I was sleeping and did not wake up because I was dreaming the very thing that was happening – that the poplar was falling slowly, slowly, into my kitchen. The part that didn’t happen but which in my dream was delightful was this: I was riding it down, that poplar tree, into my kitchen. When it hit with a mild bump and stopped, I swung my leg over and jumped off, patted my stee, poured a cup of coffee, and sat on a kitchen stool to contemplate the muscular, bare, white barked, leafless length of sleek druid lying across my sink, my stove, and my dining room table, its faraway head resting on my sofa.

I eventually rolled over to eyeball the clock, sensing something different in my world. I was only a year into living alone for the first time in my life, so all things were odd to me. As I stepped into the hall, I saw what it was that perhaps made me feel something peculiar was going on: the impossibility of a tree in the living room left me staring for a minute or two. And in the dining room, it was also. And most of him resting peacefully along my kitchen counter, the roof split under the already hard blue sky of a summer morning on the prairie.

I was not stunned or horrified, I suppose because of the dream, preparing me, you might say. This lack of dramatic reaction on my part was something new, as well, because since Glen died, everything made me anxious, weepy, quivering in trepidation. Most days, I was unsure if I was grief struck or anxiety-ridden. So, in a state of weird calm that fine summer morn, I walked on crunchy brown leaves into my now outdoor kitchen. It was magical, no longer the ordinary kitchen it had been the night before when I turned out the lights and sighed myself into my lonely bed. My kitchen, with a dead tree in it, was a wonderland. I was a kid again, with hope in my heart. I was looking at my childhood dream—a treehouse.

Two weeks earlier, the tree guy told me he couldn’t even get his truck with the bucket into my backyard to top the tree.

"What will I do?” I asked, beginning to chew on the inside of my mouth. "Well, I know a climber,” he said. “But he don’t climb dead trees.”

I looked up the sixty feet of absolutely dead poplar I’d planted only ten years before and wondered how long it could stand there without falling on my neighbor’s house. Or mine.

"It'll prob’ly go this winter, “ he said. “Ice. Winds, ya know.” "Well,” I said, “please call your climber and let me know.”

He walked toward the alley and his truck. I followed him.

"How much money are we talking, Mr. Dortmann?” “Can’t tell ‘til I talk to Mr. Kennedy.” “The climber?” “Yeah, he’s the climber. Irish. Always talkin’ about bein’ Irish.”

I pondered for a moment what that had to do with anything, then I sat in my pergola, where I could see only the bottom of the not even teenage poplar that had betrayed me. I’d already looked up at it enough, wondering if it really wouldn’t come back next summer, leaf out, and be a tree. Or stand there dead for another few decades as a landmark of something – Glen’s and my marriage?—and fall down after I was dead. I knew poplars were fast growers and had a short lifespan compared to most trees, but I thought it was twenty years, not ten. Within three years of planting, it was majestic. And then it was dead before its time. Kind of like Glen. He wasn’t exactly majestic, but he did have a presence, a lovely, sexy combination of gravitas and playfulness, much like trees do in their bigness but with their leaves always waving at you. And Glen, too, died far before his time, at the age of fifty-four. He and I were supposed to get old and feeble together, be withering husks like old trees, but way down the years. Not now, not in our prime of having launched kids, a couple with privacy again, and an enticing hint of adventures unknown around the corner.

It is so trite that one never knows when. So shocking when it hits.

Living in a little town has many graces, but a choice of tree guys is not one of them. When old Mr. Dortmann showed up with Mr. Kennedy from a town far away that I knew as even smaller than mine, I was hanging clothes on the line that Glen strung for me. I have a dryer, but this old-fashioned way of doing things appeals to me, an atavistic piece of work that makes me calm, even though I never have liked taking washing off the line.

"So, Ms. Heaney, this here’s Mr. Kennedy.”

We shook hands and looked each other in the eye for more than two seconds, uncommon because usually we humans look and look away.

"Irish, are ya? Or is that your husband’s name?” asked Mr. Kennedy, having peered as deeply as he could into my eyes. "I've always gone by my maiden name,” I said, and turned away. Who needs some old coot conducting an inquiry into your soul when you’re a year widowed and still scared and soon going to have to give him money you don’t have, to do something so a tree won’t fall in Kansas.

The two men gazed up the tree, moved away, looked up again, taking it in from all angles.

"Know your neighbor?” Mr. Kennedy asked.

That's a stupid question, I thought. This is a little town in the Midwest, and he’s asking me if I know my neighbor. “I think I waved at him once,” I said.

He laughed. “You’re the sharp-tongued one, now ain’t ya?”

I live on the correct side of language usage. I can no more help myself from editing menus and billboards than I can not want to correct folks who utter solecisms like “ain’t.” Mr. Dortmann didn’t bother me, having known him and his way with the language most of my life. But this Kennedy guy was doing it for effect. His diction was too sharp for him to be saying “ain’t,” not to mention those kindly inquisitive eyes.

"Ain't usually, but some folks just bring it out in me,” I responded, leaning over to pick another towel out of the basket to hang on the line.

He chuckled and conferred again with Mr. Dortmann. They walked over to the fence and squatted down to look at the posts of it. They studied the wires coming from the alley through the dead popular.

"Can we take this clothesline down?” Mr. Kennedy asked. "As you can see, all you have to do is unscrew those eye bolts.” "Well, now, you know a bit about carpentry, I’d say.”

I hung a blouse and ignored him. Knowing the name of screws does not a carpenter make, and I wasn’t about to tell him that when Glen fixed anything, he liked to explain the hardware. I knew plenty. "Can we take out this section of your fence, Ms. Heany?” asked Mr. Dortmann. I stook up straight and stretched my back. “Can you put it together again?

"Oh, sure. Easy. We just dig it out with the cement on the post, then put ‘er back.” "You can do whatever you need to do to get this dead tree out of my life before it hurts somebody’s house,” I said. "You know the Heaneys have a long and troubled history in Ireland,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Everybody in Ireland has a long and troubled ancestry, Mr. Kennedy. Can you get my tree out?” "Yes, Ma’am.”

I dislike being called “Ma’am.” Makes me feel old and schoolmarm.

"What will it cost me?” I’ve come to dislike this asking-the-price-of also. Since Glen died and the bank bust stole two-thirds of what was working up to be our retirement, I’d had to ask it too many times for minor emergencies like the new hot water heater and the furnace repair. Everything cost a lot more than I thought it would and was always more than I had on hand.

"Well, seein’s how you’re Irish, I’d say, umm, ‘bout five hundred.”

I was somewhat relieved because I was figuring a grand at least. “Good thing I’m not English is all I can say, I said ungraciously.

"You do have a sharpish wit about ya’.”

That day, they didn’t say when they’d be back to cut down my poplar, but now, it was a moot point. They hadn’t showed up in time, and here the poplar was, down on its own, in my house, hanging out like the exotic uninvited guest it was. And strangely, not unwelcome, its presence please me wildly, satisfying me in a way that cancelled worry.

It was 6:15 a.m. now, quiet, a little birdsong here and there. No neighbor had yet to come looking, nor had a squirrel ventured in to scope out the new angle of a tree he no doubt used as a route across my side yard. The sun wasn’t high enough to beat down on me, and the slight breeze from on high felt good. Wouldn’t it be fine if I could just live with a tree in my house, I thought.

Since I was a child, I’d wanted to live in a tree house. It started when I read a Beetle Baily comic book in which he was on bivouac with his military platoon. In his Beetle way, he wandered away to shirk the work, climbed a tree and wound up working like a madman to make a Rube Goldberg kind of dwelling from Army machine parts. It was ingenious, with a bathroom, a kitchen, pulleys, swings, stairs. And windows! I wanted to live there. The comic book eventually fell apart, and I grew up. The tree house idea has lingered always.

And here I was, kind of tree-housey myself – a tree in my house rather than a house in a tree.

As I shook cereal into a bowl, I thought I should call Mr. Dortmann, but I didn’t. It was early yet; he wouldn’t be answering his phone at six in the morning. I tested a side branch, found it firmly planted on my floor, and got up on a chair, then onto the branch. I reached down to the counter and picked up my cereal bowl and spoon. I was able to lean against the cupboard beside the sink, so I felt like I was in a chaise longue, comfy. I could see into my backyard, an entirely alien angle of review to it now with the tree rearranged. The six-foot-tall Jerusalem artichokes seemed to stand up straighter, their yellow flowers nodding in the breeze that was picking up, the leaves of the poplar drifting off the lower branches with each little gust.

Suddenly there was a head at my now much bigger window. It was Mr. Kennedy.

“Mornin’, Ma’am. Nice day, huh?”

Contrary thing to say to a woman with a tree in her house, I thought. But he was right. It was a nice day. It occurred to me that he appeared without my phoning him. “Like some coffee?” I asked.

“Wouldn’t mind it.” “Come in the window here.” He did. “If you don’t mind pouring your own, “I said. “I am too comfortable to get down.” “I can see that,” he said, maneuvering adroitly among the branches on the floor.

He poured his coffee, refilled mine, and then sat on a tall stool so he too could look out the window at the nice day. We talked for a long time – turned out to be an hour – about trees, family (the Kennedys and the Heaneys), and horticulture (again trees—the ones that flourished on the prairie, poplars not being one of them, although according to Mr. Kennedy, their relatives, the cottonwoods, like it well enough); about the lack of trees in Ireland because the British cut them all down so no one could hide. Finally, he stood. “I got my truck here. I’m going to work on this tree now.”

I felt a stab of sadness. “I hate to see it go so soon. Can you keep it like this for a bit?”

“If you don’t mind critters wandering in in the middle of the night," “I could light a fire and keep them at bay.”

He shook his head at me, a slight smile on his crinkly, weathered face. “You’re a little fanciful too, aren’t you, Ms. Heaney?

I smiled at his lack of “ain’t” and his not calling me 'Ma'am,” and he went away, smiling still. I sat on my perch, happy in a way I hadn’t been for a year. Glen had been my back, my right arm, and my champion, and I missed him and all that he could do, which meant I didn’t have to. We’d known each other since we were children, and his absence was a mystery to me. Where had he gone? How did someone who loved me leave me? How could I manage?

He was a darling. I adored him. He patted me on the butt when he walked through the kitchen; he bought me paper clips, he made me laugh. He solved all problems, even though at first he would have to go through some kind of rant – “We’ve already paid this bill! What do they think they’re doing by sending me another one?” Or one of my favorites, the time we got a flat on the Volkswagen bus when the kids were little, and as he had a fit, I started laughing, and the kids started, and we couldn’t stop. He steamed and muttered, and glared, partly because he didn’t have a spare tire, but also because it happened at all.

He finally walked away, over a hill, which sobered us down some. Soon he drove up with a tow truck man, and all was well. I knew that had he been here with a tree in the kitchen, he would not have been complaisant about it. He would not be sitting here on a limb, drinking coffee. He’d have to yell at the tree for awhile. Then at the tree, guys who didn’t get here in time to cut it down before it fell down.

I didn’t miss him quite as much right then, as I sat on my tree, sipped cold coffee, and pretended, I lived on a branch in the kitchen.

Just after the noon whistle blew downtown, Mr. Kennedy appeared at my window again.

“Still here, I see,” he said with his crinkly smile. "Okay, if I start?” “Take him away, Mr. Kennedy,” I said as I climbed off my perch. “I think I can manage without him now.”