behind the sliding back door

By Aaron Cohen


Warmth and moisture permeated the morning air. A cool breeze occasionally cut through,

carrying with it petals, pollen, and the faint scent of last year’s decay. After the months of wet 

and cold, the sky seemed to be celebrating winter’s end with a brilliant display of light blue, 

almost devoid of any clouds. 

A young boy carrying a small watering can and his father emerged from the sliding back 

door of their newly built raised ranch, hand in hand. The boy turned his head, looking to the 

kitchen window where his mother could be seen unpacking dishes. She smiled at him and gave a 

nod. The boy smiled back and waved, then turned to face the direction his father was pointing. 

At the end of the yard, a young tree in full bloom – barely as tall as the father – sat, a freshly dug 

hole large enough to fit its roots just beside it. Two spades, one large and metal and the other 

small and plastic, lay on the ground nearby. 

With his father’s help, the boy lowered the tree into the hole and filled it back up with 

dirt. He emptied his watering can at the base of the tree, soaking a small patch directly around 

the trunk. 

“What do we do now?” the young boy asked, poking at the ground with the spout of the 

watering can. 

“Well,” said the father, gently coaxing the boy away from disturbing the soil any further, 

“Your grandfather, who had a very green thumb, always used to tell me that the trick to growing 

anything was to talk to it.” 

“That sounds dumb,” the boy said. 

“Maybe, but it’s true! Talking to plants helps them grow. I bet if you asked your teacher, 

she’d agree.” 

At this, the boy seemed to be satisfied. Reaching out toward the tree, he gently grabbed 

hold of the tip of one of its branches. Wiggling it absentmindedly, he said, “Okay, but what do I 

“Anything, I guess. Whatever you think of,” the father responded, proud of himself for 

sparking his child’s imagination. Suddenly the sound of a shattering plate echoed from the house, 

followed by his wife’s cursing. “But not right now, kiddo. You can start tomorrow. Right now 

we should go back in and help your mom.” 

“Okay.” 

The boy turned away from the tree and back toward his father, arms outstretched. 

“Up you go, Johnny,” his father grunted, picking him up and hugging him tightly against 

his shoulder. “You’re starting to get heavy, you know that?” 

They walked back toward the house, leaving the spades and watering can behind, and 

disappeared behind the sliding back door.

~~~~~ 

The heat was intense. The air was still and dry. But at a moment’s notice, it could become 

thick with humidity, or the wind could pick up in anticipation of a storm. The weather was 

always unpredictable this time of year. The sky was clear, but there were always dark and 

thunderous clouds on the horizon. Most of the foliage around and within the neighborhood was 

thick and vibrant with green, and the backyard tree was no exception. Summer was at its peak. 

Johnny, who now preferred John, was outside in his backyard, sitting on the grass in the 

shade of the tree that he and his father had planted nearly a decade ago when he was a child. The 

tree was much taller now, more than twice the height it had been when first planted. It was the 

only thing the boy had left of his father. A car accident, a drunk driver on a rainy night. 

The thought of school in the fall made him feel queasy. He only had two years left until 

he graduated, but it felt like forever. 

“Why don’t you go to that party you were invited to,” his mother called from the back 

door. “All you’ve done all summer is brood. You should be social, make some friends.” 

“Do you know what happens at those parties, mom?” he asked rhetorically, wrapping a 

blade of grass around his finger. “Everyone gets shitfaced. I’m not interested.” 

“How do you know that’s what happens? You never go to any of them!” 

“Because I’m not stupid,” he spat out venomously. 

His mother shook her head and closed the back door with an exasperated sigh.

~~~~~ 

It was evening. The air was crisp and cool, the breeze carrying a spiced scent. Most life 

had passed its prime, and was dying out in splashes of color. Seeds nestled themselves into the 

ground under piles of decaying leaves, preparing themselves for the coming winter. Reds, 

oranges, yellows, and browns painted the landscape, and the sky above was cast in an orange and 

pink glow, as if reflecting what was below it.

 John, now a man, stood together with his wife Margaret, their hands held tightly. Every 

holiday, they’d spend some time in the yard near the tree to honor his father, and also perhaps 

because it had become a necessary ritual in its own right. Or, maybe it was just a compulsion. In 

any case, this year was certainly no different. Standing at a powerful fifty feet, it covered a large 

portion of the yard in a canopy of leaves, which now gave off a vibrant display of reds and 

oranges. The wind gusted, and the tree gave off the illusion of being enveloped in a fiery blaze. 

“It smells good, doesn’t it?” John said, taking note of his mother’s cooking wafting from 

the house. Turkey, rosemary, pumpkin, cinnamon. 

“Yeah,” said Margaret. “It does. I just hope it’s ready soon. I don’t think the kids can 

control their appetites much longer. They’re getting antsy, and frankly so am I.” She laughed, but 

he was frowning. “What’s wrong?” 

“Nothing,” he said. “I mean, I was just thinking. About how fast time seems to fly. And it 

feels like each year it’s just getting faster. I mean Matt is starting high school next year, for 

God’s sake!” 

He was comforted by the squeeze of his wife’s hand. She nodded, knowing that he just 

needed this moment. Her free hand lightly rubbed his back. But before the moment could grow 

any more intimate, it was shattered by the sound of chaos. They turned around, catching a 

glimpse of his elderly mother shouting in the kitchen window. 

“The kids must be picking at the food,” Margaret said. “We should give her a hand. 

She’d never admit it, but she’s getting too old to do this by herself. I’ll let you have a second 

alone, but don’t take too long, alright?” 

He nodded. She gave him a quick kiss, which he gladly returned. “I love you,” he said. 

“I love you, too,” she said. 

After his wife went inside, John spent just another moment taking it all in. Then after a 

deep breath he too went back into the house, closing the sliding back door behind him.

~~~~~ 

The cold was harsh and bitter, the air chilling to the bone. Other than the howl of the 

wind, there was no sound. Only a silent frost. Life was sleeping, blanketed in a growing coat of 

heavy white snow. An elderly John trudged through the yard, bundled from head to toe in warm 

winter gear. It was foolish of him, he knew, to be out in weather like this, especially at night – 

not to mention his age! But he had to see it, up close, at least once. It would help him get through 

the rest of winter, his first since Margaret’s passing. He almost fell a couple times on his trek. He 

had to laugh, knowing how furiously his children would react if they knew what he was doing. 

But he made it, grabbing at a strong lower branch to maintain his balance. 

The tree was completely naked and bare, its only cover being whatever snow managed to 

stick to its branches. Even in this icy cloak, there was beauty, there was life, however faint it may 

have been. Perhaps it was this faintness, the fragility of it, that made it so beautiful. He slid his 

hand along his supporting branch, moving along it until he found a smaller twig between his 

gloved fingers. He gave it a little wiggle and it bent, but it did not break. 

Satisfied, he turned and shuffled back toward the house. The walk back was a little easier, 

his initial trip having left a path of sorts through the snow.  He managed to get onto the patio 

without tripping, slid open the back door, and made it into the house. Then with a tired huff, he 

was able to pull the door closed.

~~~~~

Warmth and moisture permeated the morning air. A cool breeze occasionally cut through, 

carrying with it petals, pollen, and the faint scent of last year’s decay. After the months of wet 

and cold, the sky seemed to be celebrating winter’s end with a brilliant display of light blue, 

almost devoid of any clouds. 

A young boy, only a handful of years old, and his father stood hand in hand beneath an 

old, towering tree. It was in full bloom, dressed in ruffled pink flowers. Some of the petals were 

beginning to fall, and each nudge from the wind made them sprinkle down like snow. Sunny 

yellow dandelions were scattered about in the yard. The cheeriness of the nature around them 

was a stark contrast to the air of the funeral service. Both father and son were wearing a black 

suit and tie, and seemed out of place in the colorful setting. 

“Daddy, why are we at grandpa’s special place?” asked the boy. 

“To be honest, I’m not really sure.” 

“Oh,” said the boy, as if that actually answered his question. “Daddy?” 

“Yeah, Johnny?” 

“Why did grandpa have to leave?” 

At this the father’s eyes began to tear, though he managed to keep his composure. 

“Eventually,” his father said, wiping his eyes. “All people will have to leave. They don’t 

have a choice.” 

“But daddy,” Johnny said, clearly becoming upset. “You’re not going to leave me, 

Choking back sobs now, it took all of the father’s energy just to remain composed. 

“Daddy, do you think this tree will be lonely without grandpa?” asked Johnny. His father 

could not respond. 

“Matt, Johnny,” called a female voice from the house. “Come inside. The caterers have 

set out the food!” 

“Coming, Mommy!” Johnny yelled back. He wrapped his tiny arms around the trunk as 

far as they’d go and whispered, “I love you, grandpa.” Then he grabbed his father’s hand, and 

together the two of them walked back into the house, disappearing behind the sliding back door.