Among The Wonders by Frances Gapper
I am a fox who is counsellor to a tree. Because unlike other foxes, I reach out. Spread the love and understanding. Yawn and scratch fleabites, but all the same I’m listening. Go on, I say. Unburden yourself, tree (the tree has a given name of course, but it’s long and hard to pronounce) you’ll feel better for it.
Trees are usually serene, but this one’s lost balance and is on the verge of a nervous crash. It spits bitter sap: hate woman-in-house. She’s all right, I think but tactfully don’t say aloud. Sometimes she leaves chicken carcass on doorstep. Buys free-range organic chicken, donates the free-range bones. Very nice they are too.
Tree continues: Give apple after apple, and what do I get in return? Nothing, only mystic gobbledegook from her weirdo friend. Should never have stayed here, wish I’d left long ago (I open my mouth, close it again). It’s myself I can’t forgive…
I think of the stars and how they distance all our troubles. Among wonders I’ve seen: a red fox moon tumbling in the dark, starry clusters like branch-hung apples. At night even the tree shuts up.
Tree twitches violently, shaken from within. Squeezing my chest. Women and trees experience different varieties of heart attack, says a poster in the GP surgery. Squirrel jumps from an overhanging branch to garage roof, sniffs dropped apples. Whisks along fence to kitchen door.
Just thought you might like to know, it says, fox and tree are huggermugger backstabbers. Whispering things about you. Plotting. It jumps, twirls, lands facing other way. Re-reverses. And by the way, tree has back-up plan, if you kill it. Roots reach under house, ever heard of subsidence?
OK, I say, thanks for the word. Now shoo!
Squirrel continues: Old people who live alone are terrifyingly vulnerable. It worries me. You need a friend, a protector. I’ll move in with you.
No. I bang the door. But whenever I look out, he’s still there.
My tree has reached the end of its useful life: time for the chop. Need to save it from vindictive carers and other torments of old age. Shouldn’t take long because it’s skinny, two-pronged. I fetch a rusty saw from the garage and bite into rind. Tougher job than I’d expected. Red sap everywhere. The tree is screaming. Hush, hush, I say.
Doorbell rings: an aphid-blighted gent. Says he has viewing appointment, then topples over. Roots rotten or gnawed through by little furry beasties.
Fate-stricken sweethearts lie together on cracked concrete. One hugs the other moans, wind in boughs telling tales of young lovers who met ah too late.
Passer-by stops and mobile-ises a tree removal firm. Flashing lights. Votaries of an ancient religion stretcher him off to Death’s temple. Extract sap from my wounds to preserve for use in ritual sacrifices. Bandage legs and give tetanus injection. Question and call dear, make notes on clipboard.
Old woman in garden tosses her leafy hair strung with apples.
Frances Gapper’s three story collections are In the Wild Wood, The Tiny Key and Absent Kisses. Her story ‘Farmer’s Wife’ was shortlisted for the Desperate Literature prize 2019 and published in the booklet Eleven Stories. ‘Plum Jam’ won FlashBack Fiction’s 2018 microfiction contest and appeared in Best Microfiction 2019. Her flashes have been published in The Cafe Irreal, The Citron Review, New Flash Fiction Review, Spelk, Meniscus, Ellipsis, Wigleaf and Litro.