The tree at the end of the garden

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Just for the hell of it, here’s a short story I wrote years ago…if you’re self-isolating it might pass ten minutes for you!

 

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I can see over our house now, right over the top. I even can see the houses on the other side of the road.

I didn’t know they were there for years. It’s not that I thought our houses were the only ones around here. All the different noises told me otherwise. I could hear kids playing in the summer and people chatting at barbecues. And I could hear loads of different car engines especially in the mornings and evenings. That’s what told me there were lots of people living nearby.

But I didn’t realise there was a whole street of houses and they all looked just like ours.

They’re all the same; red bricked, three storeys high, slate roof and big windows. I suppose everyone used the same design. Not that I’m an expert on designing houses.

But I’d say the ones across the road are the same age as our house, more or less. That’s more than 100 years old.

The last time I saw that side of the road, the building work had just started on our house. But I was only a couple of metres tall then. Now, I’m at least 30 metres high, if not more.

Oh. Sorry. How stupid of me. I should have introduced myself before rattling on like that.

I’m the big oak tree at the bottom of the garden. You can’t miss me.

Sure, don’t I cast a shadow over the whole place?

I’ve seen it all, you know. Not much else to do when you’re a tree, standing there for years. I’m not complaining though. I’ve had a great life. So far!

You know I remember the house being built as if it was yesterday.

All the red bricks and building materials were brought here by horse and cart.

It took forever. If it was now, of course, the whole lot would arrive one afternoon in one big truck. And that would be that.

Things change though. The way people work changes. Habits change.

I’ve seen the men working on the extension they’re building on the house next door and I’ve noticed that one or two of them smoke.

And when they do, they stop work, sit on the last rung of the ladder or on the edge of a skip, light a cigarette and puff away and chat until it’s finished.

But back when our house was being built, I think every one of them worked with a pipe in his mouth. They never stopped work to smoke. They just smoked and worked at the same time.

I haven’t seen anyone smoke a pipe for years.

Anyway, the people who built the house, they were called the Mulligans. And they lived in the house for about forty years.

I don’t remember being planted. I mean, who remembers stuff like that?

I bet people don’t remember being born. Do they?

But I think I was planted before a brick was laid. Really. Sure, how could I remember all the builders otherwise?

And another thing I remember, when I was very small, was one winter where it seemed to snow for weeks and weeks. I thought I was going to die. I was almost buried by the stuff.

But in fairness, the builders or Mr Mulligan, would come and wipe the snow off my little leaves to make sure I was ok. It was scary. But the Mulligans were nice to me. I think Mr Mulligan always wanted to have a big, big tree in his garden. And he eventually got one. Me!

They had four children who used to play in the garden but, sure I wasn’t really big enough for them to climb when they were children. David, John, Sheila and Mary. They were the children. I listened carefully to make sure I heard their names.

Even if they didn’t climb me, they used to run around me and throw the ball over me until I grew a bit taller.

And after a few years, I used to shed enough leaves in the autumn for the kids to roll around in. I liked that. I liked the sound of children laughing and playing. I kind of felt I was joining in when they were running around me and I suppose, in a way, I was.

As they got older, they had less and less interest in me. Well, apart from Sheila. She loved to plant flowers around my base, daffodils and snowdrops mostly. A bit girly I suppose. But I liked it. I liked the flowers. And I liked the way Sheila used to talk to me when she planted them.

But of course, eventually the children all left and went their own ways.

They’d come back every now and then and I often heard them talk about me and how big I’d got. David told his dad one day that he thought I was dangerous, but sure, I wouldn’t hurt a fly. Really. I don’t mind flies at all.

And then Mr Mulligan died. He wasn’t an old man but he was sick for a long time before he died.

I remember him being home from work a lot. He’d sit outside the living room windows with a blanket over his legs and Mrs Mulligan would bring him tea and stuff. He’d just sip it. He’d read a book or listen to the radio.

And then he stopped sitting in the garden and I remember him being in his bedroom for months before he was taken away to hospital in an ambulance.

I couldn’t see the ambulance, of course. It was out in front of the house. But I could hear it. It was a bell in those days.

I remember that, up until a few weeks before he went to hospital, he used to stand at the window and look out at the garden for a few minutes in the mornings.

I think he liked the garden. I think he liked me if I’m honest.

If I could have waved at him back then, I would have. Because he was always nice to me, made sure I wasn’t thirsty when we had hot summers. That wasn’t very often to be honest. But I remember, oh about sixty years ago or more, we had two summers in a row when there was hardly any rain at all and it was scorching hot every day. Mr Mulligan made sure I had plenty to drink. I used to see him at the kitchen door and he’d hand Mrs Mulligan a bucket of water or, if they were away, one of the neighbours would come out and pour water over the ground around me. It was lovely.

But when he died, Mrs Mulligan sold the house to the McCarthys. I never saw her again. I thought she might come and visit the new owners and, maybe, take a walk in the back garden. But she never did.

Maybe it was too upsetting for her what with all the memories and sadness, I suppose.
That’s deep isn’t it? For a tree?

The McCarthys moved in about, I think, fifty years ago. It was just the two of them at first, a young married couple.

They used to have friends around and sometimes they’d sit in the garden and chat and have a drink. They’d even stay in the garden late into the night. I’m not sure the neighbours were pleased because they could be quite loud. I don’t ever remember they neighbours being invited in.

The McCarthy’s are still here, though the kids are all grown up now. I suppose they’ll all move on someday too and another new family will move in.

The McCarthys played with me all right. I was big enough for them to climb. And little James – he’s a big solicitor now – he climbed highest. And he climbed most often. Hard to imagine it now when I see him in his sharp suits.

He wanted a tree house to be built on top of me but his father said no.

The girls – Mairead and Susan – they used to decorate me at Christmas time. And the youngest boy, John, he carved his name into me. It didn’t hurt.

Things like that don’t hurt us. I mean like getting branches lopped off and that kind of thing.

You probably thought it would be agony for us.

We do feel pain a little bit when it’s really windy. But funnily enough, not when we have a branch chopped off. Don’t ask me to explain it. I’m only a tree.
You’re probably surprised that I’m telling you all this. You probably think trees are, well, just stuck in the ground and growing and shedding leaves and stuff like that. Well, that’s not the way it is at all. We can think. We’re not like grass or flowers. I mean, grass just lies there and flowers are really stupid.

I don’t dislike flowers. I mean, mostly they look nice and they smell nice.

But they’re not like trees. I mean, here I am 30 metres tall or so and over there, on the left, look, over there is the apple tree and there’s a pear tree on the right. Useful.

Well, so am I actually, I’m good for the environment.
Bet you’re surprised I know that.
I know lots. Because I’ve been standing here for more than 100 years, listening. I hear all the conversations in the garden.

And I’ve seen it all. Hurricanes – I think one was called Charlie. At least, that’s what the McCarthy’s called it. I don’t know if it had an official name. But it was bad. I could feel myself creaking with the wind.

I survived – though a few around me didn’t. That’s life, I suppose. And at least we go on through our seeds, don’t we? Same as you.

It’s nice here. I’d rather be here than in a forest with a load of other trees. Don’t get me wrong. I like other trees. But I like people too. And I like squirrels and birds. Rats, no so much. It’s fun being in a garden.
Over the years I heard the kids playing, I heard them talking. And I know all their secrets. No, I won’t tell. Because they ARE secrets.

Anyway, John McCarthy owns the house now. Mrs McCarthy died and Mr McCarthy is in a home, I think. I haven’t seen him for ages. Months.

John is married to a nice girl called Anne and they have a couple of young children now, Niall and Eleanor.

I pick up the names eventually. Mind you, I’ve never really had a name. I’m just the ‘Big Tree.” It would be nice to have a proper name like people have.

The grandchildren will probably be climbing up on top of me before long.

Hope so anyway.

Right now, there’s a storm coming so I’m getting ready. It’s not so bad in the winter, because we don’t have all those leaves blowing off. So the wind blows right through us pretty easily.

Still, I don’t like storms.

My friend the sycamore tree next door fell down during Storm Ophelia. He was a nice guy. I miss him.

So I’m hoping for the best.

Fingers crossed.

I mean branches of course.

Branches crossed.

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