I was sitting in the coffee shop, sipping my dark roast and listening to a podcast about rare childhood diseases, when two policemen came in and walked up to my table.
“We’ll need you to come with us,” said the one with gray hair and a face like an Easter Island statue.
“Why? What’s the trouble, officers?” I said.
“We can talk about that at the station,” said the younger, nicer one. They didn’t answer any of my questions as we rode downtown in their squad car. They wrote my name in a logbook and put me in an interrogation room with me on one side of the table and both of them on the other side. The younger one had a coffee cup that said “Good Cop,” and the older one’s cup said “Bad Cop,” but I was in no mood for cop humor.
“I demand to know what’s going on,” I said.
Bad Cop said tonelessly, “You’ve been credibly accused of inappropriately hugging a tree.”
“What the hell does that mean?” I said.
“Improper use of hands,” said Good Cop.
“Unwanted advances,” said Bad Cop.
“I don’t even particularly like trees,” I said stupidly.
“Most rapists don’t like women,” said Bad Cop.
“How did rape get into this?” I said.
“How indeed?” said Good Cop, who was starting to seem less good by the second. I babbled something about having the right to confront my accuser, and Good Cop said, “Would that really be fair to the victim?”
“She’s not even of age,” said Bad Cop.
Now I was good and mad. “There is no victim!” I said. “And she’s not underage!”
“You see what you just did there,” said Bad Cop. “You just tripped up, like they all do eventually.”
Good Cop whispered to him and they both nodded.
“Don’t go anywhere,” said Bad Cop, and they left the room together. While they were gone I switched their coffee cups out of spite, not even caring if they might be watching through the two-way mirror. They came back with a small maple tree in between them. She was sobbing and her leaves were shaking.
“Is this the guy?” said Bad Cop and sipped from the Good Cop mug. The tree nodded, or so it seemed to me.
“I have never seen this tree before!” I said.
“How can you be sure?” said Good Cop, holding the Bad Cop mug.
“I guess I can’t answer that,” I said, suddenly unsure of myself.
The tree spoke up. “What you’re saying,” she said, “is that all trees look alike to you.”
I said, “I’m not saying anything of the kind.”
Bad Cop whispered to Good Cop, they both chuckled, and then they left the room again, Good Cop saying they’d be back soon and that I’d better keep my hands to myself in the meantime. As soon as they were gone the tree stopped sniffling and asked if she could bum a cigarette off me. I gave her one, lit it carefully, making sure not to singe any of her leaves, and watched as she took a long drag.
“I apologize,” she said at last.
“For telling that outrageous lie about me?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “But it was the only way I could think of to meet you. I hope you’re not the type to hold a grudge.”
I smiled and said, “Keeping bitterness in your heart is like swallowing poison and waiting for someone else to die.”
She smiled back, I think. Then I said, “But I have to know: have you ever actually been molested in any way?”
“I believe I was once inappropriately touched by an angel,” she said.
has poems published or forthcoming in Plume Poetry Journal, The American Journal of Poetry, and The Bitter Oleander. He won the 2019 Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest, and has written humor for The New Yorker, The Onion, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. His books include a humor collection, It’s Funny Until Someone Loses an Eye (Then It’s REALLY Funny), and a poetry chapbook, One of These Things Is Not Like the Other. His first full-length poetry collection, Falling in the Direction of Up, is forthcoming from Sagging Meniscus Press.
Author’s website: https://kurtluchs.com
A trio of poems by Kurt Luchs:
Morning Likeness in La Piccioletta Barca (Issue 15, January 2020)
⚡ Suzie (at ProQuest online), winner of Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest and published in Atlanta Review (Volume 26, Issue 1, Fall 2018/Winter 2019; page 84)
A Mist in the Tree in The Nonconformist Magazine (24 July 2020)