Wyld FLASH August 27th 2021
For centuries, they stood wrapped around each other, bark to bark, supporting each other through winter, drought, fire, storm. Branches whispering, roots philosophizing, leaves gossiping about the countries of soil, leaf, ant and worm, rotting and sprouting all around them. She could hear when beetles marched across his skin, when the robin made a nest in his arms; she felt the water sing through his body each spring.
The robin died; the beetles vanished; the forest was cut down around them. Lovers carved their names into his outer bark, and still they stood. Year after year. Alone, without the forest. Quieter, with none but themselves to whisper to. Yet still together.
A house appeared, a road. The soil couldn’t breathe; frogs crawled to air, gasping. The world withered. The foundation of the house cut into the spring from which they drank. She felt his sadness when he leaned on her. His weariness, bone-deep and old as rock.
Another house, a fence, a dog, a child.
She was dreaming of sunshine and water when she felt a tremor in the soil and heard him scream. Soon, she too was screaming. They were cutting him off at the waist.
“Are you there?” she whispered when it was over, for a tree is a tough and ancient thing, and it takes more than an axe to kill it. She sent trickles of food through their shared roots; she sent water, questions, care.
At first, no answer. Then a soft, green pulse. Like a cracked seed touching sunlight.
Yes. He was here.
Then they began digging. They dug up his roots and where his intertwined with hers they hacked; she screamed, but no one heard. When they stopped at last, she was bleeding. Feet cut off, toes, legs. Yet she remained. A tree is a tough and ancient thing.
“Are you there?” she asked.
No answer. She sent the last of her food, the last of her water, all her love, but heard nothing. Felt nothing. No green pulse. No tremor of life.
Only rock and concrete. Only silence, moaning as it slid along the parking lot. Sunshine scorched her skin. She didn’t mind. She wanted to burn.
Years passed. Cracks began to appear in the road. Grass and weeds struggled through. Vines wrapped around the red swing, strangling its last attempts at motion. They slithered through the house, crawled along the moldy walls, the rotting floors, the silent kitchen. The nursery.
“Someone died there too,” the wind whispered. “Someone small. As small as a catkin.”
“You are angry.”
“It’s been so long. Why hold on?”
“I am a tree. I will hold on until I’m dead.”
“And if you never die?”
“And returns. Everything dies and returns; everything is in motion. Listen.”
She did. She heard sparrows splash and chatter in a pond that had appeared in a wide crack in the road one night after it rained. Something wet touched her roots. Water. The vines had cracked through the foundations of the house and set the spring free.
Out of the bushes by the new pond waddled an odd, unfamiliar creature. He had thick legs, soft yet stiff, and scaled like bark. A round shell, tough as heartwood. He was not a tree. Yet he moved as if he thought like a tree: with deliberate patience. Each grain of soil needed to be inspected, conversed with. Each blade of grass was worth reflecting upon.
It was morning by the time he reached her. He burrowed down beneath a hollow at her knees as if he belonged there. She tried to ignore him. She was a tree, and very old. She had her dignity.
He was still there a year later. He swam in the pond. He ate grass, dead leaves, the insects that tried to bore into her bark.
“Who are you?” she asked.
Out of a green shell, a bald head emerged with the slowness of heartwood forming. Black eyes, old as soil, peered at her. Carefully. Intently.
They saw her. And she saw him, saw the roots in him, long and deep as mountains, roots that ran through worlds. Across oceans. He was almost as old as she was, and as patient.
It was morning by the time he answered her question.
“Turtle,” he said.
It was evening by the time she repeated his name.
“Turtle,” she said.
When fall came, her naked arms wrapped around him as he rested beneath her, shielding him from raccoons and foxes. He nestled there, dug down into the cool soil. Sunlight trickled through her arms and warmed his shell until it glowed the color of new summer leaves.
“Willow,” he said.
Author Bio: G. Ekman lives in Stockholm, Sweden. Her articles, reviews and translations have previously appeared in Guernica, Strange Horizons, American Book Review and other venues.
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