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THE DEAD BONSAI

ONTHEBUS # 21/22
Kansas Quarterly 22.3

     My wife likes to grow things and I like to watch her do it. Recently she ordered a bonsai tree through the mail. It cost $39.95 plus postage and handling. Almost $45.00 before she was through. It was supposed to be some variation of black pine. It arrived dead.
     In case you don't know, a bonsai tree is a miniature Japanese tree that looks like a corresponding big tree only its 8 or 9 inches tall. I don't know why the Japanese grow them so small. Maybe they tend to value economy in things because they're an island people with limited space and natural resources. But the English are an island people too and you don't see them fooling around with tiny little yew trees and oak trees. So I don't know the answer.
     I knew her bonsai was a goner the minute my wife lifted it out of the box and I told her so straight out. "That tree looks dead," I said. "No it isn't," she said. "It's green." I took a pinch of the green and it crumbled to dust. "It's dried out from the trip," she said. "It probably just needs some water."
     I told her that tree was way beyond water. "That little tree has bought the farm," I said. I told her if we were going to pay 50 bucks for an 8 inch shrub, I thought it could at least get here alive.
     My wife favors underdogs, lost causes, and physically disabled animals. She cocked her head at the sad little tree. She said it was a lovely tree anyway. "Oh, come on, darling," I said. I figured she was about to piss away 50 bucks. I told her we really ought to ask for a new tree, one that was alive.
     My happy wife looked at me with a look I had seen before. It was a look that said she was cheerfully prepared to be patient with me for the rest of her life. She said dead was just one way of looking at the tree. She said dead was just one of its current possibilities.
     I conceded the point to trap her on the larger issue. "Don't you think," I asked gently, "that dead is a pretty negative possibility for the tree, at least in terms of our expectations?"
     "Do you think life is more important than death?" she asked.
     That one stopped me in my tracks. My wife smiled sweetly.
     "We can get another tree," she said. "A live tree. I just don't accept the idea that this little bonsai is wrong. It's exactly as it should be, as it has to be right now."
     My wife continued to bubble along in the ever perfect present, leaving me trying to make sense of the past and anxiously awaiting the future.

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