Category: Fiction

Original Fiction written by Katalina Watt.

Elements

Elements

This is a short story I wrote for the Glasgow University’s Creative Writing Society Summer Short Story competition in 2014. I’m pleased to say it was the winning entry.

Have a read here.

A Boy and His Tree

A Boy and His Tree

A Boy and His Tree by Katalina Watt

It was never doubted that the boy and his tree would always be together. It was the first thing he saw of the house and his incentive for staying. He had used every trick to beg the adults to take this place over any other because of that tree, which stood like a monument in the garden, shadowing the flowerbeds and reaching out over the fence to the street beyond. His truest memory was the sharp image of the branches, like thick brush strokes from the trunk with each line spindling off into the bright clear sky. The leaves possessed every hue and shade, scorching his eyes with their dancing spectrum. The pure and vivid greens, the smell of earth and fresh dewy bark would always haunt him.

It was clear the tree was the reason the boy played in the garden. He would lose days running circles round the trunk, the breeze catching his shirt and the air crisp in his lungs. It was a tower to climb, a quest to complete and a place he called his own. He was reluctant to part from it when the sun dipped low behind the house and the night air chilled his bones. After some time of deliberation and several scrap diagrams hidden under his pillow, the boy timidly asked for a hammock, so he could sleep outside and be near his tree always. In the summer, the adults made an occasion of tying up the hammock and he rocked hour after hour. He sat in the stillness and stared up at the sunlight as it filtered through the leaves and bathed him in its warmth.

He sobbed bitterly when autumn came and he had to be taken inside. The adults couldn’t understand the intensity of his feeling and had difficulty keeping him indoors. He made himself sick with crying and took to clandestine night adventures which were quickly discovered. The boy thought the tree always looked best before it began to die, revealing its brightest and truest self. The tree withered, shrinking as the leaves shivered: stark, crisp, dead. The howling wind ripped at the empty hammock so the ropes coiled round the tree cut deep into its boughs. The boy watched from the pane as the frost grew on the glass and obscured his view of the garden.

During winter he used it as a tree fort, attaching the ruins of old planks onto the sturdiest branches and hammering nails askew. He played with forced vigour and recklessness, throwing snow from the safety of the treetop and showering the other children with ice water. Worn down by his persistence, the adults consoled themselves by making him wear thick layers. He couldn’t feel the cold bark on his skin so he huddled as close inside the tree as he could.

When spring next came, a hurricane pursued. Bits of dead branches and rotten debris ravaged the tree as the people shut themselves up inside the trembling old house. The boy did nothing; he was fixated by the destruction and savage violence of the hurricane’s attack. When the storm had passed, he stood behind the glass, looking on with longing and remorse. Whilst he understood it was unsafe to go outside during the gale, he felt he had done wrong when he saw the broken twigs flung afar. The roots, like claws, struggled towards him.

That summer he pretended the tree didn’t exist. After the abuse of the whirlwind, the garden was shut off and he saw the lonely hammock barely clinging to the tree. The adults forbade him from playing outside, calling the tree fragile and dangerous. He sweltered in the cloying humidity as the grass grew lush and green, except beneath his tree. The nails rusted in the sun and the planks were eaten by termites, the wood crashing to the earth in the stillness of the heat.

Autumn was unavoidable; it came with the smell of rain and golden brittle things. The sun-crisp leaves collected pools for him to sip and the bark felt soft beneath his fingertips. The boy went out with his bare feet sinking into the mud. He stared at his beloved tree, hollowed and dead, and examined with shame and regret where he had carved his name. Sighing, he made his way into the shed and found a discarded axe. Years of neglect had left the blade dull and spotted with rust, but the boy felt its weight in his two hands. His arms were almost strong enough to carry it with ease and he swept the weapon in ungainly strokes, cutting through the wind by his ears.

The boy stood by the tree for the last time and rested his head on its branches. He felt its grain beneath his palms. The thing looked smaller to him now; the highest branches curved low and stooped with age. Over the years the tree had bent and he had grown, and now they met. He took a lingering moment before the first swing. After the first it was easy to get a rhythm, and he continued until dawn.

He returned to the house, his ears ringing with the split of timber. That night the moon was blinding because there were no branches to cast shadows crawling across his room. The absence of the rustling leaves was deafening as he waited for sleep to wash over him. The taste of dew stuck to his tongue.

This winter he owns a notebook: beautiful, fresh and handmade. Its cover is made of pressed red leaves and the pages feel weighty in his hands. The grass never grows where the tree used to stand and the stump remains, the ring patterns darkening as the years go on. Like fingers, the roots reach desperately into the earth. He uses the smooth flat of the trunk and sits on the tree’s plot, pondering what he can etch this time.

© Katalina Watt 2012