Here at the edge of the farm, there’s a good deal of guessing if you were planted or happened to get lucky by landing in the good growing dirt. But I know that our luck was unplanned and ignored by the farmer on his occasional walkabouts. He probably thought it a shame too—all of us having the same view of the same dusty field.
But let me start with my acorn crackin’. The old trees tingled the ground; I tried joining in. Nothing happened. It was dark down there, waiting for my body to straighten. At one point, a creature nudged me. I cried into the dirt. The wiggly thing didn’t stay long, though, and when it was gone, my outlook freshened with the soil it’d touched. For a long time, I dreamt of bringing that sort of peace to others.
One day, while the farmer was reaping cabbage, dirty water splattered me. It’d filtered through the canopy and carried messages: “You’re doing great, Little One.” “Early rain ruins crops.” “Take your time.” “Name’s Laurel.” The tree looked so wise with all that dark ivy ‘round his trunk and acorns clinging to his branches. The farmer worked long into the night, moving his lantern down the rows. In the months that followed, I’d think of him this way, hunched over and swearing. After all, that’s how I felt.
Growing bark hurts. A one-time thing would be bad enough, but back then, my trunk was constantly ripping, wanting more room. It’s a fickle business, really. Lean into a wall too much and form a knot. And for all the progress, I still grew slower than the shiny ivy at the edge of the grove. It was a patch before my leaves stiffened, a vine before my branches held a bird. A juicy caterpillar came along and chewed the beautiful vine. I rustled my leaves, but the caterpillar stayed, had its fill, then moved on.
It stopped raining, and the parched field crusted.
Bless the legs of the first widowed spider who made her nest in my branches. You wouldn’t believe how it gave me purpose. I grew on and on. The ivy did too, of course. Every day I reached my branches toward it a teensy bit more. Pretty soon, those beautiful leaves were mere feet from me, and my whole trunk leaned.
I remember clear as day, first touching that beautiful ivy. The ivy wasted no time. Over the next dry months, vines wrapped around my trunk, branches, then leaves. My spider friend and I didn’t mind anything ‘cept the noisy leaves flapping. But that was the price of hospitality, right? Speaking of newcomers, I wanted to tell the acorns that kept breaking open that it’ve been wiser to wait out the drought. Then again, they had as much choice as I did.
During this dry spell, I pondered what Laurel would share next: what his canopy saw, how to grow acorns. I didn’t have to wait long, though. The farmer came out to the field, draggin’ behind him a coiled tube. He fiddled with a contraption. Then water sputtered in a circle. The water picked up strength, catching our grove in its rotation.
“Send away the ivy,” Laurel said. In another drop, he said, “Send it off.” They fell faster, faster. “It’ll strangle you.” Laurel must’ve picked this up from some rotted fella. The others in the grove seemed fine wearing it. Why was I any different?
I busied myself growing in ways others might like. It worked, too. Squirrels nested in my branches. It was a joyful thing, watching life unfold. The ivy was out of control, though. I grew an inch; it grew a foot. I twisted; it constricted. For years, we grew this way: the ivy in its athletic prime, me, in a drought stupor. It tore my spider friend’s webs, and the squirrels rerouted to avoid climbing my trunk. It’s ivy’s nature, I reminded myself.
Things got harder. It wasn’t just the drought. Even when the rain picked up, I didn’t recover. My limbs stopped growing, and it took everything I had to preserve my trunk. There was no hiding what nutrients I had from the vine. It drained me and continued to grow. Laurel didn’t speak to me through the raindrops anymore.
I decided even in death, I could be a good host. Sure, I’d never age to bare acorns, but our grove was full enough. Perhaps more birds would build nests on my brittle branches.
Some caterpillars came along and chewed the beautiful leaves. Days into their work, I spotted the farmer sowing the field for the first time in years. He’d developed a knee-limp to go with his bad back. A caterpillar fell from my trunk and bounced in the dry leaves. The farmer’s head snapped toward us. I felt like a sapling watchin’ him trudge over and smush the pudgy critters one by one. Some of them pushed off the trunk. Others climbed higher, hoping to make it to a safe branch. Still others awaited the farmer’s finger.
The only order to the farmer’s rampage: bodies going from pleasantly doughy against my trunk, to firm under his finger, to goo. I wanted fingers of my own to fling my beloveds to safety. Then the farmer left the way he’d come.
I saw no point helping such an evil man breathe. Besides, why watch more friends rot? Yeah, I found out about Laurel. The farmer came back. He reached in his pocket, pulled out snippers, and clipped the feeding veins from my trunk. He moved through the grove, freeing each tree.
I still don’t know if I’ve recovered. For years the height of my excitement was watchin’ dirt move in the wind. Then my branches started itching and I spotted acorns of my very own. I’ve spent most of my time since then waitin’ for my acorns to fall, for rain, for youngins to grow.
Flash Fiction by Maggie Maize
I recently graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design with a BFA in writing. I’ve been published in Harness Magazine, Port City Review, SCAD District, Funny Pearls UK, and Humana Obscura.
Sarah Manguso and Annie Dillard are some of my favorite writers. Their vivid descriptions and rhythmic prose inspire much of my work.