TUBE, DRAFT 1, CHAPTER 31 (EXCERPT)
They entered a vale poked with naked trees. Their silhouettes limned the whiteness of the ground with short sharp strokes like pencil lines on a coarse paper. Like bristles of a hirsute animal lying in wait. Like stubby hairs. The mass of them embraced the train and soon left and right there were only trees, snowcapped, frozen, blurring into a dreary monotone smoke.
“It’s moving. It’s moving on its own,” said Mitya with a side glance at Olesya.
“Papa is moving it,” she answered, not taking her eyes away from the railroad. The woods spread out in a shaggy blanket, its edges so close it seemed to Olesya that if she opened the window and stuck out her arm, she could touch them. Deciduous trees. Elms, alders, aspens. Their crowns, nests of tangles branches, hung over them in a canopy forming overarching vaults.
Mitya blinked. “You mean, your dead papa?”
“Yes.” Olesya hid her irritation under a forcefully chipper tone that fell flat on her ears, and she was sure it didn’t escape Mitya. He didn’t show it.
“Do you know for sure?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Olesya sighed. “I feel it.”
She looked at him briefly, and when she looked back out the window, her heart wedged in her throat. The overall glaucous color of the blur lightened, brightened. She couldn’t understand why at first, sensing it with her gut only. Then she saw it. It wasn’t the snow, although there was lots of it. It wasn’t the light of the morning coming diffused through the fleet of cottony clouds. It was the trees. Trees towering eighty or more feet tall.
“Birches,” she whispered.
“What?” Mitya leaned to her.
“Birches.” She turned to look him in the face, and didn’t see it. She saw behind him, out the side window, the peeling ivory trunks flashing by, the black marks like blemishes scouring their slender bodies.
“What about them?” Asked Mitya with alarm, tracing Olesya’s gaze and turning back to her, his face filled with a puzzled expression.
“The forest where...” Olesya couldn’t bring herself to explain what she meant.
“Looks a bit like woods in Russia, doesn’t it?” Said Mitya, attempting to diffuse the gravid mood, to make Olesya smile, to make her feel better. He sensed her growing anxiety, and it communicated to him.
(Painting by Janet Liesemer.)