An 800 word Short story
Snow-pillow clouds hover although the first snowflake has yet to fall. Bare trees stand stark against the subtle-hued shades of gray.
I yearn for my tribe.
Beside me, deformed maples and misshapen firs guard the hilltop. Below in the forest, my few desperate teens stretch—too much, too fast. And my wide-leaved babies gasp for breath. Grief is the gray shape-shifter of my days.
My oak savanna used to outline the prairie of Indian grass and little bluestem, purple coneflower and black-eyed Susan. Our taproots anchored the soil as we sloped toward the irrepressible creek that snaked through us. Elk, buffalo, and whitetail deer grazed under our canopy.
We flourished from frequent fires set by two-legged walkers. Many were our grandmother and grandfather oaks. But those days are gone. Gone are the fires. Gone, the buffalo and elk. Gone, the grandparents.
# # #
I stare at the old oak tree through Mama’s kitchen window and sip my morning cappuccino.
“Honey,” Mama calls from the hallway, “How ’bout we do take-out for supper? I’m gonna be too tired to cook tonight.”
The floor creaks. She enters the kitchen; a cloche hat hides her sparse silver-tinged afro.
“I’m home all day,” I said, “I’ll cook us up something.”
“You sure you want to do that on your day off?”
I set my cup down and kiss her cheek, “No problem.”
“Well, that’d be a welcome treat, hon.”
After I lock up, I return to the kitchen, smoothing my braided half-updo. Boomerang daughter done boomeranged home. Well, not home home, as Mama has downsized. But I am in dire need; my grace period expired on my $40,000 student loan. And I still work retail at minimum wage. Seriously?
I rinse my cup. Those shrubby trees surrounding that oak tree sure look like buckthorns.
Outside, the air is brisk. Tree branches jab every which way and GLOR-ie, just look at all those black berries.
# # #
White-skinned walkers hewed farmhouses, cultivated apple orchards, and mono-cropped fields.
And they suppressed fires.
Birches and firs, sumacs and maples grew. Blackcap brambles and barbed gooseberries sprouted. Fallen limbs and leaves laid where they fell. Our savanna morphed into a mossy forest, shaded, shushed.
The city prospered. Dusty trails distended into double highways. Metal machines crushed trees and leveled the farmhouse. White-skinned walkers planted a church and parsonage. They disfigured the maple next to me to attach cables to a lifeless pole. A family moved in. The trousered-walker worked at church and the aproned-walker worked in the kitchen. Their little ones played under me.
On Sundays, a few grey-headeds drift into church. The parsonage sags. Across the double highway, new businesses, shops, homes, and a school attract multiethnic two-leggeds.
And, a newcomer creeps into our woodland.
Creeper-trees mature swiftly, propagate prolifically. A tight-knit group, they stalk my teens, bully the firs, then slowly, slyly, sidling round me, they intertwine their limbs with mine.
# # #
Supper in the crockpot, I stride past the church. Tiny toddlers, bundled up and fenced in, shout and play. The hushed prairie, cared for through controlled burns, envelopes me as I stroll the grassy pathways. I bypass coquettish youth and their science teacher, cross the sluggish creek, and stop.
Under a band of young oaks, the brush and grass are trampled, several stumps chemically treated.
On Saturday, I had volunteered with Friends of the Mississippi River. With chainsaws, a group of us had cut and hauled away many buckthorns.
# # #
Excising creeper-trees? Hurry. Over here. We’re dying.
# # #
Alone, I pull and snip skinny buckthorns. The backyard is not public land. And look at all those itty-bitty babies. Damn, they’re never-ending. I jerk them out of the ground. On the forested slope, I yank and hack buckthorn clusters that besiege a couple of lanky oaks.
My breath catches. I kneel and brush dry foliage aside. A baby oak stares at me, its two russet-colored leaves alert.
Careful of my steps, I discover several more.
I study old Mama oak. Those brazen buckthorns tangling with her irritate me. Not to mention their berry-filled brethren mangling the firs. The tallest buckthorn—thin and gangly, about 25 feet tall—intertwines with Mama oak. Cables and low oak branches block a free fall. I need a saw and I need my Mama.
# # #
The boomerang daughter saws, tests push-over-ability, saws more. Then she and her mother lean and tug and pull. Down, down, down, goes that tall creeper-tree.
And it is good.
Though I mourn my savanna, my children will thrive in this regenerated community.
And when the first snowfall adorns my bare limbs, boomerang daughter stands at the kitchen window and lifts her cup of steam.