Cedar Tree

This is something that I wrote for a class last year. The fist two paragraphs are from a story called The Cedar Trees by Lydia Davis. Our assignment was to take this “inspiration” bit and build our own story around it. There were 2 stories to choose from and we were free to choose the form of what we wrote.

When our women had all turned into cedar trees they would group together in a corner of the graveyard and moan in the high wind. At first, with our wives gone, our spirits rose and we thought the sound was beautiful. But then we ceased to be aware of it, grew uneasy, and quarreled more often among ourselves.
That was during the year of the high winds. Never before had such tumult raged in our village. Sparrows could not fly, but swerved and dropped into calm corners; clay tiles tumbled from roofs and shattered on the pavement. Shrubbery whipped our low windows. Night after night we drank insanely and fell asleep in one another’s arms.

 “That’s rubbish, Papaw, and you know it. Stop cluttering the children’s minds with such talk and finish yer tea.”

“How many years Delilah? How many times will ye hear her voice up there and deny ta yerself that ye have?”

“Papaw, that’s enough! I’ll not be on about this with ye anymore. Leave it be old man, leave it be. Come along little bits, off to the nursery with you, your Mums r’all up the stairs waiting for you. Ah-ah Jimmy yev had enough cakes with tea today. You’re not allowed to have belly aches in Grannie’s house. Go on with ye”

Joshua settled back into the overstuffed pink chair that his granddaughter always had him sit in. *Damn woman!* She probably liked watching him struggle to lever hisself outer the damned thing like some pregnant heifer. *C’mon now Mathers, she’s been stuck with ya now for the last forty odd years. Even her Mum and Gran didn’t have to put up with ye fer that long.* He watched as she cleaned up after the children, clearing the crumbs and settling the tea service back on it’s tray before heading into the kitchen. He could hear the children pounding around upstairs, little elephants. Delilah had proved a wonderful mother, even though he’d had to drag her back home from that blasted French town she’d decided to hide in. And once he’d gotten her married off to Jasper MacLeod she’d settled down enough to act like a proper woman. Too bad Jasper’d gone and died, the stupid fat thing, leaving her with the twins, and her only 22 at the time.
Too much leaving in that girl’s life. His daughter Lillian and her husband, Peter caught up in that tragic train affair, the damned boyfriend in the farming accident, then that husband of hers. He should have just let her run away to France and stay there * Damned woman!* Course, he’d had all those losses too and they’d been there for each other during those times. She probably cursed him as a crotchety old bastard as many times as he thought her a damn woman.

“Alright Papaw. Papaw, are you set with yer tea? Papaw? Joshua… Joshua Mathers!”

“Woman! Ye don’t need to be shouting at me. What’s the problem?”

“Papaw you’re crying again and you’re not listening to the people around you. I’m taking you up to see Doc Quentin in the morning.”

“I’ll not go to that quack! All his fancy certificates and fancier hair, he’s too young to be a proper doctor. No, you just take me up to see the Parson.”

“Not this again. You are not dying just because I want to take you to the doctor ye daft old man. Now wipe yer face and put on a smile. The children will be down soon to say goodbye. Be nice!”

She clicked off into the kitchen again in those shoes of hers. And sure enough the children came pounding down the stairs, Mums in tow. A flurry of kisses, hugs, promises to be good, do well in school and to see each other again next Sunday. In moments he was left in utter silence as Delilah stayed outside waving goodbye from the end of the drive. As touchy as they were with each other he knew she would miss him when he was gone. He knew it wouldn’t be long now, a couple hours at most. He could hear his darling Edith’s voice. He didn’t need to be near the trees or to have the wind soughing through the branches anymore.

“I’ll get your afghan and we’ll head out for our walk, Papaw. Papaw?”

She slid her arms into her sweater and settled on the couch to wait for him to finish in the loo.

*

It wasn’t until days after the constable called off the searches that she found the little pinecone on Papaw’s chair. She hadn’t noticed it in those frantic hours after she’d found him missing and in the numb daze that followed as the whole village searched for him. That’s when it all came crashing in on her, the truth about her Gran, what Papaw had been trying to tell her all these years.
She climbed the hill to the old graveyard, the same walk she had taken every Sunday with him for the past 32 years. She new those stones, the old fence and that copse of cedar trees like she knew her own kitchen. There he was. There were 23 grown trees where there had only been 22 since last year when old man Simpson had passed away.      She’d always thought that the story was just a story. Something the soldiers told themselves, to assuage the guilt of not being there to protect their wives and children, so they wouldn’t have to face what she’d always thought the truth was. The Germans had bombed so many cities and villages during the war, but now she knew she hadn’t been imagining the comforting feeling she’d always felt in this place. She walked to the new tree, “Rest well and be happy you crotchety old bastard.”

The wind picked up as she headed back down the hill and for the first time in her life she didn’t have to tell herself that the voices weren’t real.

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