LACKINGTON'S

speculative prose

Tree Heart, by Beatriz Becker

In a factory yard there were piles of utility poles, all brand new. A mischievous wind blew dust and dirt over them, whirling dead leaves, pods and seeds about. But the poles did not care. The wind had blown like this when they were born—when machines poured fresh concrete into their moulds, around the iron structures. The wind had continued to blow as the concrete dried over the weeks, and the poles grew harder than stone. So, by now the poles were used to the wind, and indifferent to it. 

In fact, they were very much indifferent to anything but themselves.

“I will stand erect in the very middle of the city,” said a broad and tall pole. “I will support the electricity cables of a whole block, and no wind shall sway me.”

“Why,” replied a shorter, rectangular one, “that’s empty bragging. In the city all poles are already in place. We are going to the country instead.”

“What nonsense! Why do you always think you are in the know?”

“Because I am. I’m clever enough to listen to what is said around me, instead of talking about myself all the time.”

Yes, they were all conceited and self-centred. And how could it be otherwise, when they were concrete with iron hearts?

All were conceited, but one. Looking around himself in that yard, a small-sized pole had a strange feeling: it seemed to him the world had to be more than iron, mortar and machines. The sun’s warmth made him happy and the rain, which was met with indifference by his proud companions, filled him with a strange gratitude. He was a very unusual pole.

One day, a number of poles were loaded onto a truck. Among them was also the pole that loved the sun and rain. He peeked out along the way, trying to guess where they would be taken. 

As it left the city, the truck took a country road; and when the pole saw the first trees, he was gripped by a deep emotion. He felt an immediate bond with those beings; he seemed to have found the answer to his longing. “How marvellous,” he thought. And he wanted to share with his companions his admiration for those he believed to be also utility poles, but poles covered in green and gently swaying in the breeze. The others however were too busy finding fault with the poles already installed along the road to pay him any attention.

They were indeed destined for the electrical grid in the countryside. On arriving at a dirt road, the truck started unloading them one by one, at intervals. 

“Please, please, let me be placed close to one of those beings!” our pole sighed. No one heard him, but still, his wish was granted. The truck unloaded him close to a group of trees.

It took the pole a while, but eventually he mustered enough courage to address the trees. 

“Hello,” he said shyly. “You are the most beautiful poles I have ever seen. I hope one day I will be like you.”

“Poles?” laughed the trees, rustling their leaves. “We are not poles. We are trees. We are living beings. We are born from seeds, we grow, we produce new seeds and we are reborn in other trees. You are iron and concrete. No life flows in you.”

“But then…I will never be like you?”

“No.”

“Never grow green branches? Nor shelter those winged creatures I see coming and going from your tops?”

“Never, little pole.”

What a cruel disappointment that was! If he could, the pole would have wept. But not even that was possible for him, and this made his heart ache even more.

The workers came and dug holes. The pole and his companions were placed in the ground, upright. Then, electricity cables were installed, going from one to the next. As they had no choice, the poles decided to be happy with their new condition, and declared that supporting the electrical grid in the country was a much more important task than doing it in the city. Now each endeavoured proudly to look taller than the others. 

But the pole that wanted to be a tree was completely indifferent to all this. His heart ached so at the thought that his desire could never be fulfilled.

Weeks went by, and months. The pole grew used to living with that ache inside. His companions did not understand him, so he found solace talking to the trees. Once they got over the strangeness which that pole, so unlike the others, caused in them, the trees recognized him as a friend. They shared the same love for the sun and the summer rains, for the breeze, the rich earth and for the insects and birds.

One day, the pole noticed a tiny plant at his feet. It was a vine, feeble and shy and unsure of what to cling to. 

“Oh,” she sighed, “must I then drag myself on the ground, and grow with no support and no protection?”

The pole was moved. “No, little one. Here I am. Lean on me, I will be glad to help you.”

The vine happily accepted his offer. At first she held onto him lightly. Then, little by little, she grew, throwing her tendrils and thin branches around the pole, clinging more firmly to him. They talked often, and bonded in a friendship that grew closer with the passing of time. The vine would tell him about her life: about the sap that carries the nutrients to all parts of a plant, about the workings of the solar light in the leaves, about the drying of old branches and the sprouting of new ones. And though on the one hand these conversations quickened the pole’s nostalgia, on the other they made him feel somehow closer to that unattainable dream.

The vine grew ever more beautiful and strong; and as the years went by, she came to cover the pole all the way to the top. Her branches, now quite thick, grew horizontally like tree branches, and they even bore fruit.

Once a small bird alighted on one of them. As it took flight again after resting, it twittered:

“Thank you, kind little tree!”

What bittersweet delight ran through the pole’s frame! And in his emotion, he confessed to his friend that which he had never openly spoken of to anyone: his absurd longing, the wish he had to be a living plant, to be nourished by the earth, to grow under the sun and the rain, to give shelter to animals. She listened, attentive and grave.

“Ah,” he concluded, “would that bird were right! Yet I must be content. Thanks to you, my dear friend, I can at least offer the birds a resting place, and receive the sweet name of ‘tree’.”

“I wish I could do more,” she whispered. “I see you long for it so.”

“I do! I would give anything, anything, to attain my wish. But I know well it is impossible.”

The vine said no more. But she rustled in the wind, and the wind whispered back to her. Her branches swayed in grave and enigmatic agreement. 

More years went by. The vine’s branches, strong and thick, grew ever tighter around the pole. Small cracks opened in the concrete, and into these she cast her new sprouts.

“I feel aged. Your embrace hurts me, my friend,” the pole told her one day.

“What are you doing?” asked the neighbouring trees. “Can’t you see you are weakening him?”

But the vine made no answer, nor loosened her embrace.

Again, it was summer. For hours on end the sun darted scorching rays on the road and the fields, and the afternoon heat was oppressive.

“My friend,” the pole murmured, “I’m suffocating. I cannot stand this much longer.”

“The wind is rising, and he brings leaden clouds,” the vine answered. “Soon you will suffer no more.”

And indeed, before long a fearsome storm broke. Lightning flashed across the dark sky, and rain fell in a deluge. The pole felt he was cooling quickly. Too quickly. The contrast in temperature was excessive. A piercing pain rent him from top to bottom; and with a loud noise the crevices opened into one long crack, so deep it exposed his iron structure.

The rain had stopped. There was a rainbow in the golden sky, the air was deliciously fresh, and the whole world rejoiced. But the old pole would never speak again.

“Serves him right!” sneered the other poles. “He had to associate with plants!”

“It’s your fault,” the indignant trees told the vine. “Shame on you!”

The vine made no reply. Still she held in her embrace the lifeless body of her friend; and from her leaves raindrops fell like tears.

A few days later, a tree sprout appeared at the foot of the cracked pole. The seed it came out of had a grey skin, as if dirty with mortar. The vine gazed on it with knowing tenderness, then nodded at the passing wind.

The first sunbeam touched the sprout, and it awoke. It saw the cracked pole and the vine, and quivered; and there slid along its tiny stem one gleaming tear of perfect happiness.

*

Issue 24 (Fall 2021)

Story copyright © 2021 by Beatriz Becker

Artwork copyright © 2021 by Richard Wagner

Beatriz Becker writes from Southeast Brazil. She loves nature, fairy tales, and using words to help people fly away from the humdrum of daily life. Beatriz’s short story “Henry V, Act II: deleted scene” was published by the historical fiction journal The Copperfield Review.

Richard Wagner is a graphic designer and illustrator living in the United States. His academic schooling consists of a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with an emphasis in painting and drawing as well as training in graphic design and illustration. For seventeen years he taught college-level graphic design and photo- illustration classes while also freelancing. He now works on his own and enjoys focusing solely on being a designer/illustrator.

Information

This entry was posted on August 3, 2022 by in Stories.
%d bloggers like this: