Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, tree for a tree…

The first thing I need to establish for this story is to clarify that it’s insufficiently accurate.  For starters, I can’t be an ‘I’.  I’m not an ‘I’, I’d compromised to replace all mention of ‘I’ in this story with ‘It’, but even that is problematic for an honest recreation of its subject, my editors however insist upon the ‘I’ as subject in order to make the story more effective. I’m not an ‘I’, I change constantly; I don’t go for all this ‘Thinking’ equals an ‘I’ claptrap. I don’t think, but I do act and there may even be evidence of premeditation with some of my actions, particularly my actions that amounted to murder and slaughter, but I assure you that I don’t think.

Anyway.

It was completely dark in the universe.  And the universe was small; and it was close. There was no expanse of anti-matter, or any of that stuff. I was a small speck and, from that vantage point, everything else seemed pretty small too. It was dark; and I can only say it was dark now because at the time, having never experienced colour or light, I really didn’t know any different. There was a sensation of closeness and union with life and it; there was only It (ED: …Union with Life and I; there was only I).

The initial tremors of life came with a sensation of warmth.  It trickled along my spine and caused my muscles to contract and crack beneath my bones. It was awful and I clung to myself tighter and tighter, begging it to go away.  All was fine but it was momentary, the waves of warmth returned cyclically and with each cycle I held tighter with increasing terror of being torn up and out of my place in the black universe.

While this was all happening, I began to hear sounds, or feel vibrations (what’s the difference really?), around me. Having never considered much about my existence, except for my desperation to hold myself together while the heat suffocated me, I had no emotional response to find that I was in a universe teeming with life. In fact, all that seemed to me to be the establishment that I was under threat. Being alone means you have no predators, right?

Now I guess you could call it my ‘birth’. And it was when my cloak, my bones, my encasement buckled around me.  A freezing cold air sucked in under my rib cage. I was a soft little piece of flesh with nothing to protect me anymore, and I also had nowhere else to turn inside to; oh, but I tried. I clasped around myself, shivering and snivelling for this fear; this terror to leave me.  Yet, as I trembled, my tension literally spat out of me, a great green hand clawed from my chest and reached out beyond my casing and began pushing through the dark universe, hunting for the warmth that seemed to linger just ahead through the darkness.

And then I found it.  It was not just warmth, it was a blinding white light and a cacophony of shimmering echoes and crunches and frequencies and… it was really too much.  I screamed, I believe I screamed.

If it isn’t clear yet, I am a tree – a chestnut treet. A tree that sprouted in Balder Thompson’s garden in 1972.  He was three years old when he first saw I, and he would have torn me from my place in the universe had his father not picked him up and started explaining the long term aesthetic he could have with letting me grow – little did he know that I would become a murderer and scourge to everyone who had to share the land with me.

Overall, my overwhelming sensation was of desperation. I was a supple, stringy shoot.  A ladybird landed on me and I collapsed under the weight of that bulky oaf. My first need was to hide. I was weak and pathetic. I shivered in strong winds, the summer was over and I was preparing to endure several cold and uncharitable months. There would be little nourishment to grow and even less energy to maintain my grip on the foundations that were keeping me in the ground.

I was also suffering from rivalry. There was a fully mature Ash tree, approximately 10 metres away, in the next garden. It was vengeful* that I was laying down roots, and it began to encircle me with its own roots, gorging on as much liquid as it could to dry me out and weaken me. Struggling to lay a foundation I was wilting and was sure to perish, no matter where my roots spread, there was the Ash and its bigger, coarser roots, twisted around my white shoots until they severed.  As always, when weakness and malnutrition occur, I started to suffer from all sorts of parasites.  Nasty little aphids clustered in my armpits and flies deposited their frothy little egg sacs around my torso. I was laden with the children of other species and I had very little energy left for myself.  But that all changed, and it was all thanks to Balder Thompson’s miscreant uncle, Brady.

Brady liked to shoot his gun.  He would always claim that he was taken by surprise by that Sika Deer. But how surprised can you be, with a gun in your hand, when you shoot something?

It was way off-season and Brady took the deer over to his brother. He was in a panic, he’d go to prison for poaching off-season again. So, as a good brother does for his stupid brother(s), he took the body of the Deer and buried it in the garden that night.  As they dug they hit the roots of my torturer, the Ash, and chopped through them, making space for the body of that big beautiful buck.  This gave me some room to root forward, I wrapped my roots through the body of the study buck and it started to anchor me into the ground.  As I grew, and the buck decomposed, I also discovered that my growth was pushing the antlers further into the roots of the Ash.

Suddenly, the old man Ash was in retreat, and there was a new tree in town. It (I).

A lot of time passed, and I saw Balder grow up. He became a sad and thoughtful kid, and he’d sit the garden and stare around with a notepad, either drawing or writing (writing about ‘I’, of all things) and he would tell his friends (when he had some) that I was the same age as him and that he and the tree are brothers.

My neighbour, the Ash, by this time was losing the battle. I’d shoved the antlers so far into its roots that it lost something. It started to turn grey, fungi blossomed across it and ate into the bark. Within five summers it was falling apart, and the neighbours called in some professionals to take it apart piece-by-piece.  It didn’t look painful, but I could see its memory wipe away with each slice of the chainsaw.

(c) Balder Thompson 2018

*I’ve had a very long debate about what this tree felt about me. I still dispute the use of the word vengeful because I cannot confirm that a tree has a sense of justice. Personally I feel all things, even relatively benign things, are territorial. Humans call cancer ‘aggressive’, I find that a bit tasteless.

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