The Pairing of a Pared Man

            

        It was only August and the leaves in his tree were already falling. Edgar was troubled by this, knowing full well that, even though fall was still a few weeks away, the leaves of his tree were falling to the ground far sooner than they were supposed to be. He didn’t like it. He wanted his shade, sure, but more importantly, Edgar Rudolph, owner of the tree, wanted his tree to be healthy. So he called in a tree surgeon. Edgar cared about his tree very much.

When the tree surgeon came, Edgar showed him immediately to the backyard where the tree stood, increasingly naked and vulnerable in the afternoon sun. “It isn’t normal,” Edgar said. In response, the tree surgeon, a surly man close to retirement and highly annoyed through most of his waking hours, grunted a cursory acknowledgement and set about circling his patient. He pressed his palm against the tree’s smooth bark, stroked it slowly. He looked up into the tree’s branches and he squatted low to inspect the places where roots turned into trunk to rise skyward from the soil. After a moment, the tree surgeon stepped back away from the tree, exhaled a sharp breath, and with a curt, definitive nod said, “Yep. I’ll take it. I’ll take the case.” He turned at looked at Edgar, stated decisively, “I think I can help you.”

Edgar was surprised. He was taken aback by the surgeon’s declaration, which struck him as odd since he’d simply assumed that a visit to a person’s home automatically committed a tree surgeon to the job of helping that person and his tree. Apparently this was not always the custom with men of this profession, and thus Edgar had learned a new thing. That made him happy, but he was happier hearing that someone would now be helping his tree.

“How long do you think it’ll take?” Edgar asked.

“Dunno.”

“Well… what do think the problem is?”

“Dunno,” the man grunted again. “Gotta run some tests.” And with that the tree surgeon, whose name happened to be Gus, withdrew a small valise from the inside pocket of his jacket. He opened it to reveal a small, gleaming set of tools and a neat row of vials and stoppers. With practiced efficiency, Gus sank to one knee at the base of the tree and filled one small vial with topsoil and a second with soil from a narrow hole he dug nearly a foot into the earth. Then he stood and took a bark scraping and put it in a vial. He gathered three leaves from a low branch of the tree and three dead leaves from the ground. Then, with a tiny, battery-powered drill fitted with a special hollow bit, he bored into the xylem of the tree and took a sample of that. He concluded his business by inserting a dull metal tube into the small hole he had made and, tapping it lightly up and into the tree so that it pointed downward, affixed a tiny metal cup to a notch cut in one side of the tube so as to catch any sap. “Take about a day for me to get that sample,” he said to Edgar. “Meantime I’ll get to work on these. I’ll be by tomorrow afternoon sometime. Suppertime, latest.” And with a quick zip of his valise, he shook Edgar’s hand, handed him a business card, and drove away in a small, impeccably maintained green pickup truck.

Edgar could only feel dejected. He had hoped that the tree surgeon would be able to offer some kind of insight as to why his tree was shedding its leaves so soon in the year, but in the absence of that information Edgar decided it would have to be enough that there was at least someone working on the problem.

He went back into his house and changed out of his gardening clothes into attire more appropriate for the impending evening. Edgar was a fastidious man, brisk in his routines. He neatly stashed his barely-soiled clothes in the laundry room hamper then hurried to the master bathroom for a quick wash before grooming his hair and cleaning his nails. He dressed smartly and with alacrity, as though someone would soon be on his doorstep waiting to be let in for dinner. But the sad fact was that Edgar had no such companion to wait for him on his doorstep nor was there one waiting for him anywhere else. Edgar was what people once called a “Confirmed Bachelor,” a term generally uttered in such a way as to render it noble somehow, or, better still, to allow an aura of dashing. For his part, Edgar, noble as he might be, was far from dashing, and the fact that he was a “Confirmed Bachelor” had nothing to do with his comportment, his aura, or even his fastidiousness. In Edgar’s case, his confirmed bachelorhood was, to be fair, an egregious misnomer. It was a lie, a mistake. For though it appeared that Edgar was the kind of man who had never taken a wife and was happy to live a tinkerer’s existence, the truth was that at census time and tax time, on insurance forms and applications for credit, jobs, or bank accounts, Edgar was obliged to check the box labeled “Divorced.”

It grieved him, this fact. He felt it marked him as somehow less of a man, somehow tainted with the vivid tincture of failure, lent him an air of desperation. And it was for this reason that Edgar kept interactions with others to the periphery of his life. Edgar didn’t go out to nightclubs, rarely had a visitor to his home, and utterly eschewed esoteric chit-chat with neighbors. Or strangers at the supermarket. Or most anyone with whom he shared breathing space no matter how briefly. He was bravely aware of the term “xenophobe” but with great prejudice rejected the appellation to anyone who suggested it either in jest or with even a modicum of seriousness. Secretly, however, there were nights—many, many nights—when he would lie in bed thinking about it over and over again, without the ability to control the cascade of self-doubt and self-pity as it washed over him, that maybe he was abnormally afraid of other people. That perhaps he was tainted. Damaged goods. “Good-for-nothing,” as he’d overheard a distant cousin of his ex-wife say in reference to him at his wedding reception. Good for nothing. What if that were true, he would wonder. And all too often he would fall asleep before he came to a definitive conclusion for himself. The contentious divorce after a mere 13 months of what he had perceived as wedded bliss did little to help him resolve anything as he lie awake at night, tossing and turning, thinking, pondering, wondering where it had all gone wrong and how he could have been so ridiculously unaware that she was unhappy.

This was Edgar. He was a thinker. Thinking was his strength, his core, his very best thing. When he was a young boy, he often wished that there were a superhero whose superpower was thinking, but he could never find one, and so he had to pretend to enjoy Superman and Batman and Spider-Man as much as the other kids did. Truth was, however, he didn’t find their exploits engaging in the least. In fact, Edgar got through many uncomfortable moments in his childhood by cleverly embracing this disinterest in the muscle and machismo on display in popular comics and turning it to his advantage. For him, muscle and machismo were wonderful tools—where one had them. Since Edgar seemed to possess neither, he made a conscious decision to be the yin to everyone’s yang and willingly take on the villain’s role whenever his playmates donned their capes and masks. It made sense to him—it was almost a universal truth that the villains at least started off as the more creative thinkers in the comics he read, and they usually did pretty well until the superhero caught some kind of lucky break that may or may not have involved any depth of thought. And so Edgar found his niche. Edgar found a way to “fill in” whenever a cog might be missing in a metaphoric gear and it gave him great satisfaction to know that he was wanted and needed whenever a space needed to be filled.

He was thinking about all this now as he prepared a light supper for himself. The sun was setting orange and pink and purple through the window above the kitchen sink. He was scrubbing a potato and trying to admire the palette splayed across the sky as he thought about how he had missed the cog that had, like a broken tooth in an otherwise perfect smile, gone missing in his marriage. How was it that he couldn’t have provided that missing piece?

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