BBC Writing competitions are still up and running.
The following is one that didn't get shortlisted but Puurrring keeps trying and so should you.
Dryadby Joanne Harris
(Completed by Puurrring in 2011)
She paused and a pained, hunted expression coloured her face and dulled the erstwhile mischievous sparkle of her eye. I began to wonder whether she would continue. I became anxious, half willing her not to go on; not to reveal what was evidently distressing for her to relate. Yet I was conscious too of being ensnared, seduced by her tale. Five minutes earlier I would have welcomed her silence to find an excuse to flee; now it was all I could do to kerb a plea to prompt her to go on.
“And did you tell him?” I said softly.
“No”, she said flatly. “Not then. I told him not to be so ridiculous and went to bed. Then Stan changed, made crass attempts at being attentive but there was always that undercurrent of suspicion, mistrust. The where are you going, what are you doing and interest in everything I did syndrome; analysing, scrutinising every word, every action for signs of betrayal – not realising I was flaunting my infidelity all the time because I had no time.
My beech would outlast me. I was a mere blink in his world; all too brief and fleeting, no record except the number of the seasons to mark my tenure here. I needed to soak him up while I could; record every inch of him. I considered etching on his skin a tattoo for all to see, but his skin was too perfect. Besides I knew he loved me. It ran deep, deep within his sap and down into his roots. I wanted to sink among them, entwine myself in root and earth or climb up his magnificent torso to be embraced in his branches, held – oh held, forever out of reach.
Others want to travel, see the world, fashion change, alter, move on, move up, move out but he and I were different. We had permanent ambition to stay put and watch. Stan never understood that. Another table, another chair, another door, another cupboard was all he did. They were just means to another useless penny earned for yet another must have thing. You know those things that never satisfy but must have to keep up to date. He claimed he loved wood you know. His love was an abhorrence, like ivory. You have to kill the elephant to get the ivory don’t you?
From that night forward he probed, prodded, pushed; never let up until finally I told him I couldn’t move because I couldn’t leave the beech behind. He didn’t believe me at first. But I was firm, insistent, dug my roots in. And you know what he did? He took all my drawings, all my paintings and burnt them and threatened to take an axe to my lover and turn him into matchwood. He said I was mad, but you tell me which is madness; to run round all your life chasing after things you’re never happy with or to stay put and watch while all that nonsense goes on around you.”
She stopped waiting for my answer. I had none except in a sympathetic look. It seemed obvious to me that what she was describing was an account of a breakdown; her breakdown. I knew the symptoms were easier to recall than the cause. I began to wonder how long it would be before my walks to the park would not suffice to give me room, space; an escape. How far would I need to travel?
“He banned me from the garden. Changed the locks on the windows the back door and the garden gate.” She continued tearful. “And then one night there was a storm and I could hear my lover moaning, calling and then screaming in pain. And I couldn’t bear it. I ran downstairs, broke the kitchen window and crawled out over the sink and then… then… He was in such pain, swaying violently. The tender tips of branches were strewn all over the lawn. They cracked as I ran to him. ‘I’m here’ I shouted; I screamed, I wept ‘I’m here, I’m here’. I tried holding him, steadying him. There was an almighty crack, a tidal wave of swishing sound and a torrent of limbs snapping, a shout from somewhere and when he hit the ground the earth shook to its core.
He fell away from me, but I clung on and held him all night while the storm raged, but I heard nothing, felt nothing. Numb. The following morning it was Dan my son that stirred me. How long he had been there, crying, I don’t know. I couldn’t see him. I was trapped under my lovers’ branches. I wanted to stay there. I wanted to comfort my son too but I couldn’t speak. The next thing I remember is neighbours’ calling; a hand touching mine. A paramedic. Someone saying he’s dead; a chainsaw and being lifted onto a stretcher and into an ambulance.
It turned out that Stan had run out after me and was crushed by the beech. Killed by my lover. Everyone thought I was grieving for Stan but I wasn’t. I couldn’t. Not then. My limbs were broken too. It took me months to recover. My son stayed with my sister. When I returned home my lover had been cleared away. Chopped up for matchwood probably. We moved soon after. I now live round the corner so I can be near the park. In my house I have the branch of beech tree and where the bark has peeled away it’s very lightly polished, not with a cloying varnish but with the lightest oil. It’s a memorial them both. Stan loved the wood almost as much as I love the trees though none have matched my beech in beauty. You can’t help where you love can you?”
“No” I said, “I guess not. And what about Daniel, your son?”
“He’s fine. He took up carpentry.” With that she smiled and returned to her sketching. Exhausted, conversation closed.
Awkwardly I rose and left to returned to the hubbub, turmoil and nonsense that had become my life. Two months later I had my first child, six months later I had divorced. In between Mrs Josephine Morgan Clarke died. I stumbled on her obituary by accident in the local paper. That was how I learnt her full name and age. ‘Much beloved mother now returned to her beloved husband’ it had read.
Somehow that chance meeting helped me through my troubles. She had reminded me of my secret self, of who I was and wanted to be. The more I thought of that meeting the more I knew I had to get out, divorce, raise my child alone and start again. Her spirit had a permanence; ethereal in nature beyond humdrum, somewhere else; solid, immoveable - ingrained. It was that that gave me strength and prompted me to have a plaque made in her honour. Eventually I remarried. He’s a gardener by profession, has long hair, is calm, wild, passionate, soothing – vibrant. I had my second child by him. Oh, and I took up drawing – people, still life; but mainly... trees.