Here is a short story I wrote last summer. It's based on one of my particularly vivid childhood memories. Enjoy!
A willow tree once grew in the backyard of a modest house in suburban Phoenix, Arizona. It had towered majestically over the patchwork of dried yellow and green grass that made up the lawn. The orange honeysuckle and purple bougainvillea that lined the brick wall of the yard had seemed ostentatious when compared to the willow’s solemn beauty. The summer sun, which stripped the grass of its lush vibrancy, once sent rays of light to slant through the willow’s trailing leaves. However, the sun could never fully disturb the cool shade beneath the willow’s branches, the only escape from the oppressive summer heat. But the willow no longer stands.
The little girl who lives in the house did not see the willow tree fall. Her mother tells her of its demise in the morning while she is eating cereal and watching “My Little Pony.”
“Hey honey, did a loud noise wake you up last night?”
The little girl shakes her head “no” with her mouth full.
“Whoa! You must be a heavy sleeper!” her mother chuckles then fondly tousles the girl’s hair. “It was such a loud crash! Daddy and I jumped right out of bed! All that wind from the storm last night blew the willow tree down right on top of the swing set, can you believe that?”
The little girl looks away from the TV and up at her mother, eyes wide as she gasps in astonishment.
“Yeah, it’s crazy, right? But, OK, listen to me now. Are you listening?” she says, turning the girl’s head towards her as it tries to turn back to the TV. “Stay away from the swing set and the willow tree. The swing set can’t hold up that heavy tree for long. It will break and fall and crush any little girls standing near it. Daddy is going to get some friends to come and help him cut up the tree and move the pieces away as soon as he can. Play with your toys inside until then, OK sweetie?”
After her mother leaves the room to do laundry, the girl scurries to the sliding door and presses her tiny hands and face to the glass. The willow tree had been ripped from the ground with tremendous force, its roots now just a tangle of wood and dirt. A mammoth hole and the jagged remains of its roots are all that remains in the earth. It had fallen onto the old, metal swing set and its leaves were wrapped around the gleaming slide like feather boas around a woman’s neck. The girl may not have seen or heard it fall, but she witnessed that storm.
Monsoon season always brings such storms, biting torrents of rain, booming thunder, bright lightning flashes, and howling winds. The girl had watched the storm before being forced to bed as she watched all the storms, exhilarated by the horrifying wildness and beauty. The willow had always withstood the cruel winds, an immovable wall in the face of their blind fury. However, this time the wind had prevailed, proving why even mountains bend to its force over time.
The girl pushes on the glass door and it slides open with a low shriek. She runs out onto the dry grass and feels its sharp crunch beneath her bare feet. The sun shines on her long brown hair as she abruptly laughs at the comical sight of the fallen tree on her swing set. Then, her laughter trails off and her brow furrows above her brown eyes. Hummingbirds dart past to drink from the honeysuckles as she studies the tree.
The willow had always been an insurmountable obstacle, a tree that could not be climbed. As she walks towards it, she remembers digging her nails into the tough bark, scraping her feet against its rough surface, wrapping her arms around the trunk and getting sticky sap all over her body in her attempts to reach even the lowest branch. She finally gave up her mission when even the cat could not climb the tree. He managed to reach the lowest branch but fell upside-down when his declawed front paws failed him.
Now it is simple to climb the tree. She barely remembers her mother’s warning. The tree had always been her fort and her friend, why would it hurt her now? The girl carefully walks around the mass of dirt and roots and scrambles atop the trunk. The rough bark scrapes her hands and feet and the sharp smell of sap fills her nose. She sweats in the hot sun and the bright green leggings and flowered shirt of her pajamas cling to her thin frame. She climbs the tree easily and quickly finds shade under its branches. The green tendrils of the willow’s leaves are draped all around her like curtains, blocking out the rest of the world.
She soon climbs to the top of the swing set and perches atop it. She briefly considers climbing across the top of the swing set. She remembers her daddy pushing her and her sister on the swings. “Higher, higher!” she had shrieked happily. The swing set had bucked and rocked out of its grounding holes and then back down into them with harsh thuds. She must have lost her grip on the chains, her hands slick with sweat. She had fallen from the swing to the ground and got dirt in stinging scrapes on hands and face as well as an aching head. Another memory quickly follows. She remembers gripping the sides of the slide to push forward and not letting go soon enough. She felt the rush of wind as she flew down the slide. Then there was sharp pain and bright blood from a gashed finger. No, climbing across the swing set is not safe.
She explores the lower levels of the willow then climbs to the very top. She’s covered in sap, bits of bark, and leaves and her hair is a snarled nest but she does not care. This is her tree and she is just like a monkey or a jungle cat prowling its branches. She finally reaches the very top where the branches are thin and sag under her slight weight. She pokes her head through the foliage and looks out on the yard, the leaves draped around her shoulders and body like an elaborate cloak. Then, the branches give out and snap beneath her small body.
She hears the snap and falls toward the hard ground, ground so greedy for rain it sucks away any moisture and hordes it deep, leaving the dirt rock solid. She’s plummeting down in a whirl of blue sky, whipping leaves, and sharp branches. She flails, trying to grab onto something, trying to stop her fall. The strands of leaves are tangled and loop back and forth like nets. They slow her fall, bit by bit. Finally, one bundle of vine-like leaves stops her fall. She dangles a couple feet from the ground, sitting on a loop of leafy tendrils that closely resembles a swing. She exhales and takes gasping breaths for a brief moment before her precarious perch snaps and drops her the remaining distance to the leaf-strewn ground. She draws her knees to her chin and sits motionless on the ground, unharmed.
Men come and saw the willow tree into manageable pieces and cart them away. The girl and her friends create a fort in the hole left in the ground until it gets filled in and no trace of the willow tree remains. The girl boasts of her experience. She tells her friends how the tree saved her, how it would not let her fall.