Tree girl


The hiker who found her tangled in the brush at the foot of Gorgola Hill told police that at first he thought the body was an exposed tree root. Her skin was just as pale as bone, he said, and she was all twisted up like.

And so resulting from the hiker’s quote in the local news media the dead woman came to be known as the Tree Girl, and her case, through the various channels of law enforcement and the bureaucratic fog of the D.A.’s office, invariably and unofficially became the case of the Tree Girl. All around Neophalia in the business offices and on the construction sites, at the fitness centers and in the kitchens people were talking about the Tree Girl, did you hear about the Tree Girl, who was she and where was she from.

But no one seemed to know. In a pocket of her shredded and bloodied jeans police found an identification card and a folded piece of paper upon which a short message was handwritten: I’m doing this because art is dead. Detectives quickly confirmed the woman’s identity as Norma Jean Brown, 25, the resident of a small studio apartment in Neophalia’s Garden district, and they cautiously treated the Tree Girl’s plunge to the base of the steep and rugged cliff as a suicide.

The police found the Tree Girl’s apartment dark and nearly empty save for a bare mattress lying on the floor in the center of the room and paints everywhere, paints of all types and colors, in cans and tubes and crusted dry and cracked upon plastic palettes. There were brushes and chemicals and handcrafted art materials and there were canvases and woods in varied states of completion. After a thorough search detectives could find no trace of friends or relatives of the Tree Girl, no working associates and no leads as to why this young woman would either jump from the summit of Gorgola Hill or become the focus of someone else’s violent designs.

After a week without anyone claiming the body, police appealed to the news media to help locate anyone who may have known the Tree Girl. They used the photo from her identification card and splashed it all over television and the Internet, in the newspapers and on billboards, the image of a frail girl with pale skin and large eyes, her smile forced and diffident perhaps in a vain attempt to help conceal her bad teeth. Plastered to the sides of local transportation vehicles and on the tiled walls of the subway tunnels the people of Neophalia were continuously reminded of the Tree Girl and her tragically anonymous life and death.

Then a young man came forward to police and told them he didn’t know the Tree Girl but he had seen her in a night club about a week before her body was found. She was inside the club, he said, painting some sort of picture on the wall. How can you be sure it was her, the police asked. I’m sure, the young man said, and described how he’d stood against the wall watching the Tree Girl paint that picture for hours while the room at her back strobed with light and sound and heat and movement, he stood frozen amid the fury of flesh until after the music stopped and the last of the dancers had gone, until the bouncer or the door man or the owner of the dance club came up to him and said, Dude, seriously, you gotta go. He told police that he walked out of the dance club with the sun just cracking the surface of the sky, feeling oddly connected to the young woman back in the dance club with her paints and brushes and harried concentration.

To read the story in its entirety, you’re gonna have to buy the book when it comes out.

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