A Maple Tree

January 2, 2011
Snowflakes frosted branches and flakes fluttered to the ground with a delicacy that only Mother Nature could create. The girl was thinking about homework, books and boys as her feet dragged through the snow. She took this route home every day; it was the most direct way from both the center of town and her school. Leafless maple trees lined the street on all sides, their tangles of branches shading it so that the snow that lay in heavy drifts elsewhere was a soft powdering at their bases.
She was lost in thought, her sight blurring as snowflakes frosted her eyelashes. As she blinked she felt the impact on her shoulder. The girl spun around, stumbling slightly in the deep snow at her feet. There he was. Who else would throw a snowball at her unprovoked? He was grinning as his face peered down at her through a woolen cap. His gloved hands had already packed another wad of snow into a perfectly round projectile, and it was aimed at her. Her hands rested instinctively on her hips and she fought back the urge to roll her eyes as she began to feel the bite of cold on the tip of her nose. Another missile smacked her opposite arm. A grin broke over her face, forcing through her previously annoyed expression. That obnoxious idiot wasn’t going to beat her in a snowball fight. Her mittens dipped into the crystalized fluff covering the ground and packed it together as hard and fast as possible. She pulled her arm back and sent it flying, watching in agony as it smacked the back of an old maple just over his right shoulder.
“Missed me!” he smirked, sending another careening towards her. She managed to duck this time, avoiding another impact. The snowballs flew back and forth, laughing taunts exchanged sporadically. It wasn’t much different than the usual banter at school. They were together in almost every class, but conversation consisted mostly of sarcasm and rude remarks.
One of her frozen masterpieces flew under his left arm, smacking into the gray fabric of his backpack.
“I have my school stuff in there!” he whined. Already he could picture the spread of wet that would creep over its surface and onto its contents the second he went indoors. His eyes narrowed and something dark flashed in them as he sent the wad of ice spinning.
Her face burned as freezing shards sprayed across her face. Her nose began to run as she held back tears starting to leak from her eyes .She sat down in the snow, mopping her eyes furiously as he jogged over, kneeling in front of her.
“Are you alright?” he asked, a hint of concern cracking the usual façade of indifference.
“That really hurt,” she mumbled, pushing away the hair that had begun to stick to her face. His eyes were wide and soft as he looked at her.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, a hint of real remorse in his voice. He offered her his hand, and she reluctantly took it, avoiding eye contact. His hands gripped hers tightly as he hauled her to her feet. Snow continued to fall down as his grip relaxed and he released her hands, scratching his head. She sighed and looked away, staring intently at the tree she’d hit before.
“I said I was sorry,” he mumbled again, his breath puffing in front of him like smoke. She looked up at him now, meeting his eyes briefly.
“It’s alright,” she said gruffly, dusting snow off of her own bag. “Sorry about your backpack.” She paused for a moment before granting him a small wave and trudging away through the snow. He stood there and watched for a few moments before pulling his own bag over his shoulder and slowly making his way in the other direction.

The girl wasn’t surprised when she saw him under the maple tree. Since their snowball fight a few months ago they had experienced several encounters in front of that tree. Still sarcastic and mutually obnoxious, but the vehemence had slowly seeped out of them. Now it was more joking around between friends than the mocking of someone disliked. The birds exchanged their usual excited banter as she pondered this. She couldn’t put her finger on when it happened, but it certainly had. Neither of them knew when the shift had occurred, but both of them were conscious that it had happened.

The difference today was that he was sitting on the dried and yellowed grass, not yet turned green with a whisper of summertime air. His head was down and his dark sweatshirt would make him nearly indistinguishable from the usual brooding teenager to most. Not to her though. She recognized the breadth of his shoulders and how his back rested against the rough bark of the tree.

She paused for a moment, unsure of what to do. She glanced up at the sky, squinting at the sun filtering through the branches. They had tiny brown and green buds, signals of the renewal of life creeping through the dead that for months had sucked the warmth from the world.

She looked at him again and knew that he had seen her, or at least heard her footsteps approaching. She stepped off of the pavement and onto the still-thawing earth. He looked up as she sat next to him, looking at the ground and pulling at the dried grass.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. He leaned his head back against the trunk and closed his eyes again. She didn’t say anything else, not expecting a response. Then he answered.

“I’m not happy,” he mumbled, his eyelids creasing as for a moment he squeezed them tight.

“Why?” was her simple response. He told her.

They sat there for hours and talked. She asked him questions and he answered what he wanted. The conversation flashed between sadness and homework and the science teacher’s moustache. Sometimes he wouldn’t answer part of a question and she would let it go. Other times the simplest of questions earned her a long, drawn out response that evolved into further subjects.

She looked at a yellow flower just peeping out of its bulb. It was nestled comfortably near the tree’s base, looking painfully delicate. She reached out and brushed it lightly with her fingertips as he told her about a group of girls that he knew.

By the time he stood up the sky had changed from the soft blue of daylight to a gray that spoke of morning time and winter. He had to leave. They nodded in acknowledgment of their parting, but the girl thought perhaps she would come back tomorrow; people always needed somebody to talk to. Maybe there would be more flowers sprouting under the tree.

Patterns of light covered the pavement, hot from the beating summer sun. The light mirrored the spaces between the leaves that hung from the maple trees, green with life. They were sitting under that same maple tree, talking. Most days they would sit there with their backs leaned up against the gray bark. He would talk about his girlfriend; she would talk about her boyfriend. They would tease each other and laugh, and then the conversation would drift into something more serious.

Despite the late afternoon sun, icy tendrils seeped into her chest, wrapping around her heart. Most days, they would part with a wave, a friendly goodbye. Some days he would get up and leave without so much as a nod. Rarely would the jokes go too far now, though. It was a rare day when the stick he tossed scratched her arm or a pebble caused an unintentional bruise. He was there most days when she walked by, but then there were the days she dreaded, the days when he wasn’t. She wasn’t sure why she dreaded them, but she dreaded them more than the days when it rained. When she was trapped inside her house, listening to the smacking of rain-drops on the roof as they beat in time with her own heart. There was no tree on those days. Those warm and sunny days when he wasn’t there, she would go and sit under the tree anyway. If she sat long enough, he would always come. His familiar silhouette making its way down the street.

The grass was soft and green as she pulled at it, sprinkling it over her lap for no apparent reason. She knew she had to be careful, she despised grass stains. She pulled up another tuft of grass and threw it in his face with his mouth still open in mid-sentence. He glared at her before laughing and throwing another tuft back at her, spitting bits of green next to him. They both jumped as a squirrel scratched its way up the tree.

They began to laugh now, sunlight glancing off their faces. He would need to go soon, he had was sure to have better places to be, people to see. She let her smile fade gradually.

“I better go now,” she said casually. She reached down and grabbed her book, shaking it gently to make sure no ants had found their way between its pages. He said goodbye as she turned and walked away, admiring the lovely rue blossoms in a neighbor’s garden as the summertime warmth seeped through her skin.

The sky was gray as she walked down the street, leaves crunching under her feet as she pulled the scarf more tightly around her neck. The trees were rainbow shades of red and gold; warm colors sharply contrasting with the chilly wind gusts that swept her hair across her face. The maple tree had colors brighter than any of the others. The girl thought it interesting that something dying could exhibit so much life. She looked at its base where the ground had just begun to turn yellow, the chlorophyll already aware of the impending cold. The green always seemed to disappear before the snowfall started; saving itself from the frost or perhaps just hastening the deadening it strived to escape. He wasn’t there either, most likely participating in one of his many new extra-curricular activities.

She stopped in the street just as she often did, turning towards her favorite spot. A crow cried somewhere nearby. The absence of him sitting beneath the branches wasn’t altogether too surprising, it happened often enough. She had but to sit down beneath it, under the shade of its remaining leaves and wait.

She gazed at the spot, imagining herself sitting there as she usually did. She saw herself leaning against the trunk and waiting for him, alone with her thoughts. She pictured sitting there and watching cars drive by and birds beginning their laborious and lonely flights southward. She could almost feel the time she would spend sitting there for hours in vain until she would finally realize he wasn’t coming: because he had found something better to do, because he had forgotten, because he didn’t care that she sat there waiting.

She adjusted her backpack on her sore shoulders and kept walking. She would come back tomorrow as always. It would make more sense to return when she knew he was there. Besides, what use was it to talk if she had nothing of consequence to say? There was no point in waiting there if he surely wasn’t going to come.
Not too long after that he came, sitting at the base of the tree until the sun turned pink and the birds ceased their songs.

The wind bit into her as she hurried home, the cold cutting straight to her bones. It whistled
through the barren trees, screaming for snow that had yet to come. The world was brown and cold, numbing her fingers to the point where even the tingling ceased. She pulled them under her arms, wiggling them in the vain hope that warmth could be replenished by her own body heat. It had been weeks since she’d walked home, the winter too powerful for even her stubborn determination.

She stopped cold in the middle of the road, staring at a familiar spot that had lost all familiarity. Where her tree had once stood, its branches spreading out in a complex web towards heaven, was only clouded gray sky. The great trunk, strengthened by decades, was gone. Something in her chest broke, like a fine porcelain cup dropped on a tiled floor. She felt the crack shoot up through her chest, fracturing it into uncountable pieces.

She ran towards the tree stump, tears freezing on her cheeks as her eyes began to leak. She sunk down in a space between the roots, pulling her legs up to her chest and resting her face against her knees.

It’s just a tree, she told herself. It’s only a tree. But where was there to go but this tree? She had lived the last year in the knowledge that a tree is steadfast and eternal, that even though it wilted every year life could be depended on to return to it in the spring. She hadn’t counted on humanity.

She breathed hot air into her cupped hands and attempted to rub warmth into the dry and cracked skin. She wondered if he knew about the tree. Had he been there when it happened, had he made an effort to stop it? Or was he destined to discover the emptiness surrounding the stump as she had? Would he even care? It was just a tree after-all. There were millions of trees in the world, this was just one. She would ask him… when? They had no classes together this year.

She sniffed as she got up, rubbing her eyes. If she had been there, could she have stopped the saws? She could hear the sounds of chippers in her ears, buzzing away at the remains of that beautiful maple wood.

As the girl turned her back on that spot, a light flurry of snow began to fall. She promised herself that if she ever loved a tree again like she had loved that one, she would not pass it by. She would never let it go.

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This article has 5 comments. Post your own now!

thatconfusedgirl said...
Nov. 13, 2013 at 10:25 am
Your characters were simplistic and acheived your goal of being accessible in the realm of your mind while reading it. Your imagery was vivid and meaningful and it was gorgeous. Nice job girly, also I don't know why I knew your username don't ask me.
proudone said...
Jan. 12, 2011 at 7:18 pm
Wow!!! A beautiful story...vivid imagery.
grandpa said...
Jan. 10, 2011 at 11:09 am
Sammy, that is absolutely beautiful! As you can imagine, it brought tears to my eyes.
miyo said...
Jan. 8, 2011 at 4:32 pm
I have known the author since she was a little girl.  I am blown away by her skill (she even uses the semi-colon correctly!!!), sensitivity, and her beautiful structuring of this account of growth, death and the pains of maturation.  WOW, Samantha!!!!
Traceewood said...
Jan. 6, 2011 at 8:38 pm
What a beautiful story!  I can see the tree amidst the change of seasons and that young girl propped against it, book in hand, waiting for her secret friend to appear.  To consider that this was written by a fourteen year old is almost unfathomable.  What an incredible talent this young girl has!  I'm looking forward to reading more in the future! 
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