The Miracle Tree: part 1 (redrafted)
Currently reading: The Mount, by Carol Emshwiller
I wasn’t expecting to be posting a redraft of this so soon but, having gotten a very useful comment from deshipley this morning, there seems little reason for me not to. Expect part 2 to show up at some point on Saturday.
On an unrelated note, The Mount is a brilliant book. If things keep going the way they are now, then I can see myself giving this a very good review indeed.
So, here we go. Take 2…
Sally’s tree sat atop a wide, grassy hill that was surrounded on all sides by boundless countryside. When she arrived, the sun was still high in the clear blue sky.
The tree had not changed since her last visit. Its thick trunk was mottled and gnarled and was several different shades of brown in colour. Its leaves were as splendidly green as the field they overlooked, too numerous for Sally to see the branches which held them. And then, growing down from this impenetrable fog of green, there were the vines. Fat and leafy, these were a slightly darker shade and were still brimming with grapes despite Sally’s increasingly frequent visits.
Sally had always thought of it as her tree, as nobody else seemed to know that it existed. She herself had never told anyone about the tree or the delights it held. Earlier that afternoon, she had explained to her parents that she wanted to have some fresh air while she did her homework; this was what she always said and so they accepted it without question. It was partly true, certainly – she did indeed have outstanding schoolwork in her backpack – but it was hardly the whole story. She strolled over to the tree’s great trunk, set her backpack down on the hard soil, then sat against the truck in the shade. She eyed the nearest vine, but then forced herself to look away. For now, its fruits would have to wait.
She unzipped her bag and pulled out her notebook, along with a variety of pens and several crinkled assignment sheets. Many of the pens were missing their lids. She searched through the sheets until she found the most recent one: a set of maths questions, she recalled from the day before. This wouldn’t take long. She picked out a pen, stuffed away the papers she didn’t need, and went to work.
There were ten questions in total, all algebra-related. She picked six out at random and went through them thoroughly, checking and double-checking to ensure they were correct. For the remaining four, she devoted much less time. These were probably wrong, but it didn’t matter: six out of ten was perfectly acceptable. She put everything away in her backpack and zipped it shut. That was that, then.
For all that hard work, she reckoned that she deserved a reward. Finally, the fun could start.
She headed over to the nearest vine and plucked off one of the grapes. It was large and black, and she could hardly wait to get her teeth into it. Cradling it, she sat back down under the tree’s shadow; once on the ground, she popped the grape into her mouth. She grinned as she tasted it, allowing her tongue to move it around without letting herself bite into it just yet. Then, her grin widening, she closed her eyes and bit down.
She tasted it immediately. Sweet. Juicy. Just a hint of bitter. It was wonderful – absolutely wonderful. And it was hers – all hers. She basked in it, her mind going blank as she swirled the juice around in her mouth. Then, with only a mild twinge of regret, she swallowed. A pleasant aftertaste began to wash across her tongue. It felt as though it would never fade, though she was all too aware that it would eventually do so.
Sally opened her eyes. The sky was orange and the tree’s shadow had grown significantly longer since she had first sat down. She picked herself up off of the ground, slung her backpack over one shoulder, and started the trek home.
Before she was even out from under the shadow, Sally stopped. She turned and regarded each vine in turn. Why have only one grape, she asked herself. There’s so many here, after all. Maybe with another, the sensations in her mouth would linger forever. She yanked a second grape off of its vine and devoured it where she stood, sinking to the ground as the taste took hold. She shuddered, swallowed and blinked. The shadow was longer still. She crawled back to her feet and dusted herself down.
Behind her, the sun was moments away from meeting the horizon. Orange had given way to red in the sky, and darkness was beginning to encroach from one side. She was late, she realised. If she simply walked back to her house as normal, it would be well past dark by the time she arrived. That would invite questions that she would rather not answer. This was her tree, after all, and she had now well and truly decided that it should stay that way. She was going to have to run.
Ordinarily she couldn’t have done it, wouldn’t have even tried it. The house was too far, her arms and legs too small and weedy. But now, the grapes’ flavour very much alive in her mouth, there was nothing to fear. She took off sprinting down the hill, each and every limb energised beyond what she would have thought possible. She knew she would make it home in time.