- This piece is sort of a sequel to one I wrote a bit back titled "Tree Dream." It might help to read that story before this.
- This piece is very, very bad--as a matter of fact, I didn't even read over it once before I submitted it, because I wrote it all in a half hour and the deadline was (is) very soon and I need to get to bed. I might go back later and edit it if I have the time before it gets approved (if it even does). But, my warning: You'd be better off reading almost anything else.
Maia leans trustingly into her husband and sighs.
She’s never felt love like this before. The man she was once married to was weak, but he tore her down, made her feel worthless. She never would have chosen him.
Silas is not like that. Maia chose to be with him. He’s so strong and kind and a better father than she’s ever seen. Maia can’t imagine anyone more perfect.
She looks around the cabin. Silas and Maia live in a small house in the woods, a ten-minute journey by foot to the town where he works. Silas’s job is in a factory that makes and manufactures medicine, which is rather ironic considering many people who work there are sick.
And white. But Silas is not. So he works for low wages, and prays with every passing day that things will get better. They never do.
While her husband is at work, Maia and her two children, Lily and Reese, spend the day in nature. Hardly anyone ever appreciates the world anymore. That’s why the colors have grown so pale; no one has time to see them. But the earth, Maia knows, will stay, if she nurtures it.
There is a very tall tree at the edge of a field that Maia goes to every day. The tree has hundreds of strong branches and is colored like milk. It stands firmly far above the wood it borders, and sits on the edge of a clearing in the forest, a large opening of long green grass with little dips and holes for the children to play in. Maia and Lily and Reese go there every day, and spend hours in the tree collecting fruit.
Food, from the tree at least, is free.
Maia gets into bed beside her husband and takes a last look around the one-room log cabin before she turns out the light. A few meters away, Lily and Reese are sleeping peacefully in their respective bed and crib, and all is well.
They may be poor, but for Maia, poor is peaceful. Poor is perfect.
Maia blows out the lamp.
Life like this continues. The townspeople are suspicious of Silas, but they always are. They have an ingrained bias towards him that will never ever go away. If only, you wish, if only we could change that; but we can’t. At least, not in this generation. Perhaps in the next.
Perhaps, later, it’ll be different.
Silas works bottling medicines--he’s usually soaked in dirty liquid by the end of the day--and arranging pills, and Maia and her children continue to visit the tree every day, marveling in nature, the beauty that has no cost.
Until one day, Silas doesn’t come back.
Usually, Silas will visit his family in the field when his shift is over, and the four of them go from there to their house, a short walk. But Maia has been waiting long past the time he usually comes, and he has not.
Finally, Maia calls Lily to her and, grasping Reese in her left arm, they ascend the thick tree trunk. When they get to the bottom, they arrange themselves, and set off for the factory.
Lily can tell that something’s wrong. “Mamma?” she asks sweetly, skipping to keep up with Maia’s worried pace. “How come Daddy’s so late?”
“I don’t know, dear,” Maia replies, gripping Reese tightly. He begins to cry, and Maia readjusts her grip gently. “I’m sorry, son,” she murmurs.
They make their way through the wood into the town square. “Don’t let go of me, Lily, okay?” Maia whispers. Lily nods and clutches to her mother’s dress.
Carts rattle roughly along the cobbles. Townspeople, dressed drably in grey and brown and black, sneer at them. A few, Maia thinks, recognize the family they belong to, and draw back even further as they pass, as if she carries some kind of dreadful disease.
Finally, they reach the factory. Mildew’s Medicines and Remedies. Shuddering, Maia holds her children tight and pushes the door open.
Nothing sounds as it should. A factory should be full of the noise of machinery running, but everything is silent except for a low conversation that stops almost as soon as Maia walks in.
Every head turns to look at her. Every gleaming eyeball among faces blackened with grime stares, and continues to do so as she walks shakily across the factory floor.
Maia is barefoot. She realizes at once that that’s a huge mistake. She tries to lead Lily to avoid the mysterious dark pools of liquid and unidentifiable objects on the floor by stepping on them herself. Cringing with every echo of she sounds she’s making off the cavernous walls, she approaches the group of people huddled together.
When she’s a few meters away from them, she stops. “What’s going on?” she asks, trying to control the unease in her voice.
“See for yourself,” one of the men replies, and they all part like the Red Sea to let Maia through.
She gasps and immediately covers Lily’s eyes. A horribly mutated man lies facedown on the floor in front of her. He’s covered in some kind of white, powdery substance, but blood still seeps and drips in puddles all around him. At least one of his limbs appears to be crushed, but at this point it’s hard to tell; the man is most definitely dead.
“Don’t look, Lily,” Maia pleads, her hand over her daughter’s eyes. She looks slowly at the two lines of men. “How did this happen?”
“Well, no one knows for sure,” a volunteer began, “but we reckon--well, Reckforth was right next to ‘em before he fell in the pill-crushin’ machine.”
“No,” Maia whispers. “No! That’s not possible!”
“It right well is, missee,” another man says. “Him there was the one who paid our wages. He always paid your husband, ma’am, the lowest of any of us.” He gestures at his leg. “‘N I’m a cripple.”
“He wouldn’t do it,” Maia says fiercely. “He wouldn’t. Look at these kids. He’s a man with children.”
“Beggin’ your pardon, miss,” yet another worker chimes in, “but anyone can see that those ain’t his.”
Maia shakes her head, her face crumpled with the effort not to cry. “I must see him. Where is he? Where is Silas?”
There is a general shuffling of feet, then finally the first man chimes in, “Sheriff came. He’s in the county jail now.”
Dead silence, broken a full minute later by Maia’s hoarse threat. “You wouldn’t.”
To that, there is no response.
Maia turns around and runs, runs across the factory and out the door. “Please, anyone!” she shouts. “Where is the jail?”
No one responds, though she screams it over and over again. When passerby see her reach out to them to beg for help, they turn away and sometimes even cross the street. “Please, please,” Maia begs anyone, everyone. They all turn away.
Desperately, cries to an old woman in a black dress, “Please, madam, I need to find my husband. Where is he? Where is Silas?”
The woman looks her up and down with contempt, practically reeling at the sight of Reese in her arms and Lily clutching frightenedly to her dress. Finally the woman leans in and whispers, almost too low for Maia to hear:
“We know what he did.”