Last time a writing assignment was put out: that everyone should write a story about two friends who have a "patch" of something between them, and how over the years that "patch" has influenced them and their relationship. Over the next few meetings those stories are going to be discussed.
Mine was discussed yesterday.
Given I am such a... non-fiction person: I read minimal amounts of fiction (as in, less than one fiction book a year! :/ Though I do consume loads of non-fiction of all sorts: blogs, feature articles, architecture books...) and I almost never write fiction (last time I can remember doing fiction was in a university assignment, ie year 2007), I was intrigued with how it would turn out.
Well... I think it actually turned out pretty well :). Full of typos and changes of tenses, but still!
PS. It was funny how these Invercargill writers had never come across a concept of a tree between two houses used for climbing from one window to another. But had this writers' group taken place in Sweden or Estonia where many children have read Astrid Lindgren's the children of Bullerby, I bet most of them would've said, oh, it's like that Bullerby tree!
A STORY THAT I HAVEN'T EVEN TITLED
The tree has stood there for as long as they can remember.
In fact, it has stood there even longer than that: the previous owners had it planted when the section was still in one lot, and once they'd subdivided and sold, and new houses were built, it had still been left to grow. For over thirty years it's grown, to a point where now there is a tree smack-bang in the middle of a fenceline, sandwiched between two houses only 6 metres apart, and if it weren't for the boys it would've been taken down years ago.
But it hasn't, because it's a blessing - in disguise, but blessing nevertheless.
The tree - as it's affectionately know amongst the families, THE tree - reaches its branches in through to one window and out to another. It's like an air-bridge, a direct line of traffic from one upstairs bedroom to the other, and boys use it as such. Rather than walk down the stairs, out the house, onto the street, in through the other house, up the stairs and into the bedroom, they just open their window, climb onto the branches, cross the tree and knock on the other window to be let in.
But here's a thing: recently a couple of things were noticed that have made the tree somewhat... suspicious to the families. It hasn't held its leafs that well any more, it's had several attacks of worms on it, it's been, generally, just looking kind of "out of it". That's why one of the dads looked into talking to an arborist and seeing what they say.
And that's where the problem lay.
The tree is ill. It's been ill for a long time, but no-one's noticed it until this year when the final stage of damage has been starting to show through the loss of leaves etc, and the fact of the matter is, the tree is on its way out. There is nothing anyone can do about it other than to take it down to spare it the fate of being taken down by wind instead and damaging the houses as it does.
It's treated like a tragedy, which from the point of view of the boys, it is, too. For over ten years they've been clambering its branches, ignorant of the blessing that has been bestowed upon their friendship by this magnificent being. Or... ignorant is not the right word, actually. Oblivious. Unsuspecting. Kind of like children whose parents die young and who before that had never even thought of parents being able to die young and leaving them behind, but who do, and now they're, like, "Huh?"
The boys are aghast. All sorts of replacement options are talked through, from cable-driven trolleys, kind of, to playground-like wooden towers connected by a climbing pole, to planting a new tree which would not grow big enough until their own sons - if they ever have any - are big enough to use it, and even then it's not sure its branches would point in the right directions, which is to basically say, the thing is treated like a tragedy and it is not an overstatement that it is because... it is. A tragedy.
From about two weeks time they'll be, when wanting to see each other, have to walk down the stairs, out the house, out the gate, onto the street, in the other gate, in the other house, up the other stairs and occasionally, they'll even be allowed to mutter under their breath that why do people even need fences to keep each others dogs out of each others gardens but... let's leave that for someone else to boil over because the saddest part of this story is actually yet to come.
It does not become apparent until years later that the downfall of this friendship had its beginnings in an old, rotten tree. And how would it? The boys, diligently, walked each others staircases and used each others doors like the rest of the normal people do, and continued their friendship, for a long time.
But it wasn't the same. Ever since that tree came down, it just never. Was. The Same. Again.
In bits and pieces, their relationship to each other deteriorated, and relationships with other people started to take over instead. In small increments, almost too little to even bother adding up, it would - would add up, over time. They would want to go see each other but not bother making the trip because it's too late in the day, or too early, or they don't feel like putting shoes on but the tarmac on the street gets sticky when the sun's hot. They'd think of spending time together, but they wouldn't - time and time again.
And then, of course, the inevitable landmarks of modern people's lives would intervene, too, like they always do. The boys would graduate high school and head off to different universities, as you do, and set up lives in different towns, as you do.
And maybe, in the end, it wouldn't have made that big of a difference. Even if the tree had been left standing, healthy, and provided that air-bridge for two boys, ages only two months apart, who loved knocking on each other's window for yet another mischievous enterprise - maybe it wouldn't have made a difference, because from the day the tree came down they only had three more years left in their homes before heading off to universities and lives changing ever-more-rapidly anyway.
As Tom stood on the street, looking towards the two houses that had, by now, been sold a long time ago, whilst both the boys respective parents had headed off to different retirement homes, he couldn't help but tear up and mutter under his breath angrily because... whilst that tree had been standing, it had been a light to his life, especially if overlooking the fence maintenance due to constant movement of the bloody tree as it grew - it had been a light, and he'd never pictured himself standing on the street, old and weathered, with Jason dead, and thinking, you f*ckin' tree. Maybe, if you'd been standing for just a five or six years longer, maybe Jason would've headed off to a different university, or not taken up that f*ckin' surfboarding, or just...
Jason's dead. And you f*ckin' tree.