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Flowers of War
I can make a difference. I can change the world. As plane after plane fly by, dropping death and destruction on the rest of the world, I stay sane knowing that each tiny orb of water that slides off my leaves signifies the advent of an entire ecosystem.
Sometimes, I think, “There are millions of others out there just like me, what makes me any different?” On these occasions, I am careful to notice how I affect every living thing that encounters me. A little boy sits under my large canopy, feeling lost and lonely, as I often do. The tears that fall from his eyes remind me of the drops of water that slide off my leaves. I can relate to this boy and I empathize. Eventually, his mother finds him, and scolds him for getting lost.
“I was worried sick! Don’t you ever do that to me again,” she exclaims. I am glad that I provided this little boy a safe haven as he waited for his mother to find him.
It was a day like this when I met Juliet. Juliet appeared to be seventeen years old, with long brown hair like the Spanish moss draped about my branches. She found a place to sit among the carpet of grass that surrounded my base, and extracted a thick novel from her jacket. Her eyes scanned the pages, filling her mind with more information by the second. I was consumed with jealousy as I stood watching Juliet. Reading was a talent that I could never dream of doing.
After several hours, Juliet stood up and brushed herself off. Pushing her long hair behind her ears, she dug her heels into my trunk and hoisted herself up between my branches. She then reached up, plucked one of my crinkled pink flowers, and pressed it between the pages of her book. As Juliet lounged wedged between my branches, I couldn’t help but feel discontent. She felt that she had the right to walk up to me and abuse all of my resources! I had never encountered such a forward person. Still, however bold Juliet may have been, I allowed her to stay in my protection. She was a lonesome girl who needed refuge from the rest of the world. As the world fell around us, Juliet and I stood strong.
Day after day passed following the same pattern of events. Juliet would climb into my branches and read, occasionally picking one of my flowers to press into her book. I no longer felt contempt for this girl, but quite the opposite. I became attached to her and anxiously awaited her arrival each day. My purpose was to protect Juliet, and I would never let her down.
At one time, wedged high up in my branches, Juliet became lulled into somnolence by the serenity of my canopy. Her eyelids, heavy from hours of reading, began to slide shut. Juliet slipped from my protection, plummeting toward the cold grass. She hit the ground with a snap, a yell torn from her throat by the impact of the fall. I could do nothing as Juliet curled inward, trying to drive off the pain of her broken ankle. I strained my branches and roots to reach her, the creaking of my bark obscured by her cries for help. Humans are so fragile. One fall and they are incapacitated. A tree can lose many branches to the ravages of time and still stand tall.
Through my brother-trees emerged a man with hair black as the smoke that billowed from the ruined cities of Earth while the air raid sirens rang. He dropped his rolls of canvas upon the ground and pulled Juliet to her feet, carrying her away from me and out of the forest as her tears subsided with relief.
Days, weeks, drifted by as I waited for Juliet to return. I tried to occupy myself with the sound of the wind in my foliage, which was slowly turning from pink to the fiery colors of autumn. I began to feel as if Juliet would never return, would never forgive me for allowing her to come to harm beneath my branches. Each time the sound of the wind was overcome by the shrieks of city-bombing, I thought of the man who had carried Juliet away and felt anger in each and every ring, to my core, and I was glad that his forgotten canvases decayed on the ground.
In time, Juliet returned to me, but brought a guest along as well. Her rescuer trailed behind her as she approached my base. The man stood several yards away from me and extracted a canvas and a pallet from a leather portfolio. Shades of brown, red, and yellow streaked across the canvas as the man captured my image in paint as the girl sat and read like old times. Except this time was different, as there was an intruder standing guard over our reunion. As Juliet read, she beamed and often stole a look at the man in front of her. I suppose he can stay, as long as he keeps Juliet happy.
The next day, Juliet returned with the same man. She looked up at my canopy and grinned, remembering old times we used to share. Sometimes, I missed those days when we were alone without the intrusive behavior of the young man. The man drew a pair of scissors from his portfolio and approached my trunk. He brought the scissors up to my bark and began carving the letters of their names. Juliet looked up from her book and smiled at this trite yet sincere demonstration of devotion.
In time I ceased to regret his name carved into my trunk. Though most of Juliet’s heart was devoted to this man, I knew that some was reserved for me. Juliet and I had survived loneliness and solitude together, and I felt that I was her mother nature.
In a month’s time, Juliet’s rescuer was called away to fight. Juliet returned alone, but I was not as happy as anticipated. Juliet would sit under my branches, tears soaking through the pages of her book. She eventually gave up reading and settled for curling up against my trunk and tracing the letters of his name with her fingers.
Juliet left me as darkness fell that evening. The calls of night-birds were abruptly silenced by the scream of a dying engine as a plane of war plunged from the sky and into the forest floor. Fire erupted from the crash site and raged through my brother-trees. The fury of war consumed the serenity of the forest, destroying everything in its path. The fire of my autumn leaves turned to ash as I was consumed by the black haze of war.
The girl with hair like Spanish moss strode through the fields of black ash that had once been forest floor. She arrived at the place where a great tree had once stood, flowering against the sky. The pain of her isolation was made all the more intense by the loss of her place of solitude. Drawing a book from her jacket, she held it open above the charred remains of the flowering tree. The wind ruffled the pages of the book like the leaves of a tree and pressed flowers fell onto the ash like a funeral bouquet.