The reason I know this place, the reason it ignites such emotion, such passion in me, is not the sight of these homes—but the majestic trees, whispering in the night air. Planted at regular intervals along the median, as long as the eye can see, they are named Naked Coral Trees. Naked because—according to my father—they shed their leaves annually.
I know this because at the age of fifteen I used to come here with him, every Saturday for an entire spring. During that period he worked for the Landmark Division of the City of Santa Monica, reviewing applications for the Landmark Designation of trees. To this day I have no idea what that means.
Dad talked little about his job, and cared for it even less. He was a writer at heart, and during spells of unemployment he would do two things: at night, scribble furiously in his notebook, and during the day, acquire new skills—which he did with great ease—and change his line of work, trying to make do until someday, some fine day when he would strike gold with his yet unfinished book.
During our walks that spring, dad would point out the tree: Its fiery red flowers, that looked like fat pinecones at the tips of irregular, twisting branches, and the seeds, which in certain species were used for medicinal purposes by indigenous peoples. The seeds were toxic, he warned, and could cause fatal poisoning. I learned that mature Coral trees should be watered frequently—but not during the summer months. In fact, he said, the less water in summer, the more flowers you can expect the following spring.
I cross two lanes of traffic, come closer to one of those Naked Coral Trees, and with great awe, brush my fingers across the trunk. It is a contorted, elephantine thing, with a roughly textured bark, and thick roots clinging fiercely to the earth. This being early October there are no flowers, no leaves, even. The tree seems to take on a humanoid appearance, as if it were the body of a character, or even several characters, mangled beyond recognition.
It is a stunning sight, which has fascinated me since childhood. Above me, the bare limbs—some of which have been pruned recently—are branching apart, and looking at them you can imagine a knee here, an elbow there, someone wrestling, someone in embrace.
As you walk past them, the trees seem to tell you a story line by line, scene by scene. In one tree I could see a man and a woman, kissing; in another, a father and son.
Ben in The White Piano
★ Love reading? Get this series ★
Few authors would be able to pull off the manner in which the apparent polar opposites of Ben and Anita begin to bond... but Poznansky has the visual and verbal and architectural skills to create this maze and guide us through it. ~Grady Harp, HALL OF FAME reviewer