Bram was waiting for her by the front door. He immediately led her into the backyard but then left her there as he went into his house via the porch door. He ran up the stairs and Zina saw his face pop out of the third and top floor "Well we're ready now," He called out to her. "Ready for what?" Zina asked, hesitantly. "For the posing," he replied, smiling sheepishly and rubbing his goatee. He asked her to climb the tree and to face him.

She still didn't know why he invited her over. They met yesterday by a lonely bench under an oak tree that was just a block away from the trolley stop. He complimented her on the smoothness of her hands and the symmetry of her temples and nose. Then he handed her his business card on which he slowly etched out a message with his ballpoint pen: "Meet me there tomorrow at four." Strangely enough, she did not think twice about coming. As if she were hypnotized, the decision crystallized itself in her mind of its own accord. No hesitations or questions lingered. However, only as she ascended the tree upon his command did she start to ask herself why she was here.

She tentatively grasped the tree hollows to maintain her grip. Her clawed hands were pained by the splintery surface of the tree trunk. Bram took note the way her neck shivered. The grilled shutters of his window hardly blocked his view. Zina's hands had to remain in their position. Nevertheless, she desperately wanted to move them. She understood that she had to leave. It was undignified for him to ask her to stand on a tree. Was she some kind of a circus freak? Absolutely not.

At home, her little sister was probably mindlessly zapping through cutesy 80s sitcoms. Zina had planned to come home early today to shut off her sister Annie's television. This blue-eyed girl, with her two braids of curly brown locks held together by bows, was about to become an adolescent. She could not fathom what was going on in her sister's mind, as the little one was so silent and moody. Annie would watch sitcoms, brood with her resentful furrowed eyebrows, and never even talk to her older sister.

Maybe it isn't worth it being with her today. She might be happier by herself with her beloved television screen. While she was thinking about her sister, Zina spaced out and forgot that she was standing on a tree branch and clasping its tree trunk. Its rough edges invaded her skin like splinters. Sensation was leaving her, but she hadn't even noticed because she was thinking of her sister. Finally, Zina finally dropped her left hand from its clutch on the tree. The hand reached over to a thin branch and bent it down gently. This liberated the poor branch from being borne down by the weight of its fruit and made it dangle upwards again. Zina ripped off a tiny red-yellowish apple and glanced upon its shimmering surface. She regained sensation in her hands.

With the apple in her hand, Zina thought about the similarities between Bram and her sister. Annie was so reclusive that neither she nor her mother managed to have more than a five minute conversation with her. Bram, aside from making that one compliment to her, also didn't care to speak much to her. That's why she wanted to stay here, on the tree, as he bade her to do. She wanted to see if her company would make him more sociable, talkative. She wanted to know the secret to making him warm and welcoming. Perhaps that secret would also work with her sister.

Meanwhile Bram opened the fly-prohibiting grille of his window and asked Zina to throw the apple right to him. He raised his brown eyes and said, "It should be ripe and ready to eat" and opened his lips into a wide smile. Zina savored the lustrous glitter of the apple. She let the light rays reflected by the apple's glistening surface caress her eyes while she cautiously rubbed its skin.

She then threw the fruit to Bram. She didn't want to accidentally squeeze out even the tiniest ounce of its juice. She launched it upwards by raising her arm very slightly, with a rather narrow angle to her shoulder. She wanted to make sure that the projectile of the apple would not become too high. Otherwise, it would fly above the window that was only slightly above her hand. Zina's cautious, loving way of treating the apple was her way of telling Bram that she cared about him, that she would wait for his cold elusive persona to melt.. The apple shone and she hoped that eventually all of his being would too; his voice, his words, and demeanor.

The apple flew through the window and bruised itself as it landed on Bram's lacquered desk. Zina felt its skin ripping. "Come down and come eat the apple with me," Bram whispered to her. Zina prepared for a descent from the tree. Her feet felt for the tree's various branches and hollows, as well as for its jutting-out bits of wood. As Zina had already lowered herself a couple of feet, Bram tilted his head downwards to look at her forehead through the grille of the window. Bram's teeth jutted out past his lower lip. "I didn't think you could do it," he uttered in a booming voice that reverberated through the trees like the output of a turned-up stereo system.

She wondered what he meant... Yes, it seems like she has spent eternity standing on the tree and her whole body ached from it. But how could he doubt her patience? Perhaps he didn't realize that the silence itself was way more painful than the harsh bark of the tree that chafed against her skin. The silence of her sister. His silence.

Once she was in the doorway of his house, he approached her and rubbed her forehead with his hand. "How about we dance?" he suggested, breathing in deeply and looking off to the side. Zina nodded, her hands hanging limply and her eyes searching around the room like some kind of a roving device. Somehow, she could not imagine that he liked dancing. This was the only friendly thing he ever said to her and it seemed so out of place. It was too much too fast. Only a minute ago, he was looking at her through his window and was miles away from her. After such a tremendous distance, how could he have the gall to want to to embrace her, to touch her shoulders by dancing with her? Couldn't he first offer her some friendly conversation along with a cup of coffee?

Bram then climbed the staircase and disappeared. A few minutes later he came back downstairs with a pair of black tap shoes and a stereo. They danced to the disco beats of Desireless' "Voyage Voyage." His black shoes seemed like they have been freshly dabbed with a new coat of paint.. The smoothness of the floor surface made Bram's tap shoes click with a charming rhythm and a royal sound that matched the beats of the music. Unfortunately they also left black skidmarks that tainted the shiny red parquet floor. That was a shame because Zina adored the red floor. She marveled at how deliciously it had glowed in the sun. It seemed as if a fresh red apple was glistening with a most sweet light on its surface.

The sparkling of the floor, the apple, and the black shoes warmed her heart. The tapping seemed cheered her up too. But she still couldn't trust Bram because he didn't yet talk to her. The closeness of his body seemed to not compensate for the distance of his mind. It reminded her all too well of her sister. Even though they sat shoulder to shoulder when the younger one watched her sitcoms, the nearness of the arms and elbows did nothing to make Zina feel nearer to little Annie. It was like the body of a stranger. And then it dawned on her. Bram was still a stranger. She was dancing with a total stranger. That made her queasy.

As they danced, Bram's elbow accidentally brushed against the apple lying on a nearby table. With his hands on Zina's shoulder, he moved his left hand away while leaving the right one in place. The left hand picked up the apple and threw it over the window. The object that replaced the fruit in Bram's hand was also shiny; a pocket knife with a glowing gray blade. Zina shuddered as she sensed the apple smashing against the ground. It had squished its bright innards and leaked out its life-sustaining juices onto the leveled, manicured grass.

The grass, it too, owed its beauty to violence. The top of its stems were being chopped off every week by the loud, drill-like sounding lawnmower. The green furry blanket of the lawn cushioned Zina's lifeless body against the rain-drenched earth until the police fetched it from the ground a few weeks later.

Special thanks to Excalibre,XWiz, and TheLady for their invaluable feedback.
My gratitude also goes to another five or six noders who read this and shared their thoughts and suggestions.

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