, but that didn't matter. She was busier than ever, warmer than ever; and Oscar had days and nights that were too full to breathe.