Sapling

Sweat collected in my palms of my stubborn hands as they refused to budge from their white-knuckle grip on the ceramic pot. My body let itself be rocked and swayed by my fathers practised driving around the familiar turns of the road. The afternoon breeze dried out my eyes and thrummed loud in my ears from my father’s open window as the summer sun burned on the side of my face. It was a warmth that attempted comfort but was betrayed by its own strength and bordered on pain. But I didn’t move. Or even register my own discomfort. I just trained my dried-out eyes and earth-covered hands on my prized possession from my father’s raid of my grandfather’s house. The little offcut curled towards me, asking for protection. Its delicate green leaves tickled my thumb as they trembled with the rumbling car on the old red road, but it failed to draw even a twitch of acknowledgment from my nerves.
My offcut tried again, coaxing me with feather-light rustling against my skin, but I couldn’t laugh. I couldn’t even move. I could only blink, and let the motions of the car rock me, as if I were five years old again, and the spoils from our trip were sweet smelling biscuits wrapped in foil, not dusty books and a bill from the funeral home, its sharp edges poking my thigh. The rumpled paper was a memento mori, reminding me to pull in a breath and force it back out again and again.
I had cut my little branch off the tree with a rusty axe as old as my father, that I had always been told not to touch, lest I cut myself. There was no one to shoo me away this time, the splinters on the handle sharp against my fingers. The dry grass stung my knees as I sunk the heavy blade into the fallen tree with awkward motions.
The tree had been cut down at my father’s insistence. It was too old, too big, too weak to withstand a summer storm. I had to save it, save something, anything.
With each swing of the blade and splintering of wood, I was slicing through my family again and again, hacking it apart in a desperate attempt to save even a piece of it. As I scooped up grainy soil into a pot, I tried to force out a eulogy that I couldn’t give that morning, to expel the words from where they were lodged in my lungs, only for them to burrow deeper into my chest the more I failed to speak.
In my father’s car, I hugged my offcut closer and closed my eyes against the burning glow of the late afternoon sun, let it mottle my face with freckles in lieu of tears that wouldn’t fall. I let the motions of the car rock me to sleep and dreamt of branches swaying calmly against a cloudless summer sky.

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