With his hands in his pockets, Phoenix stared into the Store, where rows of household items lined the aisles. Bridget Gates lifted a pan from a low shelf and carried it out of his view, towards the register. The foreheads of mannequins peeked through the second story window, like rolling hills of snow.
As usual, Phoenix was the only person leaning against the tree. The bark felt nice against his back, diluted by the cotton of his shirt. Against his bare arms, however, it was rough, the way only a naturally growing object could be. Inch by inch, he slid down, letting it leave white dashes on his skin.
There was an almost hypnotic quality in the steely whiteness of the Store. Item and customer alike were bathed in harsh rays, which shot down from the ceiling. The place was simultaneously cold and beaming, an odd yet tantalizing combination.
Now seated, Phoenix reached his hand down and touched the dirt that rimmed the tree’s trunk. It was soft and warm, like nourishment. Deep colors stained the tips of his fingers, so he rubbed them on his jeans. Streaks accumulated at the hips, near his pockets, which he knew would upset his father. He rubbed them one more time to make it a sure thing.
Slowly, Phoenix’s eyelids began to fall together. One set of eyelashes brushed the other, and for a moment he felt as though his naked arms were connected to the roots of the trees, intertwined with the deep pulses of the planet, reaching out for the tree in the next courtyard over. Something was in the way––a pipeline, or an aqueduct.
But it only lasted a moment.
A clean, blazing sign turned on abruptly, cracking Phoenix’s trance. A band, whose name he recognized from one of Roxanne’s posters, had released a new album a few seconds ago, and if he had rushed in right then and bought it for his sister, it would have come with an exclusive bonus track, free of charge.
However, he did not do that. People were giving him sideways glances. Instead, he stood up, pressing his hands against the tree for support, and walked home.