Fiction, The Willow Tree, Writing Prompt

The Willow Tree 4.0: In the End

When I got a good look at William after his return, I could see that the boy I knew was gone. There was no youth left in his face. He was still William though. A little sadder, perhaps, a little more tired, but still him. Tommy took to his father immediately. No fear or reserve. Carly had seen to it that the boy already loved William with all his innocent heart.

The wooden swing was used until it broke. By then Tommy was much taller and he pried the split piece of wood from its ropes and began to use those ropes to still swing as high as he could.

When Tommy was the perfect image of William when he first brought Carly to my field, Tommy brought a girl, too. A sweet, quiet girl with corkscrew curls and a wide eyed way about her. They visited me all summer long and I was content to watch it all happening again. In the last stretch of heat that summer, after the pair laid in each other’s arms on the dewy grass, talking, kissing, and dreaming, Tommy strode over to my trunk with a purpose in his step. He took something from his pocket; unfolded, it was a small knife, and he used it to carve something into my bark. It stung a little but I am a large, strong tree and he only cut a tiny piece of me. His girl came up beside him and lifted her face for another kiss when he finished.

The next spring, Tommy returned and used that same knife to scrape away the carving he so carefully made. That hurt a little more, but no more than the sight of the tears he brushed away furiously while working at it. I saw him less and less after that, and I have so often wondered where his road took him.

William and Carly grew old beneath my boughs. He built a bench on which they sat through

countless sunsets. Year after year, they returned; peace on their faces and light in their eyes. They began to walk more slowly. I would see their approach at the far corner of the field and by the time they reached me and sat on their bench, the sun would have shifted to another side of me.

It is spring again now. I expected them to come several sunsets ago, but they have not. There’s been no sign of my dear friends

Instead, there are machines. Not like the ones in another time that used to churn up the field in spring or harvest its grains in the autumn. These are different; rougher and louder. They have cleared and flattened the field. Trees that stood for all or most my life are gone from the other side of the meadow. New machines are coming each day now with loads of wood and other materials unknown to me. I am afraid. Their movements get closer and closer and I can only wonder if I will be in their way in the end.

This is why I am gladder than I can say to have told even a few of my stories. I needed to share them and I knew this might be my last opportunity. Thank you ever so much for listening.

Fiction, The Willow Tree, Writing Prompt

The Willow Tree 3.2: The Homecoming

The one day I wished I could weep. It was autumn again. My browning leaves danced in a strong wind. The field was harvested and the sun was spending fewer hours in my sight. Tommy sat upon the wooden board suspended from one of my thickest branches. An older man, white hair and a knowing face, came with them one day in the summer to string up the swing with two thick lengths of rope. Tommy called him Papa and was his shadow as the man worked. When I was holding the swing securely, Papa placed Tommy on it and showed him how to work his little legs to propel forward and backward. It took some practice but soon Tommy could do it without aid. He’d reach the limits of the swing’s arc and stretch his toes out to tap my strands of leaves hanging in front of him at that height.

That day, Tommy rode the swing while Carly laid on her back in the sunshine just outside my circle of shade. I saw her shiver a bit in the wind, wrapping her yellow sweater a little tighter around herself. She’d roll her head to the side to check on her boy then back toward the sun directly above her. Carly looked sad more and more in those days. She was quick to lift her pretty mouth into a smile when Tommy came to her. She did not know that I watched her face in between the smiles.

When she saw Tommy slowing the swing, scuffing his shoes on the grass beneath him, Carly announced it was time for lunch. She set about unpacking the basket they brought along but Tommy didn’t hop off the swing as I expected him to do when the food was in sight. His eyes were fixed on some distant spot along the edge of the field. Carly called to him twice before walking over to see what kept his attention. She turned to follow his gaze and he lifted an arm to point.

A figure was coming into view, a man. Slowly, slowly. I saw Carly’s mouth form a little circle; then a gasp and tears before the man was even close enough to see with any clarity. It didn’t matter; she knew. She knew and she ran. A sprint along that grassy path, one shoe slipping off with no notice from its wearer. By the time she reached him, I too could see that it was William. Our William. He was home.

Fiction, The Willow Tree, Writing Prompt

The Willow Tree: 3.1 The New Boy

He learned to walk in the clearing between me and the creek. Carly brought him as she promised to do. Those first few cycles of the seasons, when I witnessed him transform from that round, sleepy bundle in her arms to a giggling baby scooting on his hands and knees to this scrappy, ready-to-go boy, were the best of my years. Nothing could surpass the pleasure of it. I guarded his perfect face from the glare of the sun. I watched with anxious hope as he took his first steps then, in what seemed like no time at all, began to run and tumble over the bumps of the earth that surrounded me. I swung my boughs in the wind, inviting him to grab hold and lift his little feet from the ground.

I saw his father in his eyes and smile; heard his father in his laugh. His mother noticed it, too, of course. Bittersweet and beautiful, her still waiting for William’s return, she’d set down her papers and pen to watch him play. On picnic days, she talked of nothing but William while the new boy chewed his sandwiches and apples. Stories to make him smile, make him laugh, make him listen in wonder. Always when she finished came the question, “When will Daddy come home?” Always the same answer, whispered into her boy’s blonde curls as she hugged him, “Soon, my dear, soon.”

The new boy was Thomas William, as that was what Carly called out when he wandered from my side. The rest of the time though, he was Tommy.

Fiction, The Willow Tree, Writing Prompt

The Willow Tree 2.3: The Woman and the Child

Spring began with the wedding. Afterward, only several sunrises passed before Carly found her way back to me. She came alone. I expected to hear William call to her as he arrived; I watched the field and listened over the noise of the birds. He did not come. She sat alone against my trunk, her fingers splayed over the damp ground covering my roots. Perfectly still, eyes focused on the creek, she was silent at first. Then she cried. One sob escaped her throat and her hand, adorned now by a simple band on her finger, went to her mouth to muffle the next one. I watched her shoulders shake.

I have never felt more helpless. Oh how I ached to bend down to hold her. I could only stand beside her, willing her to draw strength from my solidity.

She quieted eventually, lying down below my swaying leaves and falling asleep for the rest of the afternoon. She was a splendid sight: her hair fanned over the grass, one hand tucked beneath her cheek, knees curled toward her stomach. She slept until the sun set and the breeze turned chilly enough to bring on a shiver.

Carly returned often, usually with papers in hand. Some were covered in writing that she read eagerly and clutched to her chest. Other pieces were blank when she arrived and her time was spent filling them to their edges.

It was nearing the close of summer by the time I noticed the swelling of Carly’s stomach. The meaning of it was apparent even to me, as I’d spent my years observing the mothers in the forest. After finishing her reading or writing, she would lie down on her back on the smoothest patch of grass under my cover and run her hand round and round the little hill of her belly. One foggy morning, I watched as the child within kicked Carly’s hand. Carly sat up, a grin spreading across her pretty face even as tears rapidly filled her eyes.

When she had grown too large to lie on her back, she rolled to her side and held her stomach protectively. That was around the time she began talking to the child.

“Are you going to look like your daddy, little one? I bet you’ll have his smile. Yes, I’m sure you will.”

“We’re in your daddy’s favorite spot in the whole world. Did you know that?”

“We got a letter from your daddy today, little one. He is tremendously excited to meet you.”

As everything changed to browns, reds, and oranges, and leaves floated off their branches, and the sun closed the days earlier and earlier, Carly walked more slowly through the field. She stayed for briefer bits of time. When the first snowflakes of the season fell from fat, gray clouds, Carly leaned against me and sighed.

“It’ll be a while before I come back, I think.”

It took a moment for me to emerge from my confusion and realize she was speaking to me. A first in all my years.

“I will come back though. I’ll bring my little one, I promise. And someday, I’ll bring William with me again.”

The winter didn’t seem so terribly cold with that promise held beneath my bark.

Fiction, The Willow Tree, Writing Prompt

The Willow Tree 2.2: The Sailor and His Bride

From those early spring days through the coolest of autumn evenings, he brought Carly back again and again. The boy’s name was William. When I first heard her speak his name, I felt such pride at finally knowing it. He told her everyone else called him Bill but he loved the way she said his real name.

William had an excellent laugh, hearty and sincere, and Carly made him laugh a lot in those months. They brought picnics of roast beef sandwiches or bread and cheese. They flew a red kite a few times. They kissed. Light, brush on the lips kisses; warm, drawn out kisses; open mouth, in the middle of a laugh kisses; and deep, long, breathless kisses that ended with their arms wrapped around each other like one might float away if they both did not hold on tightly enough.

Winter came, as it always does. The winds turned icy and the ground grew hard. William and Carly stopped wandering my way. I did not see them until the following spring, a year since their first visit. They arrived on a sunny afternoon, when the field was dotted with purple lupines and the breeze was gentle once again. William wore a crisp, navy blue uniform. Until he was very near, he looked very much a grown man. Up close though, he was still a boy. Carly wore a simple, white dress that skimmed the grass under her feet. Her dark hair was set in thick ringlets. A silky white shawl covered her shoulders and she kept her arm tucked in the crook of William’s elbow as they walked toward me.

My boughs were bending with the breeze, their buds beginning to open toward the sun. It is what I consider to be my prettiest state. As they came under my height, Carly ran her hand over a cluster of my lowest hanging branches. I could feel her fingers course over the bumps of my new leaves. The couple had eyes only for each other though – eyes intermittently wet with tears. They spoke in whispers and promises and caresses.

Eventually they were silent. Carly had her cheek against his chest. His arms held her around the waist and they swayed in a soothing rhythm all their own. Finally Carly spoke up again.

“We must get to the party. They will all be wondering why we haven’t arrived.”

“Let them wait.” William answered firmly.

She lifted a hand to his cheek. “No, William. They all need to say goodbye, too. They all need to see us happy before they let you go.”

He moved Carly’s palm to his lips, planting a kiss there. “I love you.”

“I love you.”

Fiction, The Willow Tree, Writing Prompt

The Willow Tree 2.1 – The Boy and His Girl

I recognized the boy from years before. He hadn’t visited in a long while but there was no mistaking those round, brown eyes, tousled blonde hair, and crooked smile. I knew him in an instant and I was gladdened by his return.

“This used to be my favorite spot as a kid,” he whispered to the girl who sat beside him, her head on his shoulder.

I’d suspected as much. He used to tramp through the long grasses of the field, stick in hand, to stop
under my branches. Sometimes he fought imaginary foes, swinging his stick like a mighty sword. On especially warm days, the boy laid beneath the shade I offered. He peered through the gaps of my leaves and boughs, winking at the sun.

A particularly happy memory for me was the time he stood beside me, his hand occasionally resting on my trunk, and recited again and again a wordy, lofty speech by someone named Shakespeare, or Puck perhaps. (These names I discerned from the boy’s grumblings at moments when he lost his place.) I recall with delight the final recitation, when he delivered every line with clarity. His smile, his whoop of satisfaction. It was a fine day.

Now he has returned. Grown tall and muscular. His voice is richer yet still full of his younger self. And he has brought his girl. They sit against my trunk, their backs warming the bark. She is lovely; brown, thick hair reaching halfway down her back, cheeks and lips pink with happiness. He looks at her as at a jewel. It is early in spring, the sun only beginning to recover its heat after the long days and nights of winter. His girl – Carly, he calls her – snuggles closer under his arm and the smile on his face is perfect. The hum of their conversation blends with the breeze. It is steady, soothing, and confident, reminding me of a song a man sang once long ago as he walked along the stream to a destination unknown.

The boy and his girl stay until the field is afire with the sun dipping low and bright behind it. I hear Carly promise to come back again with him and I am filled with a share of the hope I see in the boy’s face.

They do come back. They do, and I shall tell you what became of them.

Fiction, The Willow Tree, Writing Prompt

The Willow Tree 1.1

I stand at the edge of a sloping field that turns golden in October. There is a narrow stream running nearby, near enough for me to enjoy its gurgling sounds and watch it flood its shallow banks each Spring. I have stood here for many years. So many years. I have grown tall and thick and old with my roots stretching for yards and yards beneath the grass and dirt

Though I’ve tried, I cannot remember the day I was planted. More than when, I have wondered whether it was on purpose. Did someone want me here, in this spot, for a reason particular to him? I have heard myself called a “weeping” willow. From the men, women, and children I have known, I’ve learned what it is to weep. I wish they would not call me that. I cannot weep. And truly, there has been only a single day that I wished I could weep.

The moments I have witnessed, the people I have been privileged to know; the memories of them all are hanging in my boughs. I fear they will be lost soon. I fear I will be gone. If you would sit with me a while and listen, I am longing to tell my stories.