Widowmaker

Tommy cannot breathe. His 31years of smoking Luckies have shortened his breath, infusing it with viscous phlegm that makes him cough and keeps Ann awake at night worrying that he will die as her father did, drowning with short panic-stricken breaths, unable to oxygenate the blood that flowed to his terrified brain.

But Tommy is not Ann’s father. Tommy is in the woods alone. He is dying, but not of emphysema. He cannot inhale. The crushing weight on his shattered ribs and seizing pain in his chest make it impossible to inhale the forest air.

In his close field of vision, the forest floor is a landscape of curled wood chips. Some are pale blond and others cinnabar, the mixed colors of black cherry. Further off, pale green maidenhair fern fronds rise up like a preternatural tree and in the distance he can see a mound of dark green moss covering a rock.

A few yards away he can hear the gurgling of water flowing over rocks in Potash Brook and there is the sound of a phoebe trilling in the woods. Tommy is remembering where he is in the woods. He is far from Ann, far from their house, far from anyone. It is early April and trout season is two weeks away. The kids he often surprises fishing on his woodlot are still in school.

The fierce pain in his chest is increasingly anesthetized by the body’s chemistry of shock. Instinct causes him to inhale, but pain overwhelms instinct and he relaxes, breathless.

His right temple is flat against the damp moss. He fell hard on his right side when his steel-toed boot caught in a loop of woody grape vine hidden among the dead leaves in his woods. It happened fast. He tries to recall the sequence of events. The 60-foot black cherry pinched the bar on his saw as it began its fall. He let go of the saw and moved aside but his boot caught fast in the vine. He and the tree fell in the same arc.

He sees a wild turkey strutting hesitantly towards him, lifting each three-toed foot very carefully, setting it down gently before it takes another step, always cautious, always guarded. Tommy is no threat, however. The turkey seems to know this, ambling ever closer, pausing at each step to scratch the groundcover and peck at worms and bugs beneath the bed of leaves. A few feet away, he stops, glances at Tommy but goes on with his feeding. As the bird moves closer, Tommy notices how the wary tom resembles the bronze meat birds his aunt raises each summer, lacking only the heavy chest and upright stature. The coloring is the same.

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