★ ★ ★ ★
After a long lie-in on a late autumn morning my eyes grow accustomed to the light. I leave my bedroom curtains drawn and go to the kitchen to make my tea and adjust, let unconscious thoughts surface as the slow grey light enters by eyes. I know the sky will be grey before I approach the kitchen window and I also register an absence, a sense of loss. Then looking out I see the space left behind. The tree has gone. All forty feet of it has disappeared in the night. I catch my breath wondering how it could have gone so silently whilst I was sleeping, after it stood there for so long. A man in a T-shirt, stoop-framed by the window opposite is also looking out, in my direction. So I hang back, not yet looking down into the courtyard to see if there is a stump, a pile of branches or the tree lying on its side.
In the shaded interior I find my mug and rinse out last night’s dregs of tea. The kitchen should be tidier now that he has taken his things, but I find myself not cleaning up and leaving trails of my own existence scattered about. I’ve already got used to filling the kettle with just enough water for one large mug. He only took one case at first and then he came back to take the rest. The shared belongings were harder to distribute, but we didn’t argue. I put the post cards that used to decorate the kitchen cabinets in a box.
I think about the tree and want to curl back up in my bed with the curtains closed. But I stand frozen on the kitchen tiles, only a slice of sky, bird-less and overcast and the concrete side of the building is visible. The windows give back nothing of the lives inside. Some of the blinds are drawn, other windows unblinded, uncurtained and reflecting back the windows opposite. I don’t know those neighbours in the front building, occasionally we have exchanged hellos at the front door, but I couldn’t tell you what they looked like, what they wear or what their homes look like even though Berliners often leave their curtains open.
I wonder if the man could see that I am wearing a dressing gown and if he was also thinking about the tree. I register it’s not the weekend, but in fact Reunification Day, so not a day for the office either. And on that thought I realise the tree couldn’t have gone silently whilst I slept, but the destruction must have happened when I was at work the previous day and returning in darkness I hadn’t seen it was gone.
The tree had been dead for a couple of years already, the bare branches unadorned by leaves, unchanged by season, yet etching their lines on the building opposite. Bare, bald and still standing, its upper branches reaching to the fourth story, glowing with light in late summer sunsets, the lower branches shaded with the floors beneath. Sparrows and magpies had still hopped from bough to bough and filled the courtyard with sound. On this slow grey Reunification Day, the absence of sound and form is intensified. On the other side of the city, at the Brandenburg Gate they would be setting up a stage for music and celebration, but in the small square of courtyard there is only absence and silence. Disconnection.
I suppose I took the tree for granted when it was healthy. I watched its leaves shimmer in my bedroom mirror and admired its beauty. I admired its beauty but didn’t admire its resilience. There was a parasitic plant growing within it, like an ivy, but it didn’t cling so tight, not tight enough to strangle. Bushier than ivy, holding on to the trunk and branches, almost part of the other in places. It wasn’t a beauty but I think it lived on after the main tree died, I don’t know where it got its strength from. Maybe it was simply using the tree to stand tall and didn’t need to sap its life force away. I picture a symbiosis, a shared respect between the two.
One day the main tree was pruned quite brutally, the thicker branches sawn clean off to stumps. I’m not sure if the men who cut her were paid by the hour or were trying to maximise their pile of wood. The symbiont clung more tightly and grew thicker across the sawn stumps. The tree grew back some delicate branches but they remained bare and limp and never budded. A sorrow of expectation. The balance was upset. These snapshots in time… those changes that I missed… the comfort I got from the continuity.
The man in the T-shirt has gone and I move closer to the window, looking right down to the ground to see what’s left. No roots, just a hole, about four feet deep I’d say from here. Big enough for somebody to fall into, I expect that is why they’ve surrounded it with four makeshift posts and some red and white plastic tape. Decades of growth and courtship have left behind an emergency hazard. The man returns to the window with a mug and he’s on my level and looking across, so I keep looking down at the hole and I think he must be looking down too. When I lift my head again the stranger raises his hand in a half wave and I step back into the shadows.
Lorna Morris was born in the wilds of Wales and somehow found her way to the magical city of Berlin where by day she’s a computational biologist and by night she writes stories.
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