In his desperate state, Ferrell thought about kicking the tree. He then pulled the thought back almost immediately, like a fishing line that he knew had been badly cast. The elm had done nothing wrong. Still, Ferrell was getting anxious, and he wasn’t sure that the tree quite understood the urgency of his situation.
“Your mother was a prickly weed, and your seed was shot out the back of a well-fed bovine,” Ferrell shouted toward its highest branches. Nothing. No whiff of an insult taken, no branch dropped on his head as a terse response. Ferrell sighed, patted the old elm’s shaggy grey bark apologetically, and turned to sit with his back against its trunk while he stared out along Bleecker Street, a wandmaker without a wand.
July had leaned heavily into August, the weeks without rain proceeding in a tense march from one line of the calendar to the next. Ferrell could see that tension rise throughout the city: in the heat that rippled above the asphalt like a ghostly parody of water; in the mist that spat and sprayed when fire hydrants were illicitly jacked open; in the red irritation that flared like a sore whenever pedestrians, walking head down, got too close to one another in the crosswalks. It was more than a heat wave, more than even the effects of climate change or global warming or total catastrophe, whatever they were calling it nowadays. The Rain God of Reardon had been missing from the city of almost a month and a half, and its absence was hurting everything. Including Ferrell’s business.
Everyone who knew magic wands knew that the best ones came from moments of drama. Branches blown down in a storm were Ferrell’s favorites. The memory of electricity that coursed through them, the way they kept the scent of the rain hidden in their fibers long after they dried out–in Ferrell’s hands, branches like those became wands of wonder. He had hoped, admittedly stupidly, that yelling at the dignified elm now standing at his back might produce a similar stick for him to transform. All it had accomplished, though, was to roughen up his voice, earn him a few wary glares and extra feet of distance from people walking nearby, and make him behave like a callous, frantic schmuck. It did nothing to stop his work-worn fingers from feeling their need to shape something great. Carving a walking stick or some wooden trinket wouldn’t do. Not for him, and certainly not for his customers–especially since no one who could help it was out walking for pleasure, and the winter holidays, his best time for trinkets, were still months away.
“Suppose I could see how everyone else is handling this,” Ferrell grumbled as he hoisted himself up on aching, wobbly legs. He stood there for a moment among withered green leaves that had fallen too early for lack of rain. Then he patted the elm again and set off down Bleecker Street, where cranky old men like him often walked and trees were disinclined to follow.
The way they built buses nowadays, whenever Ferrell took one, he boarded it feeling like plankton swimming past the jaws of a leviathan. The bus would jerk forward, and a wave of momentum would send him surging into his fellow passengers, down the aisle into the accordion folds of the beast’s belly, where two sections joined to form one impossibly long, snaking creature that trawled the shallow streets for passengers. His one consolation was that the beast’s belly was air-conditioned, and the draft blew down on him, reflected by the window beside him on the seat on the southbound 29.
He wasn’t sure what he was looking for. He suspected he’d found it, though once the bus passed through the intersection of Myrtle and Jackson in Lower New Athens. There, on the block that followed, on the north side of the street, was a plot between two aging brownstone buildings that stuck out like the gap where a child had lost her first tooth. Like many a gap between many teeth, Ferrell though, this one appeared to have some leafy greens in it.
He got off at the next stop and walked back to see what there was to see.