The Heart Tree

March 27, 2009
Amber sunlight spills through cracks in the clouds,
A puddle of amber light on spring green grass.
A family of squirrels chatter happily in young ash trees overhead.
A snap of twigs, a rustle of leaves.
Two girls—one with hair the color of gold, the other with hair the color of Indian ink—appear out of nowhere.
The largest gray squirrel signals the rest of the clan shrilly.
Time to disappear.
“Here. I want to stop here.” The golden-haired girl pauses.
“In the cemetery? What do you want to stop here for?”
“I want to stop here.”
The girls lie down on the grassy slope, their shining tresses spill over one another.
“Mandy?” the golden one whispers. “What do you see?”
The other one gazes into the cloudy autumn sky
“I see…dolphins, dancing on ocean waves. I see a shooting star, falling on a little house. I see a kitten, playing with a ball of yarn.”
The golden one closes her eyes with a little sigh. “I can almost see…tell me more.”
“There is a dragon, breathing fire …there is a kite, floating without a string. There is a little girl, who looks just like you, smiling down at us. There is an ocean liner, filled with people, sailing across the sky.”
“And?” Impatiently. “And what else do you see?”
“I see…I see a giant cloud heart, with our faces carved deep in it.”
“A heart.”
The golden one is silent.
“Amy? Amy, are you alright?”
A crystal tear trickles out the corner of one tightly shut, gold-fringed eye.
Worried. “Amy?”
“Mandy…I’ll never see a heart again.”
Pale eyelids flutter open, large unseeing hazel eyes stare into a sea of endless shadows. Grief. Loss. Darkness.
Quietly. “Amy, come here.”
The click of a pocketknife
The smooth, moist bark of a single baby oak tree
“Watch me.”
“But I—”
“Just watch.”
Holding her hand, guiding her fingers as they press the cold metal blade against the tender trunk.
First, one half of an upside-down teardrop
Then, the second half to complete the whole
Slowly, scraping off the tender bark, deepening the tree’s new mark
A minute passes, and then another.
“Now, Amy. Look.”
Pressing her cool white palm against the oak tree’s bark, leading her around the contours of their masterpiece.
“It’s a heart. Do you see it?”
Breathlessly. “Yes…I think I do…”
A picture rises from the murky shadows. A picture of white tree flesh against a burnt umber background. Uneven pocketknife lines criss-cross against the paleness.
A look of wonder fills the hazel eyes. “I—I see it, Mandy! I can see it right…here.”
Taking her friend’s hand and touching it once to her forehead, once to her heart.
Hearing her friend smile.
“From now on, Amy. This is our tree—our heart tree. Whenever you need to see, come here. Do you promise?”
“I promise.”
Sixty years have come and gone, sixty autumn winds passed by on the wings of an angel.
The first spring grass has long since disintegrated into the moist, ancient soil.
The children who used to cloud-gaze in the remote graveyard have lived and died, and rest now under young oaks of their own.
Yet in the same cemetery where one little girl once gave a heart to another who could not see her own,
The heart tree
Still grows

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