Contest #172 winner 🏆

120 comments

Coming of Age Fiction Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

Mom works. She never picks me up from school, and two miles is too close for a bus pickup, which is fine by me because I like cutting through the woods. Especially on autumn days, when the air is cool, and the flies and mosquitos are gone, and basketball practice hasn’t begun. I like the quiet. I like the wordlessness of the walk.

A pretty sugar maple dressed in vivid orange frills beckons me off the path. I stand to look at her. I sound like a weirdo, I know. A sixteen-year-old boy calling a sugar maple pretty. It was Dad that taught me to appreciate trees before he hung himself from one. I love ‘em even more, now, Dad and trees. Did you know the oldest maple is five hundred years old? They call it the Comfort Tree. Dad said all trees are comfort trees.

           I search the sugar maple for a perfect orange leaf - I think I’ll press the leaf between two sheets of waxed paper like I did when I was a kid – but I can’t find a perfect orange leaf. It doesn’t matter. We don’t even have waxed paper at home. We don’t save things at home.

I follow a line of golden, round-leaved aspens to the creek, a grove of clone trees grown from the root system of the male. “Aspis means shield in Greek,” Dad said. “Aspens are protectors and inspire courage.” Brave aspens. Magic aspens. I wonder, Dad, did it take courage to kill yourself? Did you care about leaving me?

“Depression is a villain,” the therapist said. “That villain convinced your father the world was better off without him.”

I could have slayed the villain. If I had only told Dad how much I needed him.

I sigh. I try to take a deeper breath. I inhale the dank smell of cold dirt and dropped leaves. I smell Dad, the amalgam of decomposition and old blood. I didn’t know what the smell was when I was a kid. I didn’t know what a medical examiner did. The smell was a thick smell and sweet. I knew, only, that the smell was my dad. I’ve got a friend, Jimmy, who likes the smell of skunks.

My backpack is light, no books, not much homework. With it being the end of the semester and the week before Thanksgiving, teachers don’t add to their piles of ungraded papers. I drop my bag at a willow. I strip a branch of its leaves. I sit on a rock. I pretend to fish.

“Knock. Knock,” I say. “Who’s there?”

“Fish on a hook out of water.”

“Dad? Is that you?”

I reach to unhook him, but he slips through my fingers. How did I let my dad slip through my fingers?

“It wasn’t your fault. There was nothing you could do.” The therapist said it. Mom said it, but I know Mom doesn’t feel that way.

I keep photographs of Dad in a tackle box. His eyes look sad even as his face smiles. In a birthday photo, we wear matching red hats on our heads, the paper cone kind with the elastic bands that dig under our chins. His body leans into me. His arms hug me enthusiastically. He looks at me. I look at the cake. My mouth is open in the ready position to blow out six candles. I am happy. We were happy. But I see his sadness captured by the photograph. Maybe because his smile looks a little like the same fake smile, I make in all my school pictures. Maybe because his lips are dry and look a little too stretched over his teeth. Or because the corners of his mouth don’t go up into his cheeks in an easy way.

I am seven years too late for more knock, knock, jokes. I am seven years too late to make him laugh, seven years too late to make him happier, seven years too late to give him reasons to stay. I should have made him not want to leave us.

I want to tell Mom that I walk through the woods, but she worries. “Apples and trees,” I heard her say. “I will spend my life trying to keep him alive.” She means me. She means keep me alive. I want to tell her that her burden makes me angry, that it crushes me, that it flattens me. I want to tell her not to worry about me, but I’m scared. I’m scared as if her thought is a premonition.

I pick up my backpack and I follow the creek that leads to the oak tree in the yard, to the black scar on its trunk from where a thick limb once reached upward. I sit on a branch that spreads over the ground. All the oak’s branches have turned toward the ground. “Dad?” I smell decomposition and old blood. I smell the vanilla in the old oak’s tree bark, the smell Dad taught me to notice. I feel the strength in the old oak’s trunk.

In the kitchen I see the bowl full of apples, a white oak bowl full of red apples. It hits me why the bowl is there. Seven years of apples in a white oak bowl sitting on the kitchen countertop and I only, now, see why my mom puts them there. “Apples and trees. I will spend my life trying to keep him alive.” The white oak is Dad. The apples are me.

I pull each apple from the bowl. I line them up on the countertop. Seven apples. Seven years. I inspect each apple for bruises and blemishes. Not a single bruise on any of the apples. It’s a sign, my sign. I am an apple from only the best parts of the tree. I feel taller. I am sure. I’ve slayed the villain that was hiding inside me.

“Mom,” I say, when she walks into the kitchen. “You don’t have to worry about me.”

November 18, 2022 23:40

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120 comments

Rebecca Miles
16:23 Nov 25, 2022

The imagery in this coupled with the honest simplicity is very moving; the symbolism of the unblemished seven apples a beautiful metaphor for childhood. They say fruit never falls far from the tree; I'm so glad your narrator rolled away from that fatal oak. This story is sad, but I found it ultimately uplifting too. A well deserved win.

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Lisa Lange
20:43 Nov 25, 2022

Thank you Rebecca! I’m happy to hear the imagery and voice worked together to move you as a reader.

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Daniel Allen
14:26 Nov 25, 2022

So much emotion in this one! Great work.

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Lisa Lange
20:43 Nov 25, 2022

Thank you Daniel! Much appreciated.

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Tommy Goround
14:20 Nov 25, 2022

Yep. I came back looking at the recommended stories. There's 13 I found so far. I just had to read the first sentence or two and the rest of your story was completely memorable. Big claps

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Lisa Lange
20:44 Nov 25, 2022

Thank you Tommy!

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Tommy Goround
00:04 Nov 26, 2022

No worries. When you autograph my book (that you wrote) could you leave a blank spot where my name should go. I'm going to bet on the resale value.

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Denna Weber
18:46 Nov 29, 2022

I see my sis and I fishing as kids, fishing off the bridge close to our grandparents' cabin. You see your father and you at the comfort tree, perfect branches with perfect orange leaves. Both left this earth, hung by their own dragons, As if autumn blew them off, each a leaf, crushed up as compost under a once strong tree. Why didn't we say what we needed to make them stay? Were their smiles ever happy, really happy, unfaked? Now that I'm half-grown, bruised, delicate-delicious, I know fishing with my sis is a message, a bridge between ...

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Denna Weber
19:04 Nov 29, 2022

Many of us relate to how a suicide affected us. We feel guilt. We grow, we learn, we come to know each has a unique story-- happiness, depression. Yet some truths are universal.

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Lisa Lange
05:32 Dec 07, 2022

So true. Thanks so much for sharing Deanna.

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Maliha Naveed
06:18 Nov 27, 2022

I loved how in just a few words, you let the narrator go through a round of sad emotions and how he came out all strong. Amazing work, indeed.

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Lisa Lange
05:33 Dec 07, 2022

Thank you Maliha. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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Lisa Lange
20:36 Nov 25, 2022

Oh my gosh! Wasn’t expecting this win, I am thrilled the story touched many of you. Thank you for your feedback and support!

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Matthew Zang
19:16 Nov 23, 2022

A bitter sweet story of death, strength and endurance. The tree and apple analogies are thoughtful and touching. Beautiful symbolism, loved it!!

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Lisa Lange
20:45 Nov 25, 2022

Thank you Matthew. I’m so happy you enjoyed the story.

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Tommy Goround
09:38 Nov 23, 2022

A very nice story. I read it twice. I think it will be memorable.

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Charlee Hillin
15:15 Jan 26, 2023

This story is amazing. My friend recommended it to me and I don't regret it. This is so good, I showed it to my English teacher and she loved it!

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Khisab Kurniawan
01:56 Jan 12, 2023

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the stories you have created. I also make youtube video telling about your story https://youtu.be/R9t4sWvDSmQ Hope you like it!

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Aleah Jardonek
17:13 Jan 07, 2023

I surprisingly didn't find it sad (maybe because while i was reading it my sister was watching something with weird music) The thing that really gets to me is dogs dying and sometimes family passing away it depends on how the story goes. It has to be a video of a dog dying or something to make me really cry

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Samantha Young
22:24 Jan 05, 2023

This was an amazing story. Wow just wow. As someone who has delt with not only losing someone but do to suicide sadly also this story is yes very sad and down but I feel like it has meaning, that meaning being that you have to beat down that wall. Yes beating down a wall may not be easy but you will feel amazing and free once you are open from that wall. Great work!!

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Arnika N
13:16 Jan 04, 2023

Captured so much emotion and poetry, loved it!

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Sunil Kushwaha
09:26 Jan 02, 2023

Hi

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