When Orla was nine, her teacher took her class to the Museum of Environmental History to see a real tree. It was an elm. The museum’s atrium was built around it, with the roots and soil just inches below visitors’ feet under double paned glass. When Orla saw the tree she was overcome by an urge to climb its branches that stretched out like an impending hug. When one of the branches snapped beneath her, she fell and broke her wrist.
She wore a cast all summer, and the museum put up a more substantial barrier around its prized possession with the fines her parents had to pay.
Her wrist never healed right, and it hurts during the cold night, keeping her awake. She cries quietly and massages her wrist, feeling deep guilt.
The tree is dead now, but the atrium in the museum is still dedicated to it. The stump remains so visitors can count its 137 rings. It was the last elm, as it happens. The museum is still taking donations to have it cloned. It’s been 15 years; they’re a quarter of the way to their goal.
When the sun rises each morning the outside temperature jumps dramatically, and a wall of dust rides the wind like the surf, sandblasting Orla’s windows and waking her from her troubled slumber. She dreams of climbing, up and up, impossibly high, right out of the atmosphere. She does not dream of falling, though; she has morning for that.