By Myfanwy Collins


Engine Books
March 2012


When the slip of saw through trunk was buttery, liquid, and verging on gentle, Geneva was moved to tears. Her body felt as though it were cutting through the tree: the rings, the history of droughts and hailstorms, the sap that could have been her own blood, dripping, weeping at her feet. It felt like a betrayal, this taking of saw to tree. But Clint was out of work again. They needed money.

She was down by the quarry, just off the old logging road, claiming a patch of ground Auntie Marie had given her for a wedding present—her dowry. "Don't tell him, though," Marie suggested about the wooded acre. "Keep that land to yourself." Geneva had thought of using the trees for sugaring as Auntie Marie had proposed but now it was too late. She was taking the trees for cheap firewood to sell to tourists at a roadside stand. Such a waste.

The tinny song of the wood thrush carried above other birds' calls. Eerie and mechanical, it was her favorite birdsong. As if her fractured heart called out into the world. She paused before moving on to the next tree. Listened above the idle of her saw while the song intensified, grew frantic. Warning? Was it warning her? No. The thrush was singing as it always had done and always would do.

But she felt off that morning, a blue shakiness she couldn't otherwise explain. It didn't have anything to do with the fact that Clint hadn't come home the night before or that their electric bill was overdue. It was something else, something blurry around the edges. When she looked back on this day later all she would think was, "I should have known."

She left her dog, Mr. Pink, behind that day because he'd gone gimpy in his left hind leg, and she thought maybe her bad feeling was about him. Another mistake, she would later realize. Her bad feeling had nothing to do with Mr. Pink, curled up on an old afghan by the woodstove. His leg was bad, and he didn't have much more time to live, but he would not die that day. He would spend his day warm and comfortable, waiting for his next meal.

As always she checked the gauge of her old truck before she left home, noting that she had enough gas to drive to the trees and back. This was her biggest mistake. She would need that gas and then some. A full tank of gas would have made things turn out entirely different. Entirely.

It was adrenaline that saved Geneva. And pressure from the tourniquet she tied around her upper arm, using her belt, her one good hand, and her teeth. After the saw kicked back and cut through the flesh of her left forearm, she sensed more than knew that she needed to move—that she needed to ignore the white lights flickering around her eyes, and ignore, especially, the pain, the gushing blood. She needed to move. So that's what she'd done. Tied the tourniquet and run to the truck, hopped in it, and drove toward town, toward help. When the truck ran out of gas partway there, she didn't sit and wait for someone to notice. She got out of that truck and she ran like hell down the road, trailing pools and splatters of blood. She remembered thinking that the blood was an odd color on the pavement—iridescent, like the tail of a My Little Pony. She marveled at her own blood as she ran. The leprechaun color of it, granting wishes. 

Terry Plunker saw her first and loaded her on his ATV in search of help. It took some doing, though. By that time she was in shock and babbling about the miracle of her blood. "It will save you," she said. "I have seen the truth in it."

He knew women like this. He knew their kind, which was why Plunker was gentle and eased her into getting on the ATV. "Set still now," he said as he moved the vehicle forward. "You set still."

"Looked like a goddamned horror movie," is what he said after they got her safely to the clinic. "Like that Carrie on the night of the prom. So much frickin' blood." So much blood, in fact, Plunker nearly passed out himself at the sight of her. "Her arm was cut clean off," he said. "Clean off." He sounded almost impressed. Like he didn't know a man alive who could have survived what she had. Almost like he believed her arm would grow right back out of that stump. 

Regardless of everyone's best intentions, though, most of the arm could not be saved. And so beautiful Geneva would henceforth be known as one-armed Geneva—still beautiful, but flawed. Clint felt so bad about his wife's disfigurement and how, had he been a better man, he might have prevented it, that he went down the street to the funeral home, met with the undertaker, and picked out a top of the line casket—white, silver-handled, with pink silk interior.

There was no viewing but there was a small service at the graveyard, led by Father O'Connor. Geneva was there, dressed in black, mourning, and as they lowered the baby-sized casket that encased what was once her living arm, complete with the engagement ring and wedding band still on the finger, into the ground, Geneva dropped a shovelful of dirt on it, looked right at Clint, and said, "Ashes to ashes and dust to dust." Later she vowed those would be the last words she ever said to him. Ever.