Like a Lone Tree

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


The roof of the residential building was a resting place to several pigeons. From the highest vantage point around they could observe the neighborhood.  A single door led to the roof. On the inside of  the door red letters were saying “If Propped Open Alarm Will Sound”. It was not true. There was no alarm. Becky and Robby knew that. The roof was their hideout, a secret place only they knew about, a playground and a thinking place. There they could lie down and look at the sky or if they felt like looking down at the buildings and the street below. Their peaceful coexistence with the pigeons was interrupted only at the instances when Robby was getting a whim to chase the birds off the roof.

Now the two teenagers - fifteen- sixteen-years-old were once again on their roof. Robby lied on a blanket they had brought with them and looked at a single cloud to the west over downtown. It was late afternoon and the undulating forms of the cloud were brimmed with a yellow contour by the setting sun. The sky was getting pink. Becky, looking at the street below, interrupted Robby’s thoughts,

“How small are the people from here, Robby,” she noticed. “Looking like toys. It seems as if I stretch my arm and I can get a hold of ten of them and put them in my pocket.”

Robby laughed.

“Laugh as much as you want but it is so” Becky continued ”I can see them from here and can pretend that they are toys.”

“Yes. From here they do look like toys” noted Robby. He wasn’t in the mood to argue. Instead, he wondered if it would rain the next day. He always did as he never checked the forecast but tried to guess by the sky. It was beautiful pink to the west now. The little cloud was also getting pink and the sky to the east was grey and blue. Robby decided that tomorrow it wouldn’t rain, after all, got up and went next to Becky. She was laying on her belly next to the raised edge of the building which concealed her from the apartment windows on the buildings below them. One could see only her head protruding over but it would be just in case if they knew she was there.

“Yes, we can see a lot. It is interesting. To spy on people.” said Becky. Her gaze drifted along the face of the building in across the street “Look Robby!” she exclaimed “Look there. That couple in that living room in the building across. A little bit to the left from us. “

Robby looked. A couple - a man and a woman in their late twenties in the living room. The man was tall, muscular and the woman was beautiful with long auburn hair. It was a warm evening and the window to their living room was open so the two teenagers could look in. Presently the man and the woman were arguing about something.

“Things look like not going for them. They always fight” Robbie said but he was looking at an apartment to the right. An old man was lying in his bed.

“I know that guy” he pointed at the old man in the apartment to the right. “I think that he is a loner. I see him passing by on his daily walks. Never talks to anyone.

“He is boring. What does he do?

“Nothing presently. Just sleeping.”

“Look at the couple.”

The man and the woman in the living room were indeed getting more heated up. The man was gesturing something. They then moved to another room where Robbie and Beckey couldn’t see them

“Well, we are missing on. Can’t see everything from here” Robby said.

“Well, they are interesting. That couple. Not boring like your geezer sleeping there. Remember? He was sleeping there yesterday too. All day long. I haven’t seen him moving. He might as well be dead.” when she said it a thought passed through her brain.

“Robby,” Becky said “What if that old man is dead down there. I have seen him in bed yesterday and the day before. I haven’t seen him doing his rounds around the neighborhood this week. Have you?”

Robby thought for a while. It didn’t seem as he had seen the old man walking around. And he always did meet him before. The old man was taking long walks, going down the street, turning around the block and coming from the opposite end of the street. Sometimes Robby and Becky were counting how many circles he made - sometimes ten, sometimes twelve. Pacing slowly, helping himself with the cane he was holding the old man just kept going around and round. One could almost check their time by him - so regularly he was passing by below on the street. But now and the past few days he was in his apartment, lying in his bed, not going out.

“Have you heard of those people, Robby?”

“What people?”

“The “lonely ones”. They have no one to help them. Even if they die there is no one to know it. They lay there decomposing in their beds all alone. That is until it starts to smell or the landlord comes in to check for why the rent is not paid. These are old people who have not families or are so estranged from them that no one care. I heard about them on T.V. There are a lot in Japan, but there are many here as well. They are called kodokushi. Do you think that man is kodokushi, Robby. Like a tree in the forest. If there is no one to see it, how do you know it fell? How would anyone know that he died, when no one is looking?”
“Damn, Becky, you are so morbid today. You got me thinking about sad things. He is not a lonely tree in the forest. We see him. We are witnesses…

“Right. And because we are, we have to do something.”

The couple in the apartment next to the lonely man got back in the room where Robbie and Beckey could observe them. They continued arguing. Robbie and Becky shifted their attention to them.

“They are fighting Robbie. I thought that they are getting it on but they are fighting instead. What's going on?”

“He slapped her, Becky. The man slapped the woman. He definitely hit, her. Now again. There is she - leaving the apartment.”

“It is terrible, Robbie. A man should never hit a woman, right?” Beckey asked and searched for agreement in his eyes.

“Of course not. But it can happen. I don’t say that over there that is just a one-time thing - the odds for us to see it now very slim for it to happen only once.”

“She should leave him then!”

“You are probably right. But would she?”

The man in the apartment went to the inside of the apartment where Robbie and Becky couldn’t see him then appeared at the window with a glass in hand. He leaned against the window and looked down at something below. He was looking at the woman sitting on the stairs in front of the building and the teenagers were looking at him.  

It had gotten darker, almost night time. The windows of the apartments in the building across lit up. There was much to be spied upon, but the two teenagers were consumed by the man and the woman on the stairs in front of the building.

“Is she going to come back in?”

“I really don’t know. Hey, Beckey, do you think that old man in the next apartment is - what you called him?”

“Kodokushi? Maybe. Why?”

“I want to check on him.”

“What would you do?”

“Just ring on his doorbell.”

“And when he opens?”

“I’ll say it was a mistake.”

“What if he doesn’t?” Beckey asked after a short pause.

“Then he is dead. I will call 911 or the landlord. I will figure it out.” Robbie said and got up. He went to the door. From her vantage point, Becky saw him running across the street. He passed by the woman sitting on the stairs in front of the building, then got in the lobby and got to the elevator to the last floor. There Robbie tried to orient himself. The last apartment on the right was the one of the man and the woman, the loner’s one was one apartment over. He went to the door and rang the bell. At first, nothing happened but there was some noise inside. Becky saw the nightstand light turn on and the man sat in bed. Then he took his cane and went to open the door. In front, him stayed a fifteen-years-old boy, short with dark hair and lively brown eyes.  

“Good evening, sir,” said Robbie.

“Good evening. What are you doing here?”

“Well, I must have gotten to the wrong floor. That’s the wrong apartment.”

“Yes it is.” said the man. Robbie seemed to want to say something but he hesitated. The man closed the door and went back to bed.

Robbie felt exhilarated. He didn’t know why he was so excited himself. Only one thought passed through his head - “he is not dead. Not like a lonely tree in the forest, which falls without anyone seeing it.” As he was going out of the building Robbie passed by the woman. Who was getting in the building? Robbie went to her and told her:

“It’s time to go. He will hit you again, you know.” Then Robbie left. He crossed the street and climbed to the roof where Beckey was waiting for him.

“He is not kodokushi.” she said once Robbie appeared.

“He is not and you don’t know how happy that makes me.”  

Beckey thought a bit,

“Why did you go to check on him, Robbie? Why did you care?”

“I guess because we saw him. He was not a lone tree in the forest. And when you see you have to do something. We spy on these people and their faith becomes known to us. Then we are responsible to help them. Even if we can’t help a lot. Don’t you think so?”

Beckey thought a bit.

“I suppose you are right. We have to intervene when we can. See the woman - she is back in the apartment - gathering her clothes.”

“I told her that the man will hit her again. She listened!” Robbie exclaimed.

The woman prepared quickly a suitcase while the man was looking at her from the window. He went to the door and tried to stop her only when she was leaving. She punished him aside and left the apartment. The two teenagers saw her getting out of the building and walking down the sidewalk. Then she stopped a cab and got in. Soon the car got lost with the traffic down the street.

“And what about the old man?” Becky said in a while.

“What about him?”
“We cannot leave him be. We have to do something for him. Something small even. Buy him groceries, or just befriend him...I don’t know. We are witnesses now, remember?”

“We’ll do Becky. Tomorrow. We will. Let's go home. It’s late.” said Robbie and started for the door. The two teenagers disappeared through the door. Soon the pigeons returned to the roof.


Submitted: May 21, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Robert Ratman. All rights reserved.

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