In the western corner of a little Japanese-style garden stood a young cherry tree. His low branches spread their fingers in every direction, his tiny blossoms dancing on windy days. The little garden in which he stood was the pride of the town, for this was the only place within 50 miles that any “culture” could be found. The local garden club raised money for months to build this little park, this place of solace, to bring beauty to their one-stoplight town.
And so the garden was built complete with a pond full of fish that resembled the sun and a bright red bridge that stretched the width of the pond. Year after year, the people of the town flocked to see the cherry tree’s tiny pink blossoms awaken from their slumber and burst forth with jubilation in celebration of springtime. Though the tree seemed alive with this spring awakening, he inwardly sat still and listless. His heart laid dormant within his hollow chest. Though it did beat, he had no knowledge of it. He did not know he was alive. Not a thought crossed his undeveloped mind. Day after day, he did not wonder at his own beauty or inquire about his surroundings. He simply stood, absorbing the fate of being merely a decoration.
Then, a sound…quietly…quietly…began pulsing in the earth. It touched the end of each of his toes; he had thousands. The sound took hold of each deeply buried root and slowly began to seep into his skin, softening his earthy wrinkles.
It wrapped itself around his veins and danced through the streams that brought him life. The slow, sleepy feeling of dormancy began to lose its grip. His heart beat wildly, and he felt it in his chest for the first time. But that sound! It continued to grow and circulate through every inch of his being, ebbing and flowing, first with intensity and then with a softness. The sound became clearer, and he felt the method to its rhythms.
Out of these rhythms and pulses broke a sound as beautiful as the stars themselves. It was a human voice. The voice rose and fell in sync with the pulsating earth. Just what the voice was trying to convey remained indistinguishable to him. Another sound joined this symphony, a tiny scratching sound like a bird’s feet on a sidewalk. This too rose and fell and sometimes stopped altogether.
As he continued to surface into this newfound life, the sounds grew sharper and more distinguishable. His head began to clear as the pulse provided the slow beat for the symphony of nature. Murmur. Scratch. Silence. Murmur. Scratch. Silence. The wind whispered gently through the garden, rustling the blossoms of the tree. The tiny kingdoms around him busied themselves with their work. Ants marched in cadence. Squirrels scratched and scurried while the birds in residence trilled out their melodies. A little stream sung the song it learned long ago when it was only a drop of water. The multitude of sound was almost overwhelming to the tree’s newly developing senses. His heart felt as though it might burst from the overstimulation.
Ever so slowly, he focused his mind on that first sound: a voice, her voice. He felt as if he had known this sound for all eternity, the sound that awakened him from the nothingness that was his existence. The woman sat beneath the spread of his arms, scratching curiously with a pen on the paper that balanced on her knees. He listened to make sense of the quiet murmur that escaped her lips as she painted words on her page.
The wind tangled her long dark hair, and filtering through his own blossoms, the sun kissed her skin. She continued to write furiously, pausing often to rest the pen between her teeth. Then, the sound. She held the page up in front of her and squinted her eyes, digesting every word. The rise and fall of each word spoken sent the pulse, once again, through the core of the tree’s being. She set her notebook down on the ground and laid back in the grass, staring up at the tree in awe.
She closed her eyes and breathed in the perfume of nature, his nature. She rested in the arms of the earth for a few moments, taking the time to experience its textures. He studied this with curiosity, a wondering that he had never experienced before.
It was with this wondering that he saw himself for the first time. He stretched his arms as far as they could go, drinking in the atmosphere that surrounded each long, reaching finger. He felt each blossom, some not yet blooming, and studied their little pink forms. Each petal radiated with life and drank in sunlight. He was aware of his skin, knotted and rough, yet reminiscent of the earth in color and manifestation. He sensed the solidity of his core; his trunk held him steady. He felt the dirt around his feet and, like the one who woke him from his slumber, took the time to experience its textures.
After what seemed like years, she awoke from her own sleep. She glanced at her wrist and carefully gathered her belongings. She stood, dusting herself off, and took two steps toward the path. But she paused. Slowly turning around, she feasted her eyes on him, taking in the whole of who he was in one glance.
Slowly bending down, she left behind a folded piece of paper full of markings where she sat. These words sent pulses back through the ground. She turned, with her notebook under her arm, and walked lazily toward the path to leave the garden.
The tree stood wondering at the silence that threatened to grip his heart once again. Its icy fingers began at his roots and twisted their way through his veins. It reached up to the tips of his outstretched fingers, sending a chill through him that shook his blossoms. This silence threatened to bury him once again within himself. It tried to choke out his newly beating heart and to teach it to obey its commands. He bowed at the mercy of the icy fingers strangling out his life.
But there in the soil, in the place where she had slept that afternoon was a small morsel of courage tied up in the markings on the paper. It started small, just a drop in the dirt. Gradually, it multiplied like a puddle left from a leaky garden hose, and seeped into the ground where the tree stood. His roots took hold of this new substance and drank from it eagerly. It spread from his roots, through his core, and burst forth with a flash of light from each of his blossoms, causing them to twinkle like the night sky. With this courage coursing through his veins, he survived the night.
As the morning dawned, the sun warmed him and reminded him that the night had passed. The darkness was replaced by the sun and the sweet morning songs of nature. The tree stretched his limbs and remembered that he was still present; he did not give in to the silence. He spent his time watching the sun dance across the sky. Through the sparkling beams, the Writer appeared.
Greeting him, she ran her hand over the tree’s wrinkled bark and proceeded to take the same place and posture she took when her voice awoke him. The tree could feel the energy of her creativity flowing just as strongly as the moment he awakened. She resumed writing, scratching words into her notebook.
Every word she wrote and read fed life into the tree, each one pulsing like the day before. There the Writer worked diligently with her words for hours, stopping only to think and to absorb his atmosphere. Once again the tree wondered, but today a different wondering. Knowing his own fingers and toes, he shifted his focus onto hers. She was not like him. Her toes touched the ground but were not entrenched in it. Her fingers could reach into the sky but did not stay there. Her skin was not rough and knotted; it was smooth, covering every inch of her malleable core. Her hair was not small pink blossoms, but long and flowing and dark. Her thoughts became sounds that shook him to the foundation of who he was; his thoughts remained quietly inside of him.
Even with all of her differences, she was the same, of the same substance. It was as if they were formed from the same dirt at the beginning of time. The more he studied her, the more he understood himself. She stopped scratching out words for a moment and looked up at him, as if having the same revelation. Noticing the sun’s position through his branches, she packed up her things once again and made her way out of the garden, leaving the tree to his thoughts.
No silence could haunt him tonight; his thoughts were too loud. Her words danced across his mind, swirling and pounding with the rhythm of his heart. This thought, these words gave him courage to once more survive the night.
The morning came and the sun roused from its slumber beginning a new day. This day like the days past, she came again to write her words under him. She spoke soft words to him and read her own words aloud even softer, as she continued to fit the puzzle pieces of her writing together. The days and nights cycled; days filled with her, nights filled with her memories.
Days grew colder. The little blossoms that once covered the tree’s arms and hands were littered throughout the garden or adorning the hair of the children of the town. The Writer entered the garden just like every day. But unlike every day, she carried nothing but a small white envelope. She made her way to the tree’s little corner and with her hand rested on his rough earthy trunk, she lets out a sigh. Setting the envelope in the dirt near his roots, she walked slowly away, pulling her coat tighter around herself. She never returned.
With the cold came the rain. The envelope at his feet melted slowly into the soil. The words escaped from the page and reached deep into the earth. They moved through the dirt like earthworms. Wrapping around his roots, they rushed towards his heart. He felt the words read in her voice.
Her words resonated within him and sent a surge from his branches to his roots and back down into the ground. He tried with all his might to grasp each word, turning them over in his mind. He lined them up and studies their shape, not wanting to forget them. Day slipped into night and back into day, her voice still ebbing and flowing in his mind like the tide.
Nights particularly grew longer. The memory of the Writer did not come as quickly as it used to; he could barely feel her voice. As the tide of her memory went out, the icy silence that once plagued his mind crept in. It threatened to freeze the life in his veins. But he remembered. He remembered some of her words, and he repeated them to keep him warm.
The sun’s rays no longer reached him and the distinction between night and day grew hazy. He was no longer aware of time and soon it slipped from his memory altogether. The fingers of silence gripped tighter on his heart.
The pulse of the earth was continually weakening. It’s once riveting beat slowed, no longer providing the rhythm for nature’s symphony. The songs stopped as the birds migrated for the winter and away from the little Japanese garden. The light, cadenced whispers of the wind become a shrill howling, stripping the tree of the few wilted blossoms he had left. The song of the river was silenced, water turning to ice. The squirrels no longer scratched their rhythms but took to their nests in refuge from the bitter cold.
What was left of the tree’s thoughts became a whirlwind of chaos. It was increasingly difficult for him to remember her essence. He no longer felt her courage. He could not grasp her words anymore, and the rhythm of her voice had all but gone out of the earth.
His fingers numbed. They did not reach to the sky or drink in the atmosphere; they only remained. He could not feel his skin; it was frozen by the wind. The life slowly drained from each of his toes back into the ground where they were rooted. He did not experience the magic of the textures around him. He did not even experience himself. He stood bare in the corner of his garden, words no longer floating through his mind. He slowly slipped in and out of consciousness. As if falling, he grasped in that dreaming place but could not take hold of anything. He floated there as before, drifting, existing.
Silence, having done its job, made way for nothingness. His heart beat with what was left of earth’s rhythm slowly, quietly, the life slipping from his veins. The pulse became sporadic, sometimes skipping beats all together. With one final beat, the last blossom fell to the ground. Stillness. Nothingness.
In this particularly sleepy little town was found a small Japanese garden. It was the pride of the town, for it was the only place any “culture” could be found in a 50 mile radius. And in the western corner sat a tree with low branches reaching in every direction. The people of the town talked about the days when the tree would blossom with blushing pink flowers announcing the coming of springtime; but the winter was harsh and the tree does not blossom anymore.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hannah Benefield says: “Words are an incredible force that can be used to heal or destroy. Our humanity is built around our ability to communicate with each other and in turn, communication unlocks our ability to connect. As a writer, I am dedicated to exploring those connections through storytelling.