The old wagon is abandoned to a hill behind her grandfather’s house. Wild grass grows up through the handle, winding around it like ownership. We take pictures at sunrise when the morning light turns red paint to blood and rust to scabs. My photos are gentle, respectful and a little bit sad. Hers are sharp-edged and dangerous.

In the afternoon we picnic down by the thinning creek that divides her grandfather’s farm from neighboring undeveloped lands. Trees line either side of stream like dedicated servants holding sheltering umbrellas.

We spread a quilt under the sun, inviting what the trees deny. I want to take pictures of the trees. She shrugs and opens a bottle of wine.

Her glass is empty but for a small button of red swimming above the stem when I return with a camera full of nothing.

Trees are boring unless you know their story, she says.

So tell me one of their stories, I say.

She hesitates, then pours a second glass and takes a long sip.

There is a tree, not here, but upstream a bit. She doesn’t point, but holds a finger to her lips. Do you hear it? she asks.

I hear the trickle of the water and a whisper of wind through the leaves, then in the distance a roll of thunder that sounds like it’s wrapped in a blanket.

No, I say.

Listen harder, she says.

She leaves the story in the uncertain air and lies down on her back, balancing her wine glass on her stomach. A warm breeze blows straw-blonde hair across her cheeks and ruffles the hem of her sundress. Tiny daisies printed on yellow cotton slow-dance in the wind, then relax to tease more of her bare legs into the sun.

I aim my camera at her and click a succession of photos, close-ups that begin at her unpainted toenails and travel up her thin legs, past her hips, to small hands wrapped around crystal and crimson. I pause at her chest to watch her breathe, remembering the moonlit silhouette of her naked body from a dozen nights and a thousand dreams. Then I continue the photographic journey to her shoulders, bare but for a few lonely freckle constellations. Her lips are slightly parted, her eyes closed. A bead of sweat drips down her cheek. Or a tear.

The light here is terrible, she says. I will be washed out and pale. I will be a ghost.

I know.

Sometimes I see her that way, like the pinched wrinkles on a forsaken bed sheet. Or the smell of raspberries in an empty kitchen. Sometimes she is light without shadows. Sometimes only shadows.

This tree upstream, she says, is missing a limb.

And then she waits again. I write a dozen stories in my head. A child climbs out over the stream to catch a butterfly and the branch snaps. This is the day he learns to swim. Or doesn’t. A hunter shoots at a squirrel and misses, splintering wood instead. A desperate man ties a noose. Disease attacks. Lightning strikes.

I set the camera down and lean over to kiss her. She inhales just before our lips meet, and exhales a sigh. There is no one more beautiful in any light.

I’m going to find the tree, I say, and start to get up.

No, she says. She nearly spills her wine when she reaches out to grab my hand. Stay.

I take the glass from her and set it on the picnic basket, then lie down on my side next to her. I rest a hand on her stomach and she covers it with both of hers.

The tree wants to forget, she says. A photograph makes it remember.

I kiss her shoulder and breathe in the only scent that speaks to me of safety. Of home.

Okay, I say.

Hours pass. The storm turns away and looks for a different picnic to interrupt. Clouds drift by in a parade of deformed animals. A giraffe with a monkey’s head. A legless lion. An elephant without a trunk. The elephant’s trunk.

You know what word I like, she says. I thought she was asleep. Nevertheless.

She doesn’t explain. She doesn’t have to. I’d thought the very same thing once.

Another hour passes.

Do you hear that dog barking in the distance, she asks.

Everything out here is in the distance, I say. I think I am being clever.

Not everything, she says.

She folds the quilt and I pack up the picnic basket. We climb the hill hand in hand while I write a story of all new things and she writes one on top of old things.

When we get to the abandoned wagon, she stops. The sun has nearly set and the light coming through tall grass is painting streaks across the side like tiger stripes. I reach for my camera.

She drops my hand, walks over to the wagon and kicks it with her bare foot. The she kicks it again and again and again. Four times. Five, six, seven. She kicks it until the grass lets go and the wagon flips end over end and a wheel flies off.

Her breathing slows and she hobbles back to me. Her foot is bloody. I bend down to wipe it with my shirt. I don’t ask why. She had already answered that question.

It was her father’s wagon.

I kiss her foot, then stand and hold her in my arms until the sun goes down and the tiger light fades and the wagon disappears into darkness.
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