The Conversation

Posted on July 8, 2010


Rose sat at a picnic table in the little neighborhood park close to her house, her head full of books. She wrote in a little notebook, enjoying the warm October afternoon. Tall maples and poplars filled the ravine at the edge of the park, and their copper and gold leaves fluttered in a soft breeze.

Rose practiced describing the trees and the park in her notebook, trying to capture the look of the leaves, the posture of the trunks, and the slope of the ravine’s sides. She had just begun her third year of studying Literature at the local college, and enjoyed imitating the styles of great writers. Today she was mimicking James Joyce, proud of her own ambition.

An inner fire consumes leaves immolated in colors of flame. They hang waiting for the last breath of autumn to release them to the grave of winter.

She stopped to look over her sentences. They weren’t very close to Joyce’s style or cadence, but she felt her writing muscles getting stronger with every word.

Reading the great writers of the English language was opening her mind. All those important ideas she had never considered before about death, the human condition, the failure of religion and the suffocation of governments and industry shook her young world. Nothing was as simple as she used to think it was. The world was not a sweet place; every joy seemed to require pain as payment. Even the beauty of autumn leaves was a symptom of death.

But harsh and sad as they were, Rose knew she must face and understand these deep thoughts. She needed to come to grips with them if she was to become a Great Writer herself; she must see the truth of the world that lay beneath the shiny illusion of civilization.

She contemplated these things as she gazed at the trees. She tried these ideas on like garments to see how they fit her, what her life would be like if she claimed them as her own point of view. Yet as complex and important as they were, they did not prevent her from enjoying the fiery beauty of the trees in the afternoon sunlight.

Rose heard quiet, somber laughter. She looked around the little park, but she was alone. The street beyond the entrance was empty and silent. She turned to the ravine, wondering if someone was down there amongst the trees, but the only movement was the leaves in the breeze.

She stared at the trees. One tall maple, its every leaf brilliant gold, nodded slightly as the lazy wind passed through it. Rose heard the laughter again. She told herself she was imagining it, she must be. The only other possibility was that the trees were laughing at her, and that sort of magic couldn’t exist in the hard world she found in mainstream literature.

The laughter sounded again. It was not cruel or derisive, but gentle, the way a mother would laugh at a precocious toddler. Rose gazed at the golden maple and let herself think, what if the trees are laughing?

“Are you laughing at me?” she whispered to the maple, feeling utterly foolish. The tree nodded again. It was the only movement now in the park or the ravine. The breeze had passed on, died away.

“Well, if you’re laughing at me, did I do something funny?” The maple’s branches waved gently, and Rose heard the laughter again. She couldn’t help herself. She smiled at the tree.

“If that’s really you, then just tell me what’s so funny,” she said. “I’d like to know. Let me in on the joke.”

“Silly child,” said a soft voice. “You think you know everything about the world, about life.”

“I have learned a lot in college,” Rose said. “I didn’t even know how much there was to learn.”

“You don’t know anything, not yet,” the maple laughed.

“I know more than I used to know,” she said. “Tell me what I’ve missed.”

But the tree only laughed again, its leaves rustling against each other.

Rose wondered about the things she hadn’t yet learned, the thoughts she hadn’t yet thought. Perhaps there were things you could only learn by experiencing them—like talking to trees. She suddenly felt the world open up a little wider before her, all shimmering possibility and velvety mystery.

Rose sat in the afternoon sunlight, enjoying the beauty of the trees, the warmth of the air. She turned the page in her notebook.

A maple tree spoke to me today, she wrote. It told me I still have a lot to learn.

She described the conversation with words true to her own voice. She ended the entry with a question. The maple tree laughed, and she giggled in reply.

Rose picked up her notebook and headed home as the sun dipped westward. She might not have many answers, but the question she wrote down would carry her forward.

What else is out there?

Posted in: #FridayFlash, Fantasy