The Tree in the Backyard of a House on Russet Street

Submitted into Contest #137 in response to: Write a story about someone forced out of their home.... view prompt

9 comments

Contemporary Fiction

I stacked my dad’s books in the doorway of his office, pretending to build a brick wall. His office should be sealed off, anyway. No one else belongs here on Russet Street, in our house. I blew some dust off the bookshelf, the part where I’d carved my name with a butter knife 13 years ago. When my dad found the carving, he called me an asshole and told me if I were going to carve my name into his beautiful, reclaimed wood shelf, I could at least spell it right. I’d forgotten the ‘e’ in Davey.

Besides me and mom, my dad loved only two other things in life: books and trees. Fittingly, the bulk of his library consisted of books about trees. It seemed like everything in his life revolved around trees—we even lived in a place nicknamed ‘the city of trees,’ which meant that anytime we went anywhere, my dad would bore us to death about trees—the names (regular and Latin), the shapes of their leaves, bloom times, and the colors they turn in the fall. My neck prickled. Guilt suddenly crept over me, cold and sharp. I couldn’t remember the name of one single tree. In all the years I spent listening to my dad go on and on about trees, I couldn’t even identify one.

***

When I won a partial scholarship to Davis a few years ago, my parents took out a second mortgage on the house to pay for the rest of the tuition. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. College was important to them, especially my dad, who dropped out of high school to take care of my grandma. And I know my parents didn’t want me saddled with debt. They just wanted me to have the things they didn’t. It all changed when my dad died.

Mom couldn’t afford the payments on her own, so I got a part-time job at Frank’s. She made me quit shortly after, though. She said dad would want me to focus on my classes. That’s what he would have wanted, I know, but I wish I wouldn’t have quit. I wonder if we’d still have the house.

***

I stumbled over moving boxes as I made my way back to the pile of books. I rifled through the titles—field, reference, and biology guides—until I found one that I could use. ‘Trees of the Pacific.’ I snatched up the book and made my way to my backyard. Well, someone else’s backyard now. I guess I should get used to saying that.

One single tree grew in the backyard—an impressive, rustling oval of green that shaded almost the entire lawn. I flipped through the pictures of my dad’s book, searching for a trunk shaped like a looming castle tower, for peeling bark speckled with tans and greys, for pillowy red blooms that looked like wishing dandelions, and for star-leafed branches, twisting and wild, stretching almost sixty feet into the sky.

***

I used to climb this tree a lot as a kid. There’s no branch low enough for me to grab (even now that I’m 5’10”), so I used to make a running start and jump off the trunk, throwing my arms up to catch the closest branch—a bald, spindly thing that stuck out parallel to the ground.

I tried to convince my dad to tie a swing on that branch, but he told me no. He said the branch wasn’t strong enough and that I shouldn’t even be using it to climb. I didn’t listen to him. And then, one day, after a week of rain, I propelled myself at my climbing branch and it snapped under my weight. I fell to the ground with a squelch, rolling around like a flipped over pill bug. My dad helped me up. I was covered head to toe in mud. He sighed,

               “I told you that was gonna happen, butthead.”  

***

After ten minutes of looking in my dad’s book, I finally found the match: California sycamore, platanus racemose, native to California and “quite adaptable once established.” The name sounded familiar. I’d probably heard my dad say it a thousand times if only I’d bother to listen. My neck prickled again, this time a lump formed in my throat. I wonder if my dad ever wished I loved trees like he did.

A blue bird landed on what was left of my climbing branch—a jagged little stump, darker grey than the rest of the tree. The blue bird stayed long enough me to notice the rusty orange patch on its chest. My dad would have loved being a blue bird.

Under the shade of the sycamore tree, I began to cry.

***

I lay there in the grass, gazing into a bouquet of leaves and sunlight, a sweet scent blowing over my wet cheeks.

We’re moving into an apartment twenty minutes south of here.  I haven’t seen it yet—my mom went to visit it last week. She assured me there was plenty of space on the grounds to take our dog for walks. She said they also have a Rec room with free internet so I could still do my class assignments. I never thought about it before, but I wonder what kind of trees the complex will have.

Tomorrow, I’ll leave this place forever. The California sycamore in the backyard of the house on Russet Street will belong to someone else. And sure, they’ll keep the puff ball flowers and the blue birds—they’ll keep the sycamore’s colors and twisted branches. Every winter, they’ll burn under the sun, unprotected from the-star shaped leaves. Every summer, they’ll lay under its shaded gnarls until the sky pinkens. But this tree will never mean as much to anyone else as it does to me.

***

I don’t want to leave my house; it’s the only one I’ve ever known. But I understand now. A house is a house, home is a feeling. It’s a feeling born from memories, which I’ll carry with me always, no matter where I go.

I’ll find new trees—different than this one, sure, and maybe not quite as special, but still grown in sweetness and wonder. My dad will help me identify them.

The world is full of trees. And they’re all waiting for me with wild, loving arms.

March 17, 2022 01:12

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9 comments

Brian Stanton
22:44 Mar 28, 2022

This was such a nice read, I feel like I got so much information about Davey in a short period of time. What I liked best is the way you moved seemelessly from a casual tone, one of recollection, to a more poetic, thoughtful kind of tone. Everytime Davey talks about trees there is a beautiful poetry there. As if Davey is not telling us a story anymore, but telling himself something. You do character growth well. That's true of both your stories. My favorite paragraph was the one that ended, "Every summer, they’ll lay under its shaded gnar...

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Robin Davidson
00:52 Mar 31, 2022

Ah, thank you! That was one of my favorite lines, too.

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Kelsey H
09:32 Mar 24, 2022

Your opening paragraph is really great, I was straight away pulled into the story and had a sense of what sort of people they are and the relationship they have. I really loved how you used trees in this story to connect Davey to his dad and the memories he has of him. The way you write your descriptions of the trees are beautiful too, they help create a melancholic atmosphere throughout the story without being overly morbid. I especially liked his wish of realizing he'd listened to his dad more while he was alive, and now that chance is go...

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Michał Przywara
01:44 Mar 21, 2022

This was bittersweet, very nice. It looks like we caught the narrator at a rough patch in life, mid-healing. It's fascinating seeing how Davey reconciles regret, sorrow, guilt, and fond memories, with the practicalities of real life, like being forced to move out. But it ends on a hopeful note, which is nice. Thanks for sharing!

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Robin Davidson
05:22 Mar 21, 2022

Thank you for the kind feedback.

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Becky E.
20:18 Mar 20, 2022

This is such an emotional and beautifully told story about loss and what we get to keep with us when we lose the ones we love! I LOVED IT!

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Robin Davidson
20:43 Mar 20, 2022

Thank you, appreciate your comment!

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17:47 Mar 19, 2022

A wonderful story. I liked how it flowed naturally without coercing the reader to feel. A lot going on with Davey and yet it didn't feel rushed at all. So much regret and loss for him and yet he endures. Well done :)

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Robin Davidson
20:42 Mar 20, 2022

Thank you 🙂

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