There are rows of them aligned in columns, great pillars of oak, pine and mahogany facing our house. We’re not exactly sure how they came to be there but somewhere along the line, someone must have planted them, sewing their seeds into the fudge brown earth.
I envisaged cookies rising from out of the ground, doughy spheres smelling like heaven with chocolate chips, gigantic moles on the sun-baked surface.
But this never happened.
Instead, each time our lime green curtains were opened, a stretch of scarred trunks, some with carved initials denting their layers, others sprayed neon blue, stared back. They looked utterly miserable standing there; most of them leaning to one side, their buttress roots like pitch forks, half-supported in the earth.
A shower of leaves soon lifted the depression. Golden leaves glinting like Werther’s Original toffee wrappers, tiny gems of sunshine sprouting forth and fluttering in the breeze, often accompanied us to sleep.
On the nights that we couldn’t sleep, the times when we were restless, fidgety, I would watch you climb out of bed, tip-toeing to the window and tear the curtains open. Your face was half-lit in the moonlight, illuminating those freckles you were so self-conscious about – the ones I wish I had, a dusting of angel’s kisses, and I would listen as your breathing grew shallow, until it finally stopped.
I had never seen a face so serene, so content in the moonlight. You told me the light was like liquid mercury, a mystic pool you could drown in.
I was envious of that relationship, the one you had with the nature, and I often had nightmares where I was slipping away in quicksand as the moonlight cradled you in its perfect mirror sheen.
Of course I never told you this. Why would I?
Spring and summer blessed our sight with pea-green leaves and blossom the colour of butter cream. But there remained an air of immense sadness the trees themselves couldn’t quite shake off.
I imagined a vine of foreign hands planting the trees, their fingers prodding and poking the moist compost, as their fingernails concealed rich earth clippings. Each tree planted knew doubt from their owner as they passed from flesh to earth, and here their doubt flourished, sprouting limbs like pickled lightning rods. Static. Magnetic.
They called to you; an electric charge unable to be harnessed. You said they needed reassurance, companionship. You spoke about them as though they had feelings, and I suppose you were right.
Come winter, we both knew their sorrow.
But autumn was the cruellest season as we watched, helpless, at the branches shedding their crisp sandy leaves, painting driveways with an assortment of crystallised ambers and burnt tangerines. Open windows welcomed air saturated with frostbite. We quickly closed them, afraid the wallpaper would peel itself from off the walls.
It was your idea to sleep with the curtains open. You said you needed that extra space to breathe and expand. I thought it was just one of your silly phases so I went along, quietly amused.
The moonlight was too strong. It penetrated my eyelids, and all I could see in the darkness was a thin red film flecked with thread-like veins. It was a single beam of white light, pure, consistent; the only contact we had with an alien world.
So I drew the curtains. And you opened them. Then I closed them and you opened them again. And again. And again. We wasted a whole night. I lost eight hours sleep. You said the wind had changed and that a storm was brewing, a great uprising was on our doorstep, waiting to unleash itself.
Since that night, we paid careful attention to the army of trees which lined the front of our house. No leaf coverage meant we were under suspicion. It was spring now and nothing grew on any of the branches. Each figure was stiff, arthritic and even when the wind blew long and howling, the trees never stirred. But it’s like you said, the wind had changed.
Instead of blowing along the street like it always did, the wind blew straight ahead, rattling all our doors and windowpanes, attacking us head on. It had become our enemy. Soon, trees bursting with doubt spilled out across the road, their contorted branches making impressive arches, fusing with rooftops.
You told me they were appealing to us to bridge the gap, to heal the rift our forefathers had bestowed on them while they were taking root, to erase that doubt deliberately sewn in earlier times. Their splintered fingers intercepted the sodium streetlamps, blotting out all light sources until we too, cramped and doubting, were bathed in shadow.
And then it happened.
The branches hissed and snapped as they suspended us, our house in mid-air, binding themselves tightly across our windows, and carrying us towards the milky mirror sheen of the moon.
Lauren Bell lives in Birmingham and is often drunk on inspiration. Her work has been published by Word Bohemia, Synaesthesia Magazine, Bare Fiction, The Casket of Fictional Delights and Storgy Magazine where she is a contributing writer.
Photograph courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net