Rings

By Shelly Jones

She calls me just after dawn, her voice tight. I can tell already she has something to tell me, something she is hesitant to say. 

“Your tree was hit by lightning,” she begins. “Split in two. Your brother found it laying across the bridge to the pear orchard. Had to get the chainsaw.” 

The words spill from her, as if telling me quickly will ease the pain she thinks she is causing. She speaks of the willow like a living thing, a beloved pet that had to be put down, a grizzled cat euthanized before it could sneak out of the house to die in the woods on its own. 

She knows the hours I spent cradled in the willow’s bough, writing in a composition notebook, scribbling bits of poems, stories pouring from me like the nearby creek. 

“Oh,” I say, trying to hide the sorrow. I can still feel the knot of wood in my back, feel the willow’s tendrils wrapping around my index finger, smudged with ink, as I tried to think of the right word. 

“What will he do with the wood?” I ask, envisioning my brother cleaving the limbs, planing them into lumber, repurposed. 

“Nothing,” she says. “It isn’t any good.” She changes the subject to the weather, the storm, and I know better than to go back to the past. I make a mental note not to walk the back road to the pear orchard on my next visit home. 

Would it recognize me now, I wonder? What remnants of that twelve year old tucked in its arms remain in this version of me? Could it crack open my bark, study the rings inside to find some lost version of me, hidden in my core? Or have those pages been ripped out, scattered to the past like wood chips, mulch for something new, something green growing in the loam?  

                                                                   

                                                                         *   *   *

Shelly Jones (she/they) is a Professor of English at SUNY Delhi, where she teaches classes in mythology, folklore, and writing. Her speculative work has previously appeared in Podcastle, New Myths, The Future Fire, and elsewhere.

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