Build-a-story completed 3-19-12
Reader submitted story elements:
Another world/reality/out of comfort zone
Missing one of the five senses
A mother’s amazing love
Thanks girls! Love you! Hope this doesn’t disappoint you.
The Aspen and the Oak
I only took my eyes off him for a moment, the briefest
second when I heard another child cry out in pain. The other mother ran to
comfort her child, scooping up the little one, holding him to her. I turned my
eyes back to the playground to find my child.
It was rarely hard to find him, he wasn’t the kind that
bounced off walls and ran a lot. When we came to the park Aaron spent the whole
time swinging back and forth, the wind making his hair dance and float. He
didn’t pump hard like other kids, didn’t jump off or scream, he just reached
his feet up towards the sky and let himself glide.
He wasn’t on the swings though. When I saw that empty swing
my heart leapt into my throat. The seat was twisting fitfully, like Aaron had
left it hastily, jerking on one of the chains as he went. Aaron never did
My feet propelled me to the swings, but my eyes were
scanning the playground, searching for the green shirt, the old worn out jeans,
the brown twisting locks that always drew my fingertips. I wrapped my fingers
around the chain and clutched it while my head spun back and forth frantically.
“Aaron?” I called. “Aaron where are you?”
He was nowhere.
“What does he look like?” “What was he wearing?” the other
mothers asked me. I barely registered the concern in their faces as I scurried
around the playground, searching for my son, my child, my whole world. My head
was spinning faster than the merry-go-round.
Then I saw him, and my heart leapt. I called his name, and
ran. I must have gone out the gate, crossed the parking lot, but I was only
aware of the distant green shirt disappearing among the tree trunks.
“Aaron! Aaron!” said, finally catching up and grabbing a hold
of his shoulder. “Why did you leave the swings? Why did you walk off without
I turned him to face me, but his gray-brown eyes were
distracted, almost dazed as he asked me, “Do you hear them, Mommy? The trees
are singing so beautifully today. I could hear it, even on the playground.”
“The…what?” I asked, quite concerned now. Why was he acting
like this? What was he talking about?
“The trees, Mommy, listen to the trees,” he said again. He
turned his face and closed his eyes, listening with pure pleasure. His
expression was soft and peaceful, like he was asleep in a very pleasant dream.
A million things floated through my mind, hallucinogens on
stickers, bacteria in his brain, a reaction to an immunization? No, it had been
too long for that. What was happening to my boy?
“Aaron, let’s go home,” I said reaching for his hand, but he
stepped away as I reached, drifting away from me, into the forest.
With other children this would be normal, to reach for a
hand that was moving away. This was not normal with Aaron though. He always
listened. He always obeyed. He never gave my aunt or me the slightest bit of
Maybe she would know what was wrong with him. She was a veteran
nurse after all. I was just a CNA at the nursing home where we both worked. She
had seen a lot more in her years. I had always relied on her wisdom. She was
all the family we had, since my mother had withered away a few years ago.
I caught up to my wandering child and grabbed his hand
firmly. “Aaron, we are going home now,”
He turned and looked at me, his eyes sad, like they were
when he had to get off the swings because of rain. It pained him to leave. “Don’t
you want to listen to the trees, Mother?”
“It’s just the wind,” I said, giving his hand a little tug.
He followed me obediently. “We can listen to it in the tree at home.”
“It’s not the same,” he said sadly. “That old tree has no
one to talk to anymore. He hardly remembers any of the songs.”
“Is this something from a book you read at school?” I asked
as we stepped into the parking lot and headed for our beat up old car.
He shook his head swinging my arm. “They said you wouldn’t
remember,” he said.
“Who said?” I asked. “Remember what?”
“The trees,” he said as he opened his door and climbed up in
his car seat. “They said you would not remember. Grandma did though, Grandma
remembered her whole life even though she wasn’t the same.”
“Grandma remembered what?” I asked, completely confused and
a little exasperated.
I wasn’t the only one feeling exasperated. Aaron shook his
head and looked away as I checked his seatbelt. His lips were pressed together
in frustration, but at least he didn’t look all out-of-it anymore.
Aunt Deborah came out of the nursing home looking just as
tired as usual. The years and years of twelve hour shifts were taking their
toll, but it was a sacrifice she made for us. This way someone was always home
with Aaron, and once a week we both had the day off. I was glad tomorrow was
that day, it would give us time to figure out what was going on with Aaron.
She climbed into the passenger seat and reached back to
touch his weary head. He had fallen asleep on the way over. “Poor thing must
have worn himself out swinging again,” she said with a soft smile.
“He didn’t swing as much today,” I said starting the car and
putting it in gear. “He ran off into the woods, actually. It scared the living day lights out of me.”
“The woods?” Aunt Deborah asked, giving me an odd look.
“What did he go in there for?”
“He said he was listening to the trees sing,” I said. “It
was kind of eerie. He said something about mom and the trees saying she
remembered… It was very weird.”
“He was too young to have any memory of Ann,” Aunt Deborah
“I know, weird huh?” I said. “You don’t think he might have
touched something on the playground that got in his system or something?”
She weighed it in her mind for a moment, and I remained
quiet, sure she was trying to recall the effects of different street drugs from
her days as an ER nurse. Her lips were pressed together, and her brows were
furrowed. “Kids make up funny things at this age,” she said. “You said the same
thing to me once, that the trees were talking to you.”
“I did?” I asked, surprised. “I don’t remember that.”
“It was a very long time ago,” she said. “It’s just a phase.
Just ignore it and it will go away.”
“Can we go to the park today?” Aaron asked as soon as he sat
down at breakfast.
“I think we’ve had enough running off for the week,” Aunt
Deborah said with a severe look at Aaron.
He ducked his head to avoid her gaze and stuck his spoon in
the cereal, “Can we go to the library instead?” he asked.
“May we…” I prompted.
“May we, PLEASE, go to the library today?” he asked. “I
promise to stay right where I am supposed to be the whole time.”
“Well, when you ask like that, how can we say no?” Aunt
Deborah said, giving me a look that mirrored my feeling of relief. The longer
we kept him interested in other things, the faster he would move on from this
That is, IF we can GET
him interested in other things, I amended my thought after we got to the
library. He headed straight for the non-fiction section and pulled out a book
on trees. He brought it to the table and sat down, opening it carefully and
studying the depiction of an elm.
I thought about trying to distract him with other books, but
I thought perhaps that would only make him want to read about trees even more. I
left it alone and got out my homework. He just sat there and slowly turned the
“There he is,” Aaron said pushing the book over to me a few
minutes later. I glanced at the page. The tree featured on its glossy expanse
was an aspen, pale and lean. I turned back to my homework without comment.
“Don’t you recognize him?” Aaron asked.
“I don’t think trees are him or hers,” I told him without
looking up from my assignment.
“But you don’t recognize him?” Aaron asked, obviously
concerned. He pulled the book back and stared at the page. “I think it looks
just like him.”
“Looks like who?” I asked, frustrated.
“My father,” he said simply.
“Don’t be silly, you’ve never met him,” I said.
He hadn’t. In fact, I had barely met the man. I didn’t know
his name; I had no idea where he was, or where he was even from. All I knew was
what little I remembered from that night. He was this pale, quiet, strikingly
handsome man, standing under the full moon and looking at me in a way that
still sent shivers down my spine.
Aunt Deborah had been scandalized when she found out I was
having a stranger’s baby, but then she was always more traditional than mother.
Mother had just walked into the yard and quietly stared into the night. Those
five silent minutes were the longest of my life, but after that she never
criticized, never acted ashamed, she just started knitting things in green.
Of course people around town just chalked it up to “like
mother, like daughter” since none of them had ever met MY father either. Mom
told me that they were married, that he had “gone the way of nature” before I
was born. Not even Aunt Deborah believed it. I could tell by the way she
clammed up when they disagreed, the accusation was right on the end of her
tongue, but she held it back every time.
I think she was glad she did. I think she was glad she had
spent the last two and a half decades helping support us, even moving into the house
when mother got sick. I think that even though she disapproved of our origins
she still loved Aaron and I fiercely.
Aunt Deborah came over with her new stack of romance novels
and sat down at the table with us. She was always reading them. Mom had once
told me it was because she would never have another romance of her own. I had
asked what that meant, but my mother had just shaken her head and gone on with
That had been years ago, more than ten probably, it was
funny I still remembered it. I remembered wondering if it meant my mother would
have another romance, since she didn’t read novels. She never had though. I
don’t think she wanted to. She was willowy and beautiful to her last day and
many a man had tried to cure the sad longing in her eyes. None of them would do
for her; none of them were my father.
“May we go to the park, if I promise to stay on the
playground?” Aaron asked, interrupting the battle between my homework and my
memories. “Please, Mother?”
“Your mother has homework to do,” Aunt Deborah said without
taking her eyes off the page.
He slumped in his chair and looked sadly at my backpack.
Then he took his book back to the shelf and selected another from the same
section. He took it to a beanbag chair and got lost in its pages. I shook my
head and tried to focus on the page in front of me. I wished I was half as
smart as my son was. He had taught himself to read when he was four watching
educational television, and after that had completely lost interest in the
screen. He was writing whole sentences before he started kindergarten a month
ago, all on his own, no pressure from us.
By the time I finished all of my homework we were all very
hungry and Aunt Deborah announced she was taking us for burgers. This was a
very rare treat in our household, so I was more than happy to agree.
Aaron was less than enthused though, “I’d rather go to the
playground, and make a mud pie.”
“You can’t eat a mud pie, silly,” I told him.
“Well trees do,” he said.
“You are not a tree, you need protein,” Aunt Deborah said,
more severely than made sense to me. She didn’t usually get testy with him.
Aaron caught the tone too and raised no further objection.
I think she felt bad about snapping at him, because she took
us through the drive through and then drove to the park. I raised an eyebrow at
her as she parked the car. She just shrugged her shoulders as Aaron got out of
the back and walked toward the swings.
We grabbed the bags and cups and headed for the picnic
table. It took some coaxing to get him off the swing, but once he was seated at
the table he ate without complaint. The air was a bit nippy today and the warm
food felt good in my belly. I was glad we had come, there weren’t many days
like this left in the year.
“The trees are getting sleepy,” Aaron said as he finished
his food. “Time for a long winter’s rest.”
Aunt Deborah closed her eyes, like she was holding back an
irritated reply. The comment felt funny, hanging in the air like that though,
so I answered him, “Yes, they are already starting to change colors. We’ll have
a whole pile to rake up soon.”
“Like the barber,” Aaron said. “Neat and tidy, sweeping everything
He was pretty imaginative today. I wondered what had gotten
into him. Aunt Deborah was wondering too, but he just asked to be excused and
returned to the swings. I watched the way his hair dance in the air, back and
forth, back and forth.
“That boy needs some friends,” she announced suddenly,
startling me. I had nearly been hypnotized watching my son’s lazy glide on the
“He gets along with everyone at school,” I said.
“No, he just doesn’t make trouble with anyone at school,
that isn’t the same as having friends,” she said.
“He’ll find the right one, sooner or later,” I said. It had
been years before I had made a close friend, and Aaron was even more quiet and
reserved than I was. It would take time to find someone who fit well with him.
“Maybe you should join a Mommy-and-me club or something,”
Aunt Deborah said.
“It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?” I asked.
“Those are for pre-school moms.”
She frowned. “Well, he probably would get along better with
an older child, anyway,” she said. “Does he ever talk to anyone here? Or at the
library? Maybe you should ask his teacher if there’s a club for gifted
“I… I suppose I could, if you think it’s what he needs,” I
said. I didn’t think there was such a club for kindergarteners.
“He needs something, get him distracted from all this
non-sense,” she said.
Her fervor confused me. I agreed that it was odd, but hadn’t
she said herself that this was just a phase? Why all the bother? “He’s only
five,” I said.
“Well five or not, he should have some sense,” she snapped.
“Talking trees.” She got up and started stuffing the wrappers in the bag. I
went to help her but she yanked everything out of my reach and took it to the
trash can. Then she marched right over to the car and got in.
The way she sat there, with her arms crossed, staring at the
steering wheel it was obvious she wanted to go home. I didn’t know why. She
wasn’t one to get upset without reason though, so I sighed and went to get
Aaron off the swings.
“Did I do something wrong?” he asked when I told him it was
time to go.
“No, of course not,” I said gently as he took my hand.
“Why is she so upset then?” he asked.
“I don’t really know, but we should try to be extra good
anyway. Maybe she’s tired. She works really hard for us you know,” I told him.
“She needs to rest,” he said with a nod. “She needs a
I had to smile, there he went again. How his little mind
made connections like that, what a gift it was. It was a shame to try and
squash something so beautiful out of him. After all, he was such a good boy,
and only five.
We approached the car and I looked through the window. My
hand was on the handle when I caught the expression on my aunt’s face. It was
satisfied, almost triumphant, and it irritated me. What was with her anyway?
I dropped my hand from the handle and gave a tug on Aaron’s
little limb. It was like he could read my thoughts, and immediately we were
both running, giggling, towards the trees. We tromped in through the mess of
last year’s leaves, kicking and jumping, dancing further and further into the
light speckled shelter. Aaron was laughing like I had never heard him laugh. My
heart flooded with the beauty of the sight, the curling branches, the gentle
twisting of his hair, his smile, the golden leaves. It took my breath away.
He ran over and hugged a tree, hard, like it was a long lost
friend. He even kissed its rough old trunk. I could have sworn the tree
shivered with pleasure, and I had to laugh at myself. A happy tree, Aaron was
rubbing off on me.
“This way, Mommy,” he said suddenly. “The trees say to go
So this way we went, deeper into the forest, the late
afternoon sun always to our left. We ran and ran, the wind racing through the
treetops above us until suddenly he came to a skidding halt. I laughed and
backtracked to join him. “Silly, why did you stop?” I asked.
“It’s him, Mommy,” he said in a hushed voice. “We found
“Found who?” I asked, but as I followed his eyes I knew. My
heart sank in my chest. He was staring at a tall, handsome aspen. We had
followed this fancy too far. “Aaron, honey, let’s go back to the car,” I said.
He looked so sad again, and kept looking back as I pulled
him away, kept looking back until he could no longer see even a patch of the
white bark through the trunks and leaves. I was just sick inside. What kind of
a mother was I? I should have listened to my Aunt.
She was stone cold silent as we got in the car. She still
hadn’t spoken a word when we parked the car under the old oak outside the house.
Instead she glared at the tree and then rushed inside. Aaron and I exchanged
guilty looks and I headed for the door. He turned away and went right up to the
massive trunk. He placed his hand on it, almost in apology. For the briefest
moment I wondered who he was apologizing too, the tree, or to the grandmother
who had passed away, lying at its roots in the middle of the night.
I awoke suddenly, the feeling of something missing
overpowering me. I made a wild dash to Aaron’s room, only to have my fear
confirmed. The fluttering of the curtains beaconed me to follow, come, come away.
I ran for my shoes, and my thumping about roused the other
occupant of the house. “What? What is it?” Aunt Deborah asked squinting against
the light of the hall.
“He’s gone,” I said. “I have to find him.”
“Gone, gone where?” she asked.
I stopped, my hand on the doorknob, and I looked back at
her. I didn’t understand it myself, but somewhere in my heart I knew it to be
true. The words stuck in my throat.
“To his father,” she said, her face going whiter than her
“How did you…?” I began, but she interrupted me.
“Go, go before it is too late!” she cried, rushing forward,
pushing me out the door.
It didn’t even occur to me to take the car, not until I
reached the corner and the chill of the night had somewhat permeated my
mixed-up mind. I heard a clack, clack, clack and looked back. I wasn’t the only
one out of her mind.
By the light of the full harvest moon I could see my aunt,
beating the old oak with the broom handle. The wind was blowing fitfully in its
leaves, almost as if the tree was protesting the assault, crying out for her to
stop. She joined its cry with her own, wailing unintelligibly as she struck
again and again.
I ached to go to her, but heeded another call, the need of a
mother to be with her child. So I turned and ran, ran harder and farther that I
ever had before. I ran until my face was numb and my fingers cramped. The
autumn air was ice in my lungs, but still I ran.
I halted on the edge of the parking lot, suddenly afraid to
take the next step. This is it, I
told myself. This is the edge of reason.
Reason, however, was no longer my friend, for she stood
between me and my child, between what everyone could see and what.. I couldn’t
explain… just felt true.
I was about to step onto the earth when something to my left
caught my eye. It was a child’s shoes, my
child’s shoes, lined up neatly at the very edge of the asphalt. I imagined him
standing here, just as I was, called by something beyond understanding, and
leaving his reasoning behind.
I took off my shoes and carefully placed them beside
Aaron’s. I looked up at the trees, silver and silent in the moonlight. Then we
both shivered as I took the first step.
With no sun to guide me I couldn’t tell which way I was
going, yet somehow I could feel the way. The moon watched my slow progress
through the trees. The branches reached out to touch me, almost in greeting, as
I passed by. The further in I went the less I could hear, of dogs and cars, of
slamming doors. It became very silent, and soon all I could hear was the
shush-crunch of the leaves under my feet.
The trees were thick here, the light was very dim. I could
barely see a foot in front of me but I kept going, kept following the slight
flutter in my heart that pointed me towards my child. The moon was just a
distant sparkle through the leaves.
Then suddenly I came upon a clearing, washed in silver
light. The bright bark of the aspen stood as a glowing shaft before me, but it
was the two figures at its base that caught my eye. My heart stopped beating,
frozen painfully in my chest. Never before had I seen the child with his
father, the father with his child.
I watched their lips as they spoke, but my ears were failing
me. Not a whisper of their conversation reached me. I stepped forward,
straining to hear, longing for the voices that were sweetest. The silence was
He looked up at me then, those pale eyes and dark streaked
hair like a dream. He was unchanged, like we had met only moments ago. Like I
had turned away only for a second to have and raise our child, like somehow I
was the one who had disappeared into thin air with the rising of the sun.
I should have been angry, should have hated him, should have
beaten him with a broom, but I couldn’t feel any of those things with those
eyes upon me. Those eyes I had missed so much, those eyes that I had tried to
forget, those eyes that looked back at me from the face of my child, I could see
nothing but those eyes.
We were face to face, his instant proximity surprising me
and soothing me at the same time, the way it had done before. I felt his hand
upon mine, and he lifted it to his moving lips. I felt the kiss upon my skin,
felt the tingles upon my spine, but still no sound reached my ears.
It had felt like this before, every moment was bringing back
the memories. The energy in the air, the feeling of devotion that swelled up in
my breast, the way my senses seemed to extend beyond myself. It was all the
same, except I could no longer hear his voice. It had been like the rushing of
the sea. His lips were moving, his eyes hungry for me to understand, why
couldn’t I hear him?
“He says you have to remember,” Aaron said. I jumped at the
sound of his little voice and dropped his father’s hand. I felt my face get
hot. I felt exposed, revealed in my nakedness. He shouldn’t know this, no one
should know about me and this… this…
There was no other word for it, this tree. My love, my soul,
belonged to this man who somehow was a tree. I had never spoken it, never
revealed the foggy memories I had of him. They didn’t belong in the 2-by-4 and
asphalt world. He was too sacred to share, and now my son knew it all, perhaps
better than me.
My love laced his fingers through mine again and I looked
back up at his face. It was soft, pleading, so full of love. He nodded, urging
me to listen to our son.
I looked back at the little face I knew so well, pale in the
“I don’t know what I am supposed to remember,” I said
choking on the words. “I want to, but I cannot remember.”
He looked over at his father and then back at me. “You have
to remember, Mommy,” he said. “You have to remember who your father is.”
“But I don’t know, baby,” I said sinking down to kneel by my
son. “I never met him. My mother never told me his name.” I clung hard to my
love’s hand and reached to grip my son’s shoulder. They didn’t say it, but I
just knew; I knew if I could not remember I was going to lose them both. I
couldn’t lose them. I couldn’t bear it. I would do anything!
I tried so very hard to think, to remember. I thought of
every conversation we had ever had on the subject, but my mother had been so
very mute. No matter how many times I asked her she never uttered his name.
I remembered her face the last time we spoke of it, how she
turned fitfully in the hospital bed and faced the window. She whispered that
her husband had gone the way of nature. With agony in her eyes she lapsed into
silence, mouthing his name. I had tried so many times to read her lips in my
memory, but the consonants escaped me.
I felt myself mouthing it the way she had, trying
desperately to give voice to the word I had never heard, to name the name by
which I had never been known, but all that came out was a shushing, a whisper
of wind upon my lips.
Aaron’s eyes lit up, “That’s it, Mommy! You almost said it,
“But I’ve never heard it, how can I speak it if I’ve never
heard it?” I asked him in despair.
He looked at me with great pity and yearning in his eyes.
“You have heard it, Mommy,” he said. “You’ve heard it every day, whispered on
every leaf. They tried to make you remember, but you forgot. You let the world
take it away. Remember, Mommy,” he plead then moved his mouth that very same
way. His tongue was still, but his lips moved, repeating the word I could not
I looked up at my love, but he was doing exactly the same
thing, moving his lips without sound, chanting in silence the thing I needed to
My heart ached within me, tears trickled down my face, a sob
burst past my lips and I kept on sobbing. They wrapped their arms around me and
I closed my eyes against the torture of knowing I could not hear them, but I
could still feel their breath on my face. I could still feel the words I could
I slumped against them, and let their breaths soothe me. As
long as they held me, as long as they tried, they were still here. I soaked in
the feeling of their arms, their silent whispers, the love I could feel flowing
over my skin.
The wind swept my hair up and away from my face, rushing
against me. It filled my ear with its whispers, with the sound of a million
leaves. Aaron had called it the song of the trees.
Aaron had called it the song of the trees.
The trees spoke a language I could not hear. NO! The trees
spoke a language I WOULD not hear. I had known it once. Aunt Deborah had said
so, she said it just yesterday! I had once known the language of the trees!
I sat up, listening as hard as I could, I looked hard at
Aaron’s mouth as he spoke with the trees. He was chanting it with them!
I drew in breath, capturing every wisp of wind I could fit
in my lungs, and then I let it out, shushing and flowing, imitating the trees.
I breathed out the last of my breath, until my lungs ached and my head swam,
and then something inside of me broke free.
My body slumped to the ground, but my spirit lifted free. I
was floating, flowing, wind and moonlight wrapped in one. The hands that I
held, solid and formless all at once pulled me gently away from the flesh. I
looked back at where we had once been, and watched as the last of the leaves
that had been my love’s temporary body floated and rested over the two empty
forms. I had inhabited that body for twenty five years but now it seemed
strange to me.
I understood now, and with a glow inside me stepped with my
love into his real body, pulling our son in behind us. I felt myself flow, cell
upon cell, outward, upward, down into the earth until this body could no longer
hold both of us and I shot up out of the ground beside my husband. Our roots
entwined, our branches brushed lovingly, and our little sapling grew in