It starts with a knothole in her left breast. At first, she’s not overly concerned—the hole is shallow and teardrop-shaped, barely large enough to fit the tip of her pinky. Her youngest has just stopped breastfeeding, and hormonal changes can do strange things to a body. She decides she’ll give it a week, wait for the emptiness to fill.

By the next morning, a mating pair of bluebirds has moved in. They stuff the opening with twigs and grass and sprigs of lilac. She calls her mother, asks if her body ever provided a home for something that didn’t belong there. Only once, her mother says, and hangs up—it’s time for her 10 a.m. meds, her CNA-assisted stroll through the courtyard.

The knothole grows. The skin around it thickens, furring over with moss. She finally allows herself to panic. She calls the doctor, who suggests sending photos. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t get the angle right—the bluebirds in the picture look sick, beady-eyed, but in real life they’re fairy-tale plump, with bright eyes and blush-orange bellies.

The doctor takes her vitals. He shines a flashlight into her knothole, looking for the pale gleam of eyes. When the test results come back, he calls the findings nonspecific. Perhaps an inflammatory process. He talks about invasive species, controlled burns, the decomposition of leaf litter.

On the one hand, she doesn’t want to be a forest. On the other hand, she doesn’t appear to be dying.

While her children sleep, she wanders through the woods behind the house, to convince herself it won’t be so bad in the end. She sees a birch tree with a gash in its side, dripping thick orange blood. She sees a pine tree split like a wishbone down the middle, pried apart by wind or lightning. She sees a tiny mitten, roughly the size of her two-year-old’s hand. Pokes her curved beak through the holes.

Her husband suggests that she stay on top when they make love. Her new body doesn’t bother him—he just doesn’t want to disturb the flowers, the foliage. He would hate to crack the smooth turquoise eggs nestled in the hollow of her neck.

We’ll always love you, her husband says, and she knows it to be true by the way her children roost in her branches, and water all of her, even the weeds, and curl up fox-like in the pool of shade at the base of her trunk. Nothing has changed, her husband says, and she wants to slap him. She stretches out her vines, her tendrils, her feathers, her claws, but in the end she resists. She can feel her center hardening. It needs to be strong and dead, so that the rest of her can remain standing. Whatever comes.

I want you to tuck me in, her four-year-old tells her, while the moon quivers above them. She holds him to her trunk, sinks her face into the nest of his hair.

Lindy Biller is a writer based in Wisconsin. Her stories have recently appeared in Passages North, The Masters Review, Barren Magazine, and Cobra Milk. Her debut fiction chapbook, Love at the End of the World, was published by The Masters Review in Spring 2023.