I rarely post my writing directly on my blog, but I just completed the first draft of a flash fiction that I’ll be incorporating into my anthology The Endless Summer. In this time of panic and confusion, I hope that it transports you to a better, past time during a summer when you used to climb trees. Please, feel free to share this post as much as you like, but do NOT simply copy and past the story. This story is copyright protected.
The Climbing Tree
By a stump
Mike bounded down the back door steps and across the flagstone patio as the screen door cracked shut behind him. The sky ahead of him, bruised pink and blue and purple intermingled with yellow lacerations, beckoned him away from the house. Fully sprinting, he sailed past the crumbling brick barbecue, ramshackle tarpaper shed, and vaulted off terra into the waiting arms of the lower branches of the crabapple tree—his crabapple tree.
He scraped the barky trunk with the soles of his high top sneakers as he shouldered himself onto the higher branches. Finally, scraped and scuffed, with gray flecks of tree skin confetti on his white tee shirt, he settled his feet into the highest crotch of the tree, feeling the limb sag just a hair as his back pressed into it, the wood of the branch meeting the bumps of his spine. He sighed his contentment and the bough below him sighed its reply.
He reached above his head and plucked a large, green golf ball from a twig. A small leaf crowned its stem as Mike rolled the tiny globe around in his hand, examining the dry lime skin for worm holes. Finding no craters, he bit down into that tart, crisp flesh of the never-ripe pomme. Satisfied after four bites, with a sour knot tying inside his stomach, he threw the half-eaten orb to the ground, joining the litter of crabby refuse at the base of that glorious, pulpy companion.
There were other trees in the yard, mainly pine. They possessed close, plentiful branches, but their syrupy lifeblood flowing under every piece of bark and out of all the knots was less than welcoming on a hot summer day. It made hair stick to scalp and baseball cap and sometimes to the tree. The little green needles found their sticky way into every pocket and eventually prodded places not meant to be poked. Sap stuck in denim jeans to drive mothers mad on laundry day and kept boys’ hands stuck to the pages of their comic books and pulp sci-fi paperbacks. The TV guide was in shreds from sticky fingerprints and even the TV remote didn’t work right.
Even though those trees could be climbed, they weren’t climbing trees like Mike’s tree. They weren’t friendly trees. Mike’s crabapple was always waiting at dusk to provide a crunchy tonic nightcap to top off mom’s supper. The soft bark left its earthy musk all over Mike’s hands and bruised arms, even after washing them. The barnacles and bunions protruding from the limbs provided distinguishing features to be memorized by calloused boy fingers. Those bumps produced matching bruises on the shins and elbows that scraped and dragged across them, like friends spitting in their palms and shaking on a summertime pact that would stand the test of eternity.
Mike nestled deeper into the top of the tree, coaxing the vermilion and rose cotton clouds to try to pull him off and cast him down. They dared not for fear of the barky cage cradling its pink monkey with twiggy fingers. He pulled a small Swiss Army knife from his pocket. Easing the ivory toothpick from its sheath, he dug bits of apple flesh out of molars and pried green skin from the gaps between incisors. Carefully replacing the plastic pick in the handle, he opened the blade and leaned forward to the top of the trunk facing him.
The flesh of the trunk bore brown and black scars from previous carvings—friendly brandings to mark what seemed to be eons of summers. The soft gray epidermis yielded willingly to the sheen of the steel blade. The left-most vertical stroke of an “M” was gouged into the bark. A diagonal slash started the sharp valley. As the middle took shape, a furrow in the bark caused the shank to jump out of the groove and the tip sank neatly into the flesh just below Mike’s left thumb. He inhaled sharply and immediately sucked on the crimson drop forming on his hand. Pulling his palm away, he noticed that the slimy wood beneath the bark was the same parchment color as the palm of his hand. The ruby returned to its place. He spent a moment watching it grow. Wincing, he pressed the droplet into the lacerations of the half-formed “M” in front of him. The carbon dioxide slowly ebbed out of his lungs as he blew on the stinging flesh wound, nurturing the tree even as it exhaled its own oxygen into the boy’s lungs. They were blood brothers.