Here’s another one from Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds challenge of the week: write about a tree. I had a hard time with this, because I’m writing about a tree in my current novel. I wanted to share some of that novel, but I’m intent on having it published some day. At first, I thought I’d bypass this challenge, but this idea came to me. I hope you enjoy.
The Tree — 924 words.
Running. Feet pounding the ground. Ashton ended up where she always did, in front of the great big oak tree. The branches spread out like giants’ arms against the clear blue backdrop of the Southern sky. She placed her hand on the trunk and felt the warmth of the tree.
When she had been just a girl, her dad had strung a tire swing to the big horizontal branch. She had swung, laughing, and pushing her head back against the wind. She looked up at the green leaves as they danced in the sky. The tree held life. Her life, a memory of her fleeting childhood existence.
When she and Deke married, they took over the land. Then her dad got sick—lung cancer from too many cigs smoked as he herded cows into the dust. He held on for two weeks after the doctor diagnosed him. Ashton’s mom moved to the back room. She let Ashton, Deke, and their clan of little children take over the house. Ashton liked to listen to their bare feet on the wood floors. It reminded her of her childhood where there was always too much noise and clatter in the small farmhouse.
Ashton held her hands up to the tree. She rubbed the silkiness of the green leaves.
“You know, Ashton, this could all be yours one day,” her father had said, one day when he pushed her on the swing.
Ashton had laughed her high-pitched little girl laugh, tossing her blonde curls into the wind, feeling like she could fly away.
Her father stopped the swing. He kneeled down in front of her and took her small, soft hands into his rough, calloused ones. His blue eyes twinkled in the fading light of day. He smelled of Old Spice and cow manure, the smell of Ashton’s childhood.
“I mean it. You’re the one. This is the place.”
A rustle of wind blew through the tree, and it seemed to wave at Ashton. She looked up at the tree and could almost feel it wrapping its life-giving warmth around her. Her dad squeezed her hands, then hugged her. He started pushing the swing again.
“I want to put a tire swing up for the girls,” Ashton said.
“There?” Deke asked, pointing to the tree as they walked toward the wind.
The girls had stayed home with Ashton’s mom. The memorial service had been two weeks ago already. Ashton’s mom had taken to wearing only black and making pies: peach, apple, pecan. There were more pies than they could ever eat. The sting of Ashton’s father’s death still took her breath away. The tree gave her the air she needed to breathe again, to feel again.
“I was thinking about selling off this acreage to the Boyers’,” Deke said.
“Oh,” Ashton said. She looked at the tree, and it seemed to bow its head in sadness.
“We could make some money. Put it in a college fund for the girls. This farm just don’t produce as much as it used to.”
“Why can’t I?”
“Because that tree is important,” Ashton said, pointing to it. The tree seemed to stand up a little taller, the leaves danced against the bright light of the midday sun.
“Don’t be silly, Ashton.”
After dinner and the girls’ baths, Ashton sat in the living room with her mother while Deke read to the bouncing girls who had wired themselves up, slap-happy before bedtime. Ashton knitted while her mother ate a piece of peach pie a la mode. They conferred and agreed. Ashton kissed the urn on the mantle before heading off to bed.
The next morning, Ashton ran to the tree. Running made her feel so alive. She hugged it and swore it hugged her back.
“I met someone,” she said.
“Who?” her father asked.
She sat on the tire swing, holding the worn ropes, her keds firmly planted in the dip her bare childhood feet had made on the ground.
“His name is Deke Malloy.”
“Irish, is he?” her father had joked.
Ashton, in the full throes of adolescence, rolled her eyes.
“I think I’m in love, Dad.”
Her father smiled, held her hands, and gave her a kiss on the forehead.
“I think it’s about time we took down the tire swing,” he said.
“Oh Daddy, I love this old thing.”
They both looked up into the branches of the old oak tree. It had seen so much on this land for the last hundred years, so many people coming and going. Ashton could feel its spirit. The next day, Ashton’s father removed the tire swing. Five years later, Ashton and Deke married.
In the afternoon, they all dressed up. Ashton and her mother wore blue, the color of the sky, and her father’s favorite.
“I guess I didn’t realize how important the tree was to you,” Deke said.
Ashton’s mom held her hand. The little girls followed along, picking daisies they would later make daisy chains with. Ashton could almost see the outline of the tire swing. She looked at the tree, and she thought she saw her dad there waving at her. She smiled, and held up her hand. The tree waved back.
Under the tree’s shade, she and her mom struggled to open the urn.
“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” Ashton said.
She poured her father’s ashes into the dip her childhood feet had made. The leaves of the tree waved in the wind, and the ashes swirled a little then settled into dust. Ashton smiled, imagining her daddy standing there, her hand securely in his. She put her arms around her mother’s waist and around Deke’s squeezing them close to her and looking at the wonder of an old oak tree.
“Now about that tire swing…”
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