Place: Sandra Arnold

The Seventh Son

When my mother’s new boyfriend moved in I kept out of his way by hiding in the garden of a derelict house. The garden was full of trees, but the one I loved most was a hundred year old macrocarpa called Septimus. The lightning that killed the other six macrocarpas had sliced off one of Septimus’s branches, leaving a gaping hole. This was enlarged over the years by birds, small animals, wind and rain, until it extended down the entire length of the trunk ending in a deep hollow beneath the roots.

When things got bad at home I’d hide in the hollow among the bones, until the boyfriend gave up looking for me. After Septimus signalled the all-clear I’d climb onto a branch and watch the swallows dive and dart while Septimus told me his stories. By the time I returned home the boyfriend and my mother were too drunk to notice.

Septimus told me about birds he’d given a home to, boys he’d flung off branches for stealing eggs, robbers who’d hidden jewels in his hollow trunk. When they returned to retrieve the stash they found the hollow was deeper than they’d realised. Some gave up, but some climbed in and slithered down to the bottom. When they tried to climb back out they got tangled up in roots.

Most people avoided walking past the garden at dusk because they said the noise of the wind in the trees didn’t sound like wind in the trees. The boyfriend said only morons believed that. I told him nobody could accuse him of having an imagination. After that little confrontation I fled to the garden. When Septimus saw my bruised eyes and bleeding nose, he drew his breath from the depths of the earth and held me close. He sang of kererū and tūī and bellbirds and bees and moonlight and possums and the smell of rain.

When his song ended he outlined his plan. All I had to do was to sit on the fork between two branches. When the boyfriend came looking for me he would shine his torch around the garden. He would see me sitting in the tree and yell at me to get down. He hated to be ignored. He would leap over the fence and start climbing the tree. In the shadows he wouldn’t see the hole. Septimus said he would do the rest.

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Sandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing and is the author of five books. Her most recent, a novel, ‘The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell,’(Mākaro Press, NZ) was published in August, and a flash fiction collection, ‘Soul Etchings’ (Retreat West Books, UK) published in June. Her awards include finalist in the 2018 Mslexia Flash Fiction Competition and the 2018 University of Sunderland Short Story Award.www.sandraarnold.co.nz

Senior Fiction & Features Editor – Steven John