You should get some sleep, but instead, you’re on your laptop in bed looking at a photo of a beautiful tree. The background is nicely out of focus and maybe there’s a red-black filter over the top? Or is this what golden hour looks like?
You can’t remember how you found the photo. You had been trying to cheer yourself up by watching an episode of Queer Eye, which had made you think about flattering colour patterns, and then you’d opened a couple of Pinterest tabs, and then the Pantone website, and then a Wikipedia page on vision science, and an hour later somehow you were on a website that was completely empty apart from one photo, of a beautiful tree.
The branches spread like offered hands. The pattern of the bark reminds you of skin after a firm but desired touch. The leaves are tangled hair. You’re pleased that you found it, this tree. You wonder who you might share it with, or whether to keep it all to yourself. And then, after you’ve been staring at this tree for god knows how long, it starts to glow.
There is a throbbing brightness that appears beneath the bark. It shines through widening gaps in the wood, spreading like some heavy liquid, one that bunches and then subsides as it finds new avenues to seep down until the whole tree is full. This takes quite some time.
When you lean back from the screen your vision is blurry. You can’t see the photo properly anymore, only that vibrant mass of gleaming sap, and you can’t remember how the tree looked before it began to move, or how long you have been staring at it, or how much of anything is enough, or that you should never hold your breath for too long.
You relax your chest. You feel the beating of your heart. You close your eyes and feel that same bright liquid working its way into every streak of aching muscle in your body.
You’re not sure when you fell asleep in the end.
You’ve had a bad day. Your friend Mark tells you to find a blank postcard and write down everything that’s on your mind. That will help get it out of your system.
When you get home, you get out a postcard of an owl flying through the air, but you don’t write anything on it. You’re not sure where to start. Instead, you find yourself on your laptop, looking for the photo again. You wander across the internet, attempting to reconstruct your purged history. Somehow, you’re not sure how you find the tree again. And you wait for it to glow.
But this time it’s different. There is the same pulsing rhythm, but now there are black lines snaking across the gnarled trunk, and the liquid is dark. Its journey is more difficult. The branches bend under the strain. The ground beneath the tree begins to break apart. pulse
The photo is a blur, everything is smeared ink, you can’t remember when your bad day started, or what you were meant to do to make it better, or what it felt like when it wasn’t so bad, or how to be mindful about the pattern of your breathing. You feel knotted roots in your body. You tense the muscles of your core.
Maybe nothing is as good the second time around.
You are feeling anxious. Your friend Sarah says maybe you should do more exercise, that doing more exercise will get the dopamine flowing. You will feel elated afterward. But you don’t do more exercise. You get home and go on the internet and look for the photo of the tree.
Finally, after trawling through so much junk, there it is. You would recognize that pattern in the bark anywhere. You savour that indelible quality of sunset. You marvel at the exactness of the composition. You wait for the true nature of the tree to be revealed. You wait for a very long time.
But this time nothing happens. The bark just looks like bark. The leaves just look like leaves. The tree just looks like a tree. Your face is illuminated by the glow of the screen.
Maybe that’s enough for now.
Months later, you’ve forgotten about the photo. But then, when you’re attempting a jog through the park on your way home one summer night, you stop to catch your breath, leaning against a red-black tree that looks so familiar, and you swear just for a moment that the light is golden, the branches spread like offered hands, and there is a bright liquid seeping from the gnarled trunk. When you pull your hand away, it is covered in sap.
Eventually, you get home. You wipe the sweat from your body. Immerse yourself in a hot bath. You savour a delicious home-cooked meal and a chapter of a book about how to change your mind. You slip into bed, at a reasonable hour.
And you remember that you should get some sleep.