Outside the window sits a small tree, its branches twisted and bare, as if the young sapling had succumbed to old age. Spring was in full bloom and the neighbouring trees wore thick cloaks of ripe green vegetation. Despite its barren appearance, the small tree refused to die. Its root system was strong and deep, having tapped into an abundance of nutrients deep below the surface.
The interesting thing about this tree is the single flower blooming at the end of the longest branch, with bright orange petals in stark contrast with the sullen shade of brown bark. The flower glowed with more colour than the most vivid sunset or the brightest firework, and its scent—a tantalizing blend of fresh citrus with hints of vanilla—was so unlike any flower seen in the neighbouring yards, and was always a curious sight to those passing by.
But the peculiarity of the tree stretched further than the lonesome flower. The grass below suffered the same defect—a perfect circle of crisp, dead grass surrounded the tree in an even uglier shade of brown than the crumbling bark peeling from its trunk. Every now and then, no more than once in a blue moon, a fresh tuft of green would emerge at the base of the tree, only to be devoured by the surrounding brown stain.
But like all good things should, this tree serves a purpose, and only one person knows the truth about its ghastly appearance. But he’d never tell you, no matter how many cups of chai tea you made him. He was a solemn and honest man, and had made a promise to his wife many decades ago to watch over her and keep her safe. Even in her death, he remained true to his word. Below the roots of that tree rests the remains of his beloved, buried in her Sunday best and favourite orange hat.
Now, the lonely orange flower doesn’t seem so odd, does it? But why, you may ask, is the tree so sterile and wilted? And to answer such a question, we must rely on public opinion and neighbourhood gossip. The woman was an infection upon humanity. Her very presence a stain, an abomination that made even the animals shy away and send the neighbourhood kids scattering down the street.
There were many reasons why people withdrew from her presence. It may have been the necklace made of bones that bounced across her chest or the scarf made entirely of human hair that she wrapped around her head in winter. But the most frightening reason was the way the she walked. Or more precisely, the way she shuffled down the sidewalk—sometimes hand-in-hand with her devoted husband—with her feet facing backwards. It was a sight that could churn the contents of your stomach and send you running for the toilet bowl.
One drizzly winters day, her husband found her in the bathroom, blood leaching across the tiles and a discarded carving knife beside her dismembered feet. She had died in a pool of her own blood, desperately trying to hack away her imperfections. Her sewing kit was laid out beside her, complete with a large needle, its eye already threaded with thick nylon thread.
If you were asked which was more saddening, would it be that the woman had felt like such an outcast that she was decided to cut off her own feet or that she never had the chance to sew them back on, right way around? But, perhaps that’s a question better left for campfire ghost stories and nightmares.
Her husband was the only attendee at the funeral—along with some local kids who wanted to see for themselves that the woman was truly gone, but they sat on the furthest hill, unwilling to come any closer.
Now the husband just sits by the window, watching over the tree. He dreams about the day he will be reunited with his wife, forever clutching a carving knife in his hand.
© Angela. E. Mitchell