Saturday Short: The Island with the Dead Tree

photograph of an island in the middle of the bay with a tree that looks dead in the center

Everyone gets desperate enough at some time to consider swimming out to the island with the dead tree.

Children whisper about it at night, under covers, with windows and doors locked tight, daring one another to swim out to the island. One might even dip their toes in the water the next day to the background of worried tittering from their friends that sounds like bushtits slipping between the hedges. But even when the summer sun beats down making the sand on the beach too hot for comfort and they swim in the bay, splashing each other with the still cold water, none of them swim out to the island. And they stay out of its shadow.

Young ones, not children and not yet old enough to have the cares of the world etched on their faces, talk about the island. After heartbreak, or failure, or deep sorrow that pools in the marrow of their veins. Sometimes one dives into the bay, fully clothed and swims mindlessly towards the island, but their heart turns cold and their eyes clear before they touch the rocky shore. They come back, or at least most of them do.

Adults are more reckless and careless, throwing around the island with the dead tree in conversation like a verbal tick or curse. They think nothing of it, but neither do they pause for long at the shore staring at the island like the younger ones do. Because there is a strange pull in their bellies at the sight of the island. They do not talk about this.

Old ones do not talk about the island. There is nothing more to say that hasn’t been said, no more dares to make than have already been made. They slip out of their houses that no longer contain multitudes in clothes that are more barren than threaded at night, when the moon is half-full, and they come to the shore. And sometimes, one swims all the way to the island, amazed their limbs are still strong enough to fight the tide and the cold.

And every once in a while, one will place their hands on the rocks and climb on the shore to face the tree and ask of it what they will.

And these ones do not come back. But they leave behind a blossom on the tree that is dead that can be seen from shore, though no one talks about that. But everyone gets desperate enough at some time.

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