Esther was about to climb down from the tree when she realised that she was going to be not alone. A crackling of leaves warned her – nothing she could see. It was 4am on a balmy autumn night and deeply dark for miles around. The only light came from the distant city – an orange blotch on the horizon. There would have been stars and maybe a moon, but clouds had conquered them for now.
Of course she knew who was coming – there was only one possibility. Her granddaughter Kate lived in the big house at the top of the garden and there was no-one else for miles around. She smiled – no fear of being caught naked by some strange man or, even worse, by a familiar man.
The rustling sound came closer and then became a hummed song – calm, contented and utterly unaware of her grandma in the tree above her head. When Kate began to speak, Esther wanted to call to her, but then again, she didn’t.
“Hello, tree. Look at you there all tall and stuff. All you have to do is grow and rustle. Nothing, nothing, nothing. When I grow up, I’m going to be a tree. You watch if I don’t. Then I can be as high as I like.” She laughed then and began to take her clothes off.
Esther, up the tree, only hearing a voice down below, was unaware that Kate was intent of removing her layers. The older woman had lived in this place from birth, right up until she’d moved away with her husband, leaving the house to her daughter and baby Kate. It had felt both sweet and sour to be starting a new life so far away and leaving the old to the youngsters, but that’s what they’d always done.
When her husband had died, Kate had invited her to live with her – for as long as she needed. They’d always had an rubber-band relationship and the house had been so huge since her mother had moved out in turn. She know that people found it strange that it was the older folks that left the nest in her family, but that’s just how it was. It just felt right.
Esther had found so many good memories and so much love, on coming back to this house. She had fallen back into the silence of these parts like a child takes to a comfortable armchair on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The old paths were still there. The breeze still spoke to her. And the tree just was. The tree was always and forever.
After Kate dropped her last piece of civilization onto the bench, she moved surely towards the trunk and embraced the old skin like a new lover. The bark against her torso felt like a blessing. The roughness was sweeter than sunshine against her skin and she felt her tiredness and stress flow out like a devil leaving for home.
Esther had never told anyone – not her daughter, nor her husbands about this tree. This was her secret. This was her release. In the years she had lived there she had made this thick branch her temple, solace and life raft. This tree and time was hers, and they lived at her purest core.
As Kate began to climb the tree, her hands and feet finding holds that needed neither light nor thought, she sucked in the sweet scent of the world turning around her. This, she felt, was the true centre of the world. As she pulled herself toward the thick branch that was her ever-destination, something unseen startled her and she lost her grip.
Esther didn’t know why she threw out her arm. She could see nothing, only blackness against night. But as Kate’s palm slapped into hers, she felt the rightness of it. One heave and they were side by side as if they had always been so.
Kate smiled and leaned contentedly against her grandmother as they each opened their heart and found the branch to be their own best place to be alone together. No words passed and yet they spoke in a much older language. The breeze played amongst the leaves, the branches reached up to the sky, and suddenly, as if on cue, the stars pulled aside the clouds and became the diamonds they had always been.
And the tree? The tree just laughed.