Sweat dripped onto the sidewalk placed on the model’s cardboard. With precision, William’s nimble fingers crafted a tree no bigger than a quarter in the dark basement of a house in downtown Milwaukee. It was meant to fit in perfectly with the rest of his creations. A train track carved out its place in the green turf that made up the grass and over the Menomonee River. Even the smallest buildings were meticulously organized, painted, proportioned. They fit into the invisible blueprints that were mapped out in his mind, a replica of his hometown.
Building things calmed him. But then, the phone rang. His eyes flicked up for a moment and returned to his work. Silence and then again, the phone rang. Sighing and placing the deciduous tree carefully down he stood, his knees cracking. He wiped his gluey hands on his pants.
“Is William Yaohua there?”
“Speaking.” He reached with a dirty finger into his mouth and swabbed out some spaghetti noodle hiding behind his molars. He grimaced as the familiar taste of paste lingered on his tongue.
“My name is Doctor Virginia Mary. I’m calling to tell you that your sister, Rebecca has been admitted to Columbia Saint Mary’s”
“The Hospital? Is she alright?” William’s mouth went dry and he glanced at the clock. 8:25 pm.
“She is in the hospital. She’s been hit by a car on Prospect Avenue and suffered blunt trauma to the face and chest. She is currently in the ICU undergoing surgery. You were her emergency contact.”
“Alright, I’ll be there soon.” He slammed the landline onto the receiver. The thunderous sound of his footsteps echoed his heartbeat. Barely registering the crack of the car door and the revving of the engine was the last thing that he heard on his property, besides the buzzing in his head.
Will sat in the waiting room for what seemed like hours. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from every movement of the short hand of the clock. It was as if his eyes were tied to it with rope. His hope was the only thing strong enough to be pulling his attention away every time the doors of surgery swung open, but every time his eyes met a different very busy nurse.
“Yaohua?” He stood up, the magazine he had been holding went sprawling onto the ground. The pages showed the best way to trim belly fat to the ceiling. The doctor gripped his shoulder.
“The good news is that she is stable and you can see her now. However, she’s in a comatose state and has sustained extreme injuries. There’s no other way to put this. She may never be the same again.” Will’s eyes clouded over.
“Hey, sis.” He sat down next to Rebecca and gripped her hand tightly. Her face was completely covered with bandages. “I love you.” His voice cracked, and the Electrocardiogram beeped steadily in response. “I’m sorry that this happened to you. But I’m here for you. I’ll be here if you need anything. I know you probably can’t hear me, but do you remember when mom got sick that first time? Injuries are no match for us. We always pull through.”
The only answer was the soft beeping of the machine and the squeak of sneakers out in the hall. The clock ticked on the bedside table.
Rebecca died two hours after she had left the surgery table. Her funeral was scheduled for the day after next.
Rain-engorged clouds filled the sky. Everyone was wearing black and shivering in the autumn bluster. The casket was a deep brown color. Rebecca’s friends and families surrounded the priest, listening quietly.
“…For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands but with faith in God’s love, eternal in heaven. The word of the Lord.” The Priest closed the bible had read from and caught the eyes of William. An empathy filled them which made the corners of William’s mouth stretch toward his ears and his heart ache.
“The word of the Lord,” The crowd echoed back.
William stood at the back of the crowd. He remembered the days of sunshine of their youth and how much hope and intelligence she always carried with her. He dried his tears and forced a smile as hand after hand pat him on the shoulder.
After the funeral, the boxes of Rebecca’s things flooded into his house. He was the only surviving member of their family since neither he or Rebecca had ever married. He sifted through clothes, keeping photographs, old papers written by his sister, and an antique pocket watch then donating the rest.
He often turned the antique pocket watch over and over in his hands. Tracing his fingers over the smooth metal and glass, it was solid in his hands. Where had Rebecca gotten this watch? It wasn’t like her to keep old things around. She had always shown off the latest and greatest technology, making sure to always have the newest thing.
But now, he was late for his routine doctor’s appointment.
He drove his car carefully on the icy roads. The snow plummeted from the sky and the windshield wipers squawked against the glass. He stopped at a railroad crossing as the lights were signaling a train. Handling the timepiece in his jacket pocket he pressed the button, making the gears click and shift. It hadn’t worked before. He must’ve finally loosened the screws or something.
He stared at the graffiti on the sides of the train as it blew past. One car, two cars, three, dark caps of coal topped each car. As his car idled the hot air circulated, blowing straight into his red cheeks. Sighing, he fidgeted for a couple more minutes before he turned on the radio.
“…’an’t believe this. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s the 28th of January and an oak tree is growing straight out of the concrete on the corner of 16th Street and Vernon next to the Menomonee river. Locals state that there was no sign of any plants before 5 pm yesterday. The patrons of the local Third Space Brewery…”
William blinked and looked at the street signs. It read 16th Street. He looked to his right, a crowd peppered with the flashes of cameras gathered outside of the brewery despite the chill. He pulled out his smartphone and looked up his location. He had just passed the 16th street bridge going north. The Menomonee river had chunks of ice drift past below him.
“Other changes have been noted by city officials as the very landscape changes beneath our feet causing extreme structural damage. There is no other way to describe it as other than a supernatural natural event,” The radio continued.
A rhythmic ticking reverberated in his hand. He looked at his sister’s pocket watch and flicked the stopwatch function off. He forgot that he had turned it on.
“The changes in the landscape have shifted as policemen answer calls regarding what witnesses describe as a freak earthquake and spontaneous arboreal germination…”
The train rumbled past, the last car finally leaving William’s vision.
He spotted the tree. Its roots muscled through the deep concrete, a dark brown in the endless gray of winter. In the distance its flat broad leaves waving at him in the freezing wind. The green was as vivid as emeralds in the vast whiteness of snowbanks stacked on the sides of the street.
He approached the tree, his turn slow and thoughtful. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from its branches. He squinted. There were clumps of acorns peeking from the green leaves. Squirrels would at least be happy. He drove carefully and stared at the tree which had not been there before the train had come. How could it be? He blinked his eyes, hard. It was still there. He shook his head. It was still there. He slapped his cheeks and blinked and shook his head. It was still there. But the clock on his car dashboard still said he would be late to his appointment.
On his way home. He made a point to drive past it again. When he got home, he went straight to his basement and worked on his model. The darkness of the basement was comforting. Here, there was nothing strange. All was familiar and his eyes grew heavy with contentment. The soft sound of Miles Davis echoed softly in the corner emanating from an antique record player. The small amount of light reflected off the flat black grooved vinyl disk.
He was measuring proportions for a model of the local news tower, K48. He referenced his blueprint and then visited his model. He stopped and stared. He had left the miniature oak tree in the center of an intersection. The small street signs that he had erected read, 16th and Vernon.
An idea came to him. He pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes. Heshook his head. No, that was stupid. He walked away, opened up a la coix, took a deep sip and then put the can on the counter and went back to the model. He uprooted the K48 tower and then placed it directly in the center of the American Family Park, formerly known as Miller Park parking lot.
William sat on his chair. The remote slid a bit before he turned on the tv’s new channel. In his left hand, he held the stopwatch. He licked his lips.
He clicked the button and the watch ticked and then reset.
The news channel blurred. He knit his eyebrows together and flipped to the other channels, they were just fine. Clicking his watch again. He went to the news channel. It was still fuzzy. He flipped to the local news.
Footage of the K48 news tower played. He gasped. The tower grew like a flower out of the concrete of the parking lot in the center of Milwaukee. He stopped the watch. The tower stopped growing. He started it again. The tower resumed its rise from the bowels of the earth.
His chest grew tight. The remote slipped from his hand and clattered to the floor. He clapped his hand against his mouth. The button on the antique watch clicked as he stopped it. So too, did the growth of the K48 news tower. His eyes were wide and they flicked from the watch in his hand to the model of Milwaukee on the table to the TV, where a breathless newsperson tried to explain the unexplainable.
William looked at his model of Milwaukee and the antique watch in his hand. It was impossible… Was the model, the watch, and real-life connected?