Contest #172 winner 🏆

138 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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138 comments

Vijay Likhite
01:58 Dec 07, 2022

Superb narration! Probing the feelings with a lot of feel! Absolutely wonderful!`

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Lisa Lange
05:35 Dec 07, 2022

Thank you Vijay.

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Musabbir Hossain
08:24 Dec 06, 2022

I can really feel the story . Nice story Lisa .

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Lisa Lange
05:37 Dec 07, 2022

That’s good to hear, Musabbir. Thank you.

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Aseity Reyes
17:49 Dec 05, 2022

Very emotional and amazing writing

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Lisa Lange
05:42 Dec 07, 2022

Thank you Aseity. I’m so happy you liked it.

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Reilly White
17:46 Dec 05, 2022

great story, touches a special place in my heart.

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Lisa Lange
05:50 Dec 07, 2022

Thank you Reilly for reading, and that you connected with the story touches me.

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Suzanne Marsh
15:30 Dec 02, 2022

very nicely done. I could picture the scenes in my mind and it held my attention

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Lisa Lange
05:51 Dec 07, 2022

That you could picture the scenes makes me happy. Thank you Suzanne!

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Sinbad Omorodion
08:24 Dec 02, 2022

So short yet so moving, so easy to sympathize with. so simple

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Lisa Lange
05:52 Dec 07, 2022

Thank you Sinbad, I really appreciate your sharing that you connected.

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01:42 Dec 02, 2022

So many stories win because they are funny. This one is sad but inspiring. Beautifully written. Full of typical thoughts and concerns. Paints a beautiful picture. Glad I read it.

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Lisa Lange
05:55 Dec 07, 2022

Thank you for reading and sharing Kaitlyn.

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Gladys Morales
14:47 Dec 01, 2022

Very beautiful. I love it!

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Lisa Lange
05:55 Dec 07, 2022

Thanks Gladys!

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Naomi Hill
18:34 Nov 30, 2022

I Like it good job!

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Lisa Lange
05:56 Dec 07, 2022

Thank you Naomi!

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Amanda Lieser
17:02 Nov 30, 2022

Hey Lisa, CONGRATULATIONS ON THE WIN! This was a superb piece! I loved the way you crafted sadness with happiness. I thought that you used repetition very wisely in this and I was glad to connect so deeply with your MCs. I loved the way your piece taught me a bit about trees, too. Nice job!

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Lisa Lange
05:59 Dec 07, 2022

Thank you Amanda! And thank you for sharing your insights. I love to get specific feedback!

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Jan MacFarlane
09:06 Nov 30, 2022

What a lovely story. The images you create are strong.

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Lisa Lange
06:00 Dec 07, 2022

I appreciate that Jan

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Deborah Mosley
19:55 Nov 29, 2022

Hauntingly tragic, and beautifully hopeful story. Well written with incredible imagery. Bravo!

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Lisa Lange
06:00 Dec 07, 2022

Thanks so much Deborah!

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MACKENZIE NORRIS
16:59 Nov 29, 2022

Amazing story! Really captured the feeling of depression, You deserved the win.

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Lisa Lange
06:06 Dec 07, 2022

I appreciate you telling me that Mackenzie.

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01:55 Nov 29, 2022

Quite visceral, contemplative writing. I enjoyed reading this. Thank you for submitting it!

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Lisa Lange
06:01 Dec 07, 2022

Thank you for reading Terry!

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00:12 Nov 29, 2022

This story has layers upon layers of meaning. It should be taught in literature class. It should be hung up in toilet stalls of urban bathrooms to remind people that they should stay in the city.

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Lisa Lange
06:03 Dec 07, 2022

Wow Lester! Thank you. I really appreciate knowing when a story connects with a reader.

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23:53 Nov 28, 2022

It has beautiful wording. I love it.

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Lisa Lange
06:04 Dec 07, 2022

Thank you Abigail. I really appreciate that you thought so.

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Beverli Barnes
21:02 Nov 28, 2022

A truly beautiful story.

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Lisa Lange
06:07 Dec 07, 2022

Thank you Beverli for reading it!

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Cadence Rager
20:07 Nov 28, 2022

L O V E!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Lisa Lange
06:07 Dec 07, 2022

Thanks so much Cadence!

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22:07 Nov 27, 2022

This story is so beautifully sad. A friend always says, "Crazy apple, crazy tree." I thought of her as I read this. Your story has such a lovely flow.

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Lisa Lange
06:08 Dec 07, 2022

Thank you for saying so Patricia.

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21:54 Nov 27, 2022

Hi Lisa, I'm in love with the way at the end, he tells his mom what he had been avoiding telling her (that she didn't need to worry). It really hits home, because his problem stems from not telling his dad things when he had the chance. I'm glad at the end he says what he wanted to say so he wouldn't regret it later. - Astraeus

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Lisa Lange
06:11 Dec 07, 2022

I’m glad you liked that part Astraeus. I felt like that was the only ending I could give it.

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