The scraggly mesquite tree creaked in the soft breeze blowing through the open window and billowing the voile curtains.
“It’s a peculiar tree,” the hired arborist had told Daisy and Paul, “It’s at least one-hundred-and-fifty years old, and though bare, it’s very much alive and healthy. It has no plague or disease, yet, you say it doesn’t regrow its leaves?”
Daisy nodded, “We bought the house at least three years ago, and we’ve never seen a blossom or a leaf on that tree. I love how its twisted branches spread out like a bony canopy.”
Paul shrugged, but the expert had agreed.
“Yes’m, there’s a certain melancholic beauty to it. My advice: enjoy its spidery shade, there’s life in the old dog yet.”
Though the sun shone and the cool breeze blew through the backyard, Daisy and Paul spent the morning in the living room, measuring spaces and pondering whether a new oaken sideboard would fit under the windows that looked out at the tree.
Paul raised his cellphone to his face, “Let’s see if this A.R. app works.”
“A.R.?” asked Daisy.
“Augmented reality,” he answered, “it can overlay a picture of the sideboard we want onto our room, so we can see if it fits before we buy it.”
Daisy nodded, impressed. She glanced over Paul’s shoulder as he pointed the cellphone camera at the windows. She smiled when the image of the sideboard appeared in her living room while the skeletal branches of her beloved tree peeked through the frame.
Paul said, “I think it would look good, don’t you?”
And Daisy was about to agree when she noticed a shadow pass over the image.
Paul turned his eyes back to the phone screen. In it, the living room walls disappeared, and the tree stood in leafy pomp, outlined by a blazing firmament.
“Huh,” Paul muttered, and lifted his eyes from the screen.
The warm, yellow sunshine of midday poured through the windows and onto the gray-green vinyl-plank floor, reflecting off the cream-colored walls. On the phone screen, the tree stood on a lonely grassland beneath a fiery red sky.
“It is the same tree,” Daisy said, “I know every tangled bough, but it’s blooming!”
The screen flickered, and silhouettes approached the tree. The couple distinguished a group of rough-and-tumble men on horseback. A man with arms tied behind his back stumbled behind them as one rider pulled him along by a rope.
“It’s a posse!” Paul exclaimed, and they watched transfixed as it reached the tree.
One man slung a noose over a high branch. The others pulled the tethered man forward and placed the noose around his neck. Then, they tugged on the rope, and the bound man flew upwards. The laughing and cheering bandits tied the rope to the tree trunk, while the hanged man dangled and jerked from the noose.
The sun dipped on the horizon; the hanged man grew still and swung back and forth. The posse mounted their horses and rode away. The sun shot out its last rays over the empty grassland, and twilight settled over the extinguished life. A mournful wind howled and wailed, blowing away all the leaves from the hanging tree.