It was a sleepy afternoon under the Motherly Tree on Moss Street when a ferocious sound woke Ezra.
Before Ezra could clearly see what was producing the snarling noise, a whiff of an unwonted and putrid smell wrinkled their nose.
A clawing grind ripped through the still morning. Ezra looked towards its source, in time to see the growling edges of a gas-powered chainsaw, gripped by a large person, dig deeply into the fleshy wood of a nearby tree trunk.
Saw dust filled the air, taking the space where Ezra wished their own cries could go. They were too horrified to speak.
What were these people doing, and why were they doing it? Here, in Ezra’s own place of sanctuary, where Ezra had come today to feel safe and held; where Ezra had been lulled into finally letting sleep overcome the heavy emotions of missing their mother, Rosie.
Ezra couldn't see how these people were able to stomach such a violent act. It was like they had never passed a golden afternoon beneath the canopy of a tree. Never be shown in patient time what her bosom holds close, or what her shapely trunks birth— here, a flower scenting the air. There, a bird’s roosting family.
Had these workers never stopped to notice the way crawling ivy and swaying ferns drape themselves over curvy limbs; a clothing that becomes like a second skin, a dancing dress swaying to the wind’s tune?
It was horrible for Ezra to witness. The act of cutting the Tree was so grotesque, the tools so mean, that Ezra returned again to missing their own mother with physical pain.
As Ezra picked up their bike and began to walk away from the Tree—that former place of harmony—they wished for bravery enough to say something against these wicked people. What a relief it might feel to let the anger and sadness out right here and now by hurling a rock, or an insult. To cut these people as painfully as they cut this Tree. But, the tools moved so quickly, the teeth so loud and sharp, that it felt hopeless. These people held power with their weapons. They could cut as they pleased.
“No.” Ezra said.
Their eyes drifted back towards the Motherly Tree further down the road. Ezra thought about the loving embrace of her roots and tried not to picture the blades of a chainsaw raking into moss-padded skin. Ezra knew they needed to leave this scene at once. Between the uncertainty of whether the chainsaw crew would continue approaching the Tree and the longing for Rosie’s embrace, exerting effort seemed futile.
The afternoon lengthened. It was only after the chainsaw crew had packed and left without moving towards the Motherly Tree that Ezra had the power to carry on.
Ezra missed Rosie terribly. It had been months since she had went away to work on the industrial tree factories known as a Cultivar Tower. The days were only getting longer this time of year, the pavement even hotter. Like a radiator it pushed a roasting wave of heat from the tar sticking and smearing the bike tires all the way down the blacktop. Ezra’s biking muscles screamed.
“Fuck,” they muttered, exhausted by the heat and the way that Rosie’s memory hung like a smothering blanket.
Ezra was sure that they missed Rosie the most of anyone on the planet. Though once home, Ezra was reminded that Patrick missed Rosie just the same. His commiseration would often wash over Ezra like a cool salve when they returned from lessons or a visit to the Tree on these ever hot days.
As Ezra opened the door they could feel Rosie in the kitchen for a moment. With eyes squeezed shut, Ezra imagined that the song on the speaker had been Rosie’s choice. Of course she would be right around the corner, flipping vegetables in a hot pan or reading a book at the table.
Instead, Ezra’s eyes opened and Pat walked in. A broad smile full of love, and weary eyes. The illusion of Rosie dissolved. It wasn’t sadness Ezra felt, but a longing for the missing piece to a puzzle.
“I’ve made her curry,” Pat said, “Followed the recipe down to a T.”
Ezra smiled and sat down. “I saw some folks cutting a down a tree down. I think that’ll really piss her off. You get to talk with her to today?”
“Not yet,” Patrick grimaced. “S’pect she is fairly busy in the Tower right now— loving every second of it for sure, but, I do miss her so. If she calls tonight, maybe let’s not burst her bubble. She can’t build forestry towers and save urban landscapes all at once.”
“They were running on gas and it stunk up all of Moss Street.” Ezra frowned, “I knew it immediately. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could smell it all the way down here.”
“I’m surprised you remember what that scent is. And I’m shocked that those workers could even get permits for those outdated cancer machines. Shameless. And you, so close!”
“Well I just hope they don’t continue on to cut up my Tree—” Ezra began.
“—Ez we talked about this. Its not your Tree. You need to be careful that Civ. Protection Services don't trouble you out there.”
Ezra quieted and the two finished their meal in short time, delaying any further discussion about their far-off mother and partner. When it was clear that Rosie wouldn’t be calling, Ezra began to run the dishes under the Sani-Li as Patrick settled down at the table.
Patrick pulled out a stack of scrap papers. Careful not to scald theirself on the steel box, Ezra turned around to Patrick. “What are those papers for? I noticed you took them up when Rosie left. Are you a writer now?”
Patrick grinned. “Oh, I’ve got to be a writer to scribble some notes now? If you have to know little cat, these are letters to Mother.”
“Letters to Rosie? Couldn’t you just call her? Email? AVR? Does anyone on this street even own a mailbox anymore?”
Now, Patrick laughed. “Great options, Ez. This one is just… a different one. They say letter writing died with paper mail, but maybe thats why I like it. It’s slow, takes effort. Like growing trees should. But, maybe I’m a hopeless romantic.”
Ezra made a scandalized expression, but it changed quickly to one of thought. “So... you’re writing a letter because you’re in love, but it feels hopeless?”
“I think Rosie would say that there isn’t anything out there that is hopeless.”
Patrick’s face grew sad. “Right again, Ez. Except on some days, it can still feel like there is. So thats why I write them: to remember that nothing is hopeless, and to tell that to the ones I love.”
Ezra trudged towards the stairs.
“And if you must know, I have been crafting a small mailbox of my own. I’m gonna get us added to the community route any day. Goodnight Ez.”
When Ezra awoke the next morning, Patrick was already gone. Ezra walked tepidly down the staircase with one eye on their phone and another on the steps. The shadow of a leaf outside fell across the kitchen window. Ezra traced its path to a loose scrap of paper in Patrick’s stack.
They set the phone down on the table and reached across to touch the paper. Ezra pulled at the crumpled sheet and started to read. As they consumed the final line of it, a tear rolled down their cheek, like the dew that falls from the Motherly Tree on Moss Street. Ezra remembered a dream.
In the night, Ezra had had visions of the Tree speaking in Rosie’s voice. She spoke to a crowd of people wielding chainsaws. She told them how she loved them. She asked them why they hurt her so, and begged them to remember a time when they hadn’t pushed her aside to the Cultivar Towers; when she and her sisters flourished in the streets alongside them.
Only Ezra could hear the Motherly Tree’s voice. The chainsaws came closer, became louder, and Ezra’s calls were shredded in the air. The Tree—Rosie—cried, “Can none of you see how I love you?”
Ezra had awoken from bed in pain. Now it was a nervous unease. Patrick’s written words had left an idea which felt as hopeless as an unsent, unseen letter. The people could not hear all the ways that the trees loved them, but Ezra might let the Tree hear that someone loved her.
Letter in hand, Ezra started out of the house and towards Moss Street. Patrick’s woodshed came into view as Ezra emerged from the alleyway. A small wooden box rested on the low table alongside its door. Ezra grabbed this, a roll of twine from the workbench, and began to walk towards the Tree.
Kent had been uncommitted about his decision to hire Hendries & Co. Yard Care as soon as he made it. He had only kept his appointment because new decisions were tiring enough, never mind revisiting old ones. Now, the appointment was approaching.
“I don’t particularly like that they use emissives,” Kent said to Gwen one morning.
“Yes,” Gwen replied, “It is a dirty job… But the angle of your roof is just like mine. I’d bet that the amount of solar you can pump in when that tree’s gone will more then make up for it.”
“Removing one urban tree for the power to grow a hundred industrial ones? I say, it's all very Utilitarian,” Kent said. “Someone even called to ask if I would want like my energy to sponsor a Plot in our local Cultivar Tower.”
Gwen flashed a curious smile. “Would you do it then? Volunteer on it, the whole lot?”
Kent feigned a scandalized expression. “Don’t think I’m suddenly becoming a naturalist, Gwen. The government is paying a pretty coin for any solar panels they can manage to get on rooftops right now. "
"Though I will say, a Plot would long outlast any of our neighbor’s memories about these petroleum fumes!”
With a laugh, Kent walked Gwen to the door. She descended the steps and walked down Moss Street towards her rocky front yard. A set of new solar arrays rested unassembled on the ground beside a freshly cut tree stump. Kent turned to the tree at the end of his own property line and imagined sunlight soon to be flooding over the shady grass.
A single bloom fell from a bough high on the tree. Kent had never before noticed flowers on the tree branches. As one does when things are close to the end, Kent watched closer, intently focused as it floated through the dappled light, past the disorderly branches, past what a wooden box hanging off a low tree limb.
“What has that damned youth got hanging from my tree now?” Kent wondered aloud. He hardly ever approached the tree himself, but had had recently seen a neighborhood child beginning to frequent the large roots as a hiding spot.
Kent approached the thick, ample trunk. A small hinged-top box was dangling from a thin, looped string. The word “MAIL” was written in red block letters.
“What have we got here?” Kent wondered. With a voyeur’s hope, he flipped open the top of the box, but there were no letters. Kent let the lid fall closed and his eyes followed it towards the ground.
Again, he noticed the large pale bloom which had drifted from the upper branches.
Kent picked up the flower gingerly. Its soft texture was unlike any flower he had touched before. It was crinkled, nearly like paper. When Kent turned it over his breath took a moment to follow.
Thin writing spread across the flower petal, but the strokes were not written in ink, or graphite, or any other external substance. To Kent’s disbelief, the writing flowed like the veins of the tree’s leaves. They were apart of it; the words were growing inside the plant’s fibers. Kent pulled it close to his eyes and read.
“Dearest, don’t I love you? Don’t I love you with the firmness of the earth and the space of the sky; like a perfume on the nape of a soft neck? Don’t I love you like music; like the chattering of a chickadee's lark, the persistence of a woodpecker tittering out the punchline of a joke that only we are in on?
“Dearest, I do love you like a clasped hand held on a long walk. I love you like a tearful hello, and an agonizing goodbye, of which I would do one thousand more just for knowing the fullness of you.”
The letter went on but Kent had stopped reading.
He looked up and down Moss Street. There were not a thousand trees left to say goodbye to. In fact, there were less than two dozen and if Kent even now continued to ignore the trees there would be one less than that. Kent had never experienced the love of the natural world. Now that he had, it was to him the sweetest thing in all of life.
The Tree’s love letter laid open in Kent’s palm. Tears splashed on to it like a nourishing rain but the words did not smudge. They only grew bolder. Unsure of how and what was happening, Kent grew afraid to leave the tree. He feared he would miss another beautiful letter’s bloom. He collapsed in the roots and waited. He did not wait long.
Kent was unsure of how long he had been sitting under the Tree when the H. & Co. workers arrived with their gas-powered chainsaws. Kent was across the yard before they could unload their weapons.
“You must stop, please. Don’t bring those things around this Tree!”
The lead worker looked up with a bit of mock amusement. “Had a change of heart, did you?”
“Yes!” Kent cried, “You will too! Leave the tools and come with me.”
Kent led the workers across his yard before they could object. They were unimpressed when they finally reached the large circle of pale blooms that covered the ground in a perimeter around the Tree. Kent’s eyes searched their faces eagerly before realizing that they did not understand.
“Pick them up,” he squealed with delight. “Pick them up!”
Slowly, one worker, then another, picked up the blooms. Kent watched their expressions shift from incredulity, to shock, to revelation. They looked at the flowers, to each other, then up into the tree’s full canopy.
Some of them fell to the ground as Kent had. Others began to wander aimlessly, picking up a different petal or giving an enchanted smile upwards. None of them made any move to continue their job of harming the trees.
Gwen had made her way over.
“What is all this about?” she asked.
From the ground Kent pawed at a soft pile of petal love notes that he had collected. He gestured towards the falling blooms and said a word: “love.”