Inspirational Contemporary Fiction

Hobbling hobbit. The words loop through my brain as I drag my sorry self along the worn path through spruce woods on this fresh spring day. Right foot forward a few inches—I think hobbling. Left foot drags to meet it—hobbit. Roots that frost heaved over the winter might as well be mountains. One step at a time. Hobbling...hobbit. Hobbling...hobbit.  

    That’s what I now am. Bent, doughy and caped in a wool blanket because I am always freezing. And toxic. The wool hat that Lonnie knitted for me for Mother’s Day with its lacy pattern of empty spaces makes my bald head itch. She has chosen to stay away. It’s not COVID. The chemicals in my blood could be bad for her baby or so she says. Thank you, chemo. The gift that keeps giving.  

    Hobbling. Hobbit. 

    But hobbits aren’t bald. They gambol into the world on their grand adventures, walking sticks in hand. I used to love adventures. Now, I can’t even make it to my mailbox.  Maybe I shouldn't have taken the long way.

    Hobbling. That’s all I am.  

    At least I make it to the clearing where my favorite tree, a magnificent oak, spreads her welcoming arms. The ground is dry, I have hours to kill. I rest in the sun and look up at her new leaves the size of mouse ears. In other times, I would think about planting my corn. Now, I think about planting myself. 

    Her bark feels rough through my layers, but also comforting. It’s good to feel the support. To feel warm. To feel anything. The fresh grass coming up through the dead stuff must smell intoxicating in the bright warm sun, a sensory experience that is now just a pleasant memory. Chemo nose, chemo brain, chemo fatigue.  

    I love this spot. If I lack the strength to get back up, I would be content to stay here forever.  

    Lonnie thinks a green burial is gross, but that’s what I want. A biodegradable shroud, a hole in the ground, and me, with a beautiful oak tree growing above me. It makes all of this less horrible if I know that someday, her baby will swing from branches that were nourished by my recycled bones. Why waste them? God only knows, I’ve wasted so many other opportunities in this life. I want to get this last one right. 

    I marked the spot the day I was diagnosed, in case things went that way. I can see the purple-painted stakes from here. They are far enough away from my friendly tree that her roots will not be damaged when they dig the hole, but close enough that she and I will be neighbors. Our roots will grow toward each other and someday, touch. 

    She is so far away, my daughter. Will I have time to heal the hurts I clawed in her spirit? Does she know I was naïve and stupid, not intentionally cruel? Like a boy carving a heart in a tree to document his love. I had little knowledge of good mothering. We had to learn together. Just because I was a poor student does not mean she was a bad teacher. I pray she comes to understand the depth of my love for her when she feels it for her own child the moment she sees her.

I didn’t understand my own mother until she was gone. Too late. Too late. Is it too late for Lonnie and me? I crave a grandchild, the child of my child. But Lonnie is more important to me. She comes first. 

    My fingertips root in the soil. My eyelids are heavy in this bright light. 

    There are no words in my dream. I feel my friend’s rough bark. She holds me safe in her understanding branches as we head west toward the setting sun. Like an Ent, she carries me over mountains and plains, pulling us along a network of multicolored underground connections.

I recognize the maple tree in Lonnie’s front yard. I gaze through the bedroom window. Lonnie is asleep next to Kip, her ring catching a diamond of moonlight where her hand cradles her pregnant belly. 

     Then I am in my bunk bed. I see Mom gazing at me from the apple tree in our front yard. I feel light. There is no pressure. I’m not squeezed, like during my birth. This isn’t a tunnel out of the darkness. There is only light. And my mother, holding me.  

Ethereal joy--my soul flies into the firmament through a green haze. I stay tethered to the earth through my sleeping fingers, but I soar. Moisture pumped from deep roots replenishes my desiccated heart.    

Lonnie opens her eyes. She pulls back the bedclothes. She floats toward us in her lacy nightgown, her arms slender and bare in the moonlight. She opens her window but can’t come out. I kiss her reaching hand and place a golden apple in it, as round and ripe as the life filling her belly. As sweet as the mystery of forgiveness, which I silently beg of her.  

      Squirrel chitter above my head awakens me. When I was a child, I would have climbed as high as I could to reach it. I spent my youth cradled in the arms of trees, an escape from the fights and alcohol-fueled miseries. I did the best I could with what I had. I could have done worse. Mom ran to Dad after all. Much worse. She was so young, trying to parent from magazine articles. But in truth, I didn’t do much better when it was my turn. Different magazines, similar chaos. Causes and careers knocked love into the trash heap while I tried to figure it out. I was gone a lot. 

But Lonnie—she has strong light in her being. I may have hurt her with my absences, but she withstood them. She is wary, but not ruined. She chose a kind, stable man to work beside her in the orchard of her life. Her sight is clear. She will be a good mother.

Maybe it isn’t too late to make amends. Maybe she just needs space while the baby is growing. To protect her from me? I hope not. Even if it is too late in the here and now, there will be time after. I can live with that. 

It’s never too late. Who would have thought?  

     It seems like forever since I had such refreshing sleep. I hoist myself off the ground, an old tree hugger hugging my tree. I walk to the main road with a natural gait, no longer hobbled. 

     In the mailbox, I find a card, a nicely rendered charcoal sketch of my oak tree on the front.  

     Hi Mom-it says on the inside. I had the most amazing dream about this tree. Can I come see you before I’m too far along to travel? I’ve had my vaccine, so you’re safe. I miss you! Hope you’re feeling ok. love you 

    Lonnie never signs her names to cards. If I tease her about it, she says Who else would it be but me, Mom? You have another kid I don’t know about? 

     Only you, darling. Only you. 

    After all these years, I still feel the urge to call Mom, to tell her about this miracle. I suspect she knows, but it would be so good to hear her voice. Soon enough. Soon enough. 

     I find a fallen branch by the side of the road, a good walking stick. As the sun begins its descent, I adjust my cape and stride down the gravel lane toward home, grateful for the adventure of new beginnings. 


    With gratitude for the inspiration for this story in Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard.  Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2021.  

September 27, 2021 16:13

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.