She had decided to clean the van with Windex or Fantastic or Formula 409. Whatever it was it was not conducive to the heat of the drying sun and the qualities of automotive paint. He had left the job to her and she was just a child, his only child but then again he was a child too. He had been playing adult since he was twelve and I think he forgot that he was acting until one day it just became a believable role he would inhabit. The van was a Chevy and it was metallic blue with blue and grey racing stripes that bent in a sharp, pointed angle, in the spirit of a lightening bolt, over the hulking sliding side door. It had red shag carpeting that used to be in her bedroom, she ran her hands over its stubborn pile, its coarse mangy tufts spit out bits of dirt, sand, gravel. Still armed with paper towels, she wiped down the dashboard and bulging console, the drawer of which sometimes held a clipboard. Two captain’s seats, the passenger seat shared by her and her sister who would squeeze in hip to hip, both strapped under one seatbelt.
He was often a lone captain lumbering around in the grumbling ship. The steering wheel caused a terrible noise when turned; the van lurched forward out of stubbornness on its dusty worn tires. He would drive it into the backyard, navigating the shallow part of the hill, turning sharply as it dipped towards the riverbank. One evening in winter, the hillside was covered in ice. As he drove up the hill, his tires lost traction, causing him to drift backwards towards the steep riverbank. The hill was well worn, like the slippery sole of a shoe, now covered in ice. What awaited him was a riverbank lined with stones made from broken concrete, and below that the river. The fall would be drastic and sudden. The tires are spinning on the ice, the van rolling backwards, but he refused to abandon ship. The van paused momentarily on a small Cedar tree that had taken root on the bank’s edge. It was long enough for him switch gears and turn his tires and find traction, climbing back up the hill, crawling cautiously away from death’s indifferent shoulder.
That same year, his wife wanted him to cut down that small Cedar tree for a Christmas tree. He told her that Cedar tree had saved his life and he promised that he would never cut it down. He meant to dig it up, roots and all, to replant it away from the riverbank. The view of the river was supposed to be unobstructed, it was the family rule; nothing was ever allowed to grow there. Like many things it had been forgotten, time passed until it was too late to take action. It was allowed to grow on the riverbank, enormous now in all its years, robust and full around the middle like a Santa Claus, blocking a good bit of the peripheral view of the river, obscuring an entire pier from some angles. The wife is gone. The child is gone. He is still there and the tree is too.