Contemporary Fiction Drama

I stood under its branches as they reached heavenward, the thick canopy of leaves soaking up the sun. I looked at my son standing opposite me, the limited light showing his face, dappled like leopard skin. This was our birthday ritual, to visit the oak tree as a family. 

My grandfather had brought my father here every birthday morning for the whole of his life, as had his father. Then up until his accident, my father brought me too. Here I was, continuing the tradition with my son. Why the tree was held in such high esteem by my ancestors I never knew. As a child, when I asked such a question I was told to be quiet and ask later, but I never did receive a valid answer. There was always something dark and foreboding about the mighty oak but when bathed in sunlight, like today, it was very welcoming to our small family gathering. My father had tried to climb it, as a young man, with me watching him, as he clambered up its branches.

I witnessed him fall, clawing at the air as he tumbled to the ground. I heard the crack of broken bones as he hit the hard earth and caught the scream as he felt the pain of his landing. I was just seven years old so watched with interest as my mother and others scrambled around him. 

Later, I saw the bright flashing blue lights of the ambulance crossing the field at great speed, heard the siren from a long way off. Frightening to me but comforting to my father and those around him, trying to protect his broken body. Two men, dressed in green overalls, came over to him. One carried a stretcher the other bags and kits. The small crowd parted to allow them access and I still remember his screams as they administered to him. I was bundled into the back of the ambulance with my distraught mother. 

‘Is he dead?’ I asked but she smiled.

’No but he’s very poorly,’ she replied and put one arm around my shoulders and offered words of comfort to both me and my father. The sensation of speed in the enclosed ambulance was terrifying and I was afraid we would crash and all be killed. Then suddenly, we stopped and the rear doors were flung open. My father was wheeled out first and my mother half carried me behind the retreating trolley. Then I was placed on a chair and instructed not to stray from where I was. Not to speak to anyone except my mother and so I sat there, afraid to move and in some sort of shock in those strange surroundings. People passed me and a nurse spoke kindly to me but I remained silent as the hours ticked by. Later, my mother took me home in a taxi, I recall, she spoke softly as the tears rolled down her face. It was the first and last time I had ever seen her cry.

My father returned some weeks later but he was confined to a wheelchair and I became part of his care team. We continued with the birthday ritual, standing beside him under the branches of the oak watching as a junior member of the family attempted the climb to the top, scrambling up its leafy branches. 

Three years ago it had been my turn to climb the tree, pulling myself up through the foliage as my family watched on nervously below me. I reached the top with some ease and I was surprised by the ferocity of the wind as the high branches rocked me back and forth. I felt a strange communion with nature as I sat there on my lofty perch. I looked out across the surrounding fields, their colours changing as the wind blew their crops. In the distance were the rolling hills where I spent much of my youth walking, climbing and camping. It was on one such trip that I met my future wife as she was hiking the popular trails with friends. I remembered the instant attraction we both later admitted to feeling and within six months we were married. Within a year our son was born and he was looking up at me now, wondering when it would be his turn to climb the tree. 

As I sat high in the branches I suddenly realised the reason for this climb. The answer to the question I had, sometimes, annoyingly asked as a child. This was the reason. The utter peace and the total connection with nature that I had never managed to capture in all my years of living amongst it. I was part of the tree, one of its many limbs and I too felt a compulsion to reach high into the sky. This was my heaven, my Valhalla, if any of those places existed I was there. I knew though, that this event was short-lived and I must make my way carefully down through the twisted branches to the safety of my family far below. This birthday would be like no other though. I would have many more but the tree would not. 

I climbed down and received the applause of my loved ones but there was a more sinister group lurking nearby. As we stepped back and looked at the tree, marvelling at its majesty, they moved forward, past where we stood and surrounded the great oaks solid trunk. We moved back as several workmen pegged out a large area around the tree, then taped it off, the yellow and black tape fluttering in the breeze. We stood, arm an arm and watched as they fired up their chainsaws, the noise splitting the air. Sawdust sprayed all around as the steel teeth of their tools bit into the ancient wood. The sound loud enough to mask the screams of the tree as they cut into it. The tree was huge and it took some time for a wedge to be cut from its trunk. Once completed they worked on the other side but the old tree was stubborn and broke their tools, bent their bars and wedges. They called for reinforcements who arrived with more cutting gear and soon they stood back and watched as the great oak creaked and groaned but refused to give in. They brought a huge tracked machine, slowly making its way across the field. As it pushed against the trunk of the tree it began to lean and then an almighty crack as it crashed to earth, shaking the very ground beneath our feet like a small earthquake. The workmen clambered over its branches cutting them, where only a short while before I had stood atop. I turned away, and we walked silently back to the road where our vehicles had always parked. The end of the great tree and our family tradition laying heavy on my heart. 

But I knew, nothing could halt progress and the great motorway swept away everything in its path regardless of what that may be.

April 23, 2021 13:42

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