Her hands were propped on top of the pickets. The winds had weathered the wood so much that the spiny ends were almost elastic. Renny leaned back, holding onto the fence, and pushed her shoes into the firm grasses next to the bottom rail. Her socks had fallen to her ankles from playing kickball at recess and scuffmarks scarred the tops of her patent leather shoes; grass stains clung to the hem of her new dress because she sat on the lawn after class. Renny rocked forward, bouncing up and down on the fence, and felt the starched dress scratch the back of her thighs. This was the best spot in town, she thought, having recently discovered the house on a long walk home from school. All the days she had come down this street and never seen the bottles in the tree.
It wasn’t a tall tree, compared to those on the mountainside, the giant ones people called redwoods. This one wasn’t even as tall as the tree in her yard, but it was by far the prettiest tree she had ever seen, because of the bottles.
Glass bottles of all shapes and colors had been strung along every branch. Enormous blue ones, as big around as a tetherball, and others, long and red. Crimson, she wondered. Wasn’t crimson red? Those were square on the bottom and rounded at the top. Green ones, too, hand blown she would learn, and yellow bottles colored like pee, Renny thought with a giggle. Pebbles from the beach filled the clear ones.
The bottles played in the daylight, especially as the sun headed toward night on her long walk home from school, gathering up the sunlight and scattering it around the yard in dots of red and yellow, blue and green. Spots of light landed on her face and arms, looking like measles, only nicer.
Every afternoon Renny came by this house, two doors down from the church, to lean on the fence and admire the glass. Every day she dawdled along the road, stopping to count the bottles, counting slowly so that when she finally arrived home, Daddy would be there and she wouldn’t be alone with Mother. The bottles saved her from that.
One…two…three. Renny counted as she bounced. Four…five…six. Oh! A purple one! That hadn’t been there yesterday. Renny marveled at the plum colored glass scratched through with tiny cracks like a spider’s web. Twenty…twenty-one. The winds kicked up and the bottles began to dance. Clinking together, they started singing sweetly and calling out her name. Eye-rene. Eye-rene. Thirty-seven…thirty-eight. Birds nesting on the highest limbs chirped along with the symphony of glass.
“Pretty, aren’t they?”
”Oh.” Renny smiled at the man who returned her grin with a gap-toothed one of his own. Two teeth were missing on the bottom. “Hi Mister Dailey.”
“Afternoon Irene. How was school?”
“Okay, I guess,” she said quietly. The only clouds around were those on her face. Then her eyes became glossy and she pointed toward her discovery. “You got a new bottle Mister Dailey. The purple one…way…up there….”
Roger Dailey turned to look where the tiny fingers aimed and, sure enough, a purple bottle hung from the tree. Lavender crackled glass. “That’s my favorite.” Renny declared, her face speckled with color. “When did you put it up there?”
Dailey shook his head. “I told you, Irene, these ain’t my bottles. Every so often, I come home to find a new one hangin’ in my tree. But I’ve never heard anyone out here, climbing up there and stringing the bottles to it.”
Renny looked at him with awe. How could he not hear someone tying bottles to his very own tree? Yet, he was always as surprised as she was when a new one appeared. Even today, he couldn’t take his eyes off the purple one; the lacy glass wafting above his head.
“Well,” Renny said matter-of-factly, “I think it’s the prettiest one ever and I hope they never stop coming by with new ones…. Whoever they are.”
“Me too, Irene.” Dailey smiled at her, the space in his teeth apparent but friendly. “How many did you count today?”
“Thirty-eight,” she answered proudly.
“That was your tree?”
Renny’s eyes started to water. Finally, a sweet memory of her past, one she had forgotten through the years. The bottles in the trees. Roger Dailey’s Bottle Tree. Like the Forever Fields, she realized it saved her from her mother. “I used to love that tree…”
“It’s still there, Irene.” Dailey told her. “ And the kids still come by to look at her, though not every day like you. But they still come.”
”And,” Renny laughed a little, “I imagine you’re still telling them that you have no idea how the bottles got up there?”
“You wouldn’t want me lying to them, would you Irene?” He grinned. “I sure am glad to see you back in The Landing, even though…. We heard about your mother.”
Mother. The tears dried up and the laughter was put away. Renny instantly forgot about Bottle Trees and Forever Fields, and remembered why she had come home. Mother. Her mouth tightened and her fingers clawed the ignition. She gave Dailey a weak nod and turned the key. In a matter of minutes, she was parked alongside the house, sobbing. She pounded her head against the steering wheel. He was right, Mister Dailey was, Renny thought as she stared at the house through a curtain of tears.
All those old bottles were still there. Red and green, yellow and blue; clear ones full of stones. Pink ones; orange ones. And there, near the top of the tree, was a lavender glass cut through with cracks like a spider’s web. Renny lowered the window.