Paper Leaves by Antonia Maxwell
It was a supreme act of violence. That was how she saw it at first. When the new people moved in, the first thing they did was chop the tree down. Hacking at its base with axe and saw, they left only a severed stump; and then they buried it under a mound of earth, and covered it in rocks and silly frilly froo froo flowers. The final insult to its magnificence.
But the ghost of the tree remained. She walked past it every day. ‘Much better with it gone,’ they said to her. ‘Lets more light in.’ But she looked up into the empty sky and still saw its arching branches, and she reached out her own arms in sympathy. It was gone, but still there. For her at least. And she allowed its ghost to chronicle the years as it always had.
In winter its creaking arms would grow into the sky, bleeding life and love and loss into the cold silver-grey clouds. It was then she needed it most. Because it was then her story was hardest to remember. Hold on, the tree would say, it will come back. And so she would pull her coat around her and wait.
And sure enough in spring it would return, sickeningly fecund, pulsing heavy pink blossom. But then the petals would fall like confetti and she would hear laughter and feel the press of a warm palm into her own and the swing of an arm and the flutter of life inside her. Oh the possibility, she would sigh and inhale the scent of the future on the early spring breeze.
In Summer it was still there, strong and definite. Waving green noisily in the hot air. Rushing rumours of life not yet lived. I’m coming, it would say, you just wait. I’m nearly there. And she would stand solid, believing, her hand stroking her growing belly.
In Autumn the tree persisted, despite all that had changed. The loss was foretold. And the tree – witness and clock – gave everything back, as must she. And she would see its branches burn red and orange and gold in a final act of defiance. We’re not ready, not yet, the dried leaves would crackle and hiss. But then spent, they would fall to the ground to be whisked away by the trickster winds.
The tree stood stoically. It knew its own story. It knew that its loss was written on those paper leaves, in the delicate lace veins now visible on the browned pages flying away. Year after year the same. There could be nothing else.
And each year she and the tree would be left with nothing. Winter-ready, they would be exposed and vulnerable, the loss jagged and raw again. We’re in this together, the tree would say. And even with it gone, she still stood beneath it, her roots pushing deep into the earth, drawing out her story, again and again, beneath the new light of the empty skies.
Antonia Maxwell is a freelance editor and writer based near Cambridge, UK. She writes flash fiction and short stories, and has also completed two novels (unpublished). As an editor she works in non-fiction and is an Advanced Member of SfEP (Society for Editors and Proofreaders).
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3 thoughts on “Paper Leaves”
Well done Antonia. Now, the Coffee Shop wants to know whats next?
What opens as an account of vandal neighbours moves seamlessly into the repeated life story of the ghostly tree mirroring the loss of a child. Skilful, unsentimental and beautiful.