The third winner of our September Selects series is Lisa Beebe with “The Woman in the Tree”! This Sudden Stories winner was chosen by The Masters Review‘s staff for the power in its understated prose. Congratulations to Lisa, and check back on Friday for her profile!
At first, I closed the blinds tightly as soon as the sun set, knowing that while the darkness made it harder for me to see her, the lights inside the house made it easy for her to see me. I didn’t think she was a bad person, but I didn’t like the idea of a stranger watching my every move.
When I first saw the woman in the tree, I posted about her on the neighborhood’s online message board. I titled it “Lady in tree,” described her location, and asked if anybody knew where she’d come from. None of the commenters were able to identify her, but a few hazarded guesses that she was homeless, mentally ill, addicted to drugs, or all of the above.
The tree in question was directly across the street from my house, where our development borders a state forest. I feel sort of possessive of those woods, so I didn’t appreciate a stranger making herself comfortable there.
I could see her from my living room window. She had a bunch of stuff with her in plastic shopping bags, and she’d tied a hammock between two branches as if she planned to stay awhile.
She was still in the tree when people got home from work that evening, and a few of the neighbors gathered to try to talk some sense into her. I didn’t join them, but I watched out the window as they stood around, shouting up into the branches. The woman rested in her hammock without acknowledging them in any way. After a while, the neighbors abandoned the effort and went home. She was still up there, swaying gently in the breeze.
That night, on the message board, the neighbors questioned if she might be deaf or if her unwillingness to communicate was further evidence of mental illness.
The next day, a man who lives over on Roosevelt posted that he’d called the parks department and asked them to remove the woman. They told him they didn’t have the resources to send someone unless the woman was doing permanent damage to the forest or starting a fire outside of an approved campfire area.
As the days went on and the woman remained, the discussion turned darker. People expressed concern that she would scare their children, damage their property, or attract a “bad element” to the neighborhood, despite the fact that she never seemed to leave the tree.
One night, a couple a few streets away had the catalytic converter stolen from their SUV while it was parked in their driveway, and a commenter wondered if the tree lady could be selling car parts on the black market.