A man hangs by the neck from the branch of a tree a quarter-mile out from a lesser used highway. Stiff hands swell out of his shirt sleeves, plaid flannel to keep him comfortably warm in his last minutes. He swings with the west Texas wind. The motion his body makes might be menacing on another night, but now, against a setting sun, it’s cheerful. Back and forth and back and forth, like a child stretching to flip the bars or fly straight to heaven.
The man is gone, long gone, but he’s been hanging there, unclaimed on the edge of our property, for a week and a half. The young tree bends its strongest branch with the weight of the body, holding the man’s intent out for us to see.
That man got where he was going, my father nods as we drive past the tree. He sure got out.
Who is he? my mother asks. Not that it’s any of our business.
From the backseat I wave to him. He gives me a happy wave back with his whole body. I imagine he must be missing from something, not just from his body on the tree but from a warm bed, from his place next to a warm body or on the lumpy chair in front of the football game.
Shame, my mother says, and I correct my imagination. Not missing from something, but missed by something. Someone.
Soon enough, the sheriff will drive by and spot the tree’s recent adornment. He will knock on our door and ask what we know about the man. We will tell him the truth: that we know nothing but how long he’s been there. The sheriff will take a deputy to the tree, where they will try without success to unknot the rope. The man, they will discover, had at least one talent. He was an expert knotter. They will cut the rope and call an ambulance to deliver the rotting body safely to the morgue. His possessions and teeth will be studied for identification but no autopsy will be taken. The cause of death is obvious. He got up and left.