Then, Now, Later, but Always

Elias then had blonde hair, not white, on his head and in his stubble.  Elias then rode horses in the midwest and traveled to South America to save the brown children from their own poverty, their own country, and their own people.  Elias now remembers Elias then as heroic and beautifully, tragically, romantically depressed.

Elias now closed the last cardboard box and wrapped it completely with packing tape so that nothing could fall out, nothing could climb in, and none of the movers could steal the things inside of it (though he knew they would try anyway).  The boxes were stacked, according to their weight — not size — along the hallway.  His watch ticked for Sergio and his crew to arrive and load the truck to Vermont, which was as far away from his niece that Elias could get while staying in the country (although Canada was starting to sound pretty good).  Elias looked at his gold watch tangled in the thick, white hair of his arms and calculated.  There was, indeed, enough time to go to the backyard before the movers came.

He stepped onto his dead lawn, took a small trowel from the bench, and walked to a tree that hadn’t born fruit nor flowers nor leaves in years.  His gardener, Xavier, had tried to remove the tree several times when he first noticed its trunk hallow and the dirt around it was dead and dry.  Each time, Elias had run out screaming at the boy.  “Get the fuck away from my tree!”  he shouted when the chainsaw started to rumble.

“But Mr. Walters, the tree is dead.  With a strong enough wind it could blow down and hit your house.  It’s a hazard, sir.”  Elias did not listen then, nor the other times he ran across Xavier with an ax trying to chop it down quietly, with subtlety, piece by piece.

“Do you really expect me to believe that it’ll fall?”  Elias shouted.  “It’s a fucking tree, for god’s sake.  It only has one job, and that’s to stay in place!”  Elias fired Xavier, and no other gardener had been hired to replace him.  The tree sat in his backyard with ax wounds, and his grass and flowers soon faded from vibrant greens to piss yellows, and finally into the the flat brown of the earth.  The plants laid still, just as they were, flattened by footsteps, without the bother of being ripped up and carried away to the city compost bin.

Elias now stood at the base of the wounded tree facing his house with his feet together.  He counted as he walked toward his screen door.  “One…two…three…four…”  on his fifth step he turned sharply and counted five more steps towards the shadowbox fence.  He stopped, knelt down, and dug.

Underneath the dead soil, the rocks, and a box that held the bones of his third cat — Draper — were clumps of tinfoil.  He pulled each one out and stacked them between his legs as he refilled the hole, tossing Draper in unceremoniously along with the rocks and dirt.  With care, he stuffed the tinfoil into a fanny pack that he kept hidden under his shirt.

Elias now kept his money in pockets of land in his backyard, wrapped in foil to keep it clean.  Elias later will hide it in the freezer, in the same foil that was tucked safely under Draper.

Elias now looked at his boxes, knowing without a doubt that he is missing rings and paintings and rare sculptures from South America, and knowing without a doubt that it was his niece Adaline who had stolen them.

Elias later would wonder what his missing art would have looked like in his Vermont townhouse.  Elias always had believed that the only way to be safe was to hide the most precious things away, like deep into the earth.  Elias now forgot what exactly he had buried and where, and artifacts remained scattered underground.

Adaline now had painted a tribute, a portrait of her estranged relative — her last relative —  in loving light, with blonde hair in the South American city he saved so heroically.  Adaline now had sent it to her uncle’s new place in Vermont, and it rested at his doorstep, waiting for him.  Elias later would scream when he unwrapped the package, and Elias always would watch his security cameras.

Then, Now, Later, but Always