“Coming to Life” by Karen Ankers, read by Jake

Performed at “Crazy & Sane” on May 27, 2019. 

Today was the day.  The day so many people had tried to stop.  The day when the trees in Stanley Avenue were finally coming down.

‘About time, too,’ thought Trina, as she got ready for work.  The trees took up most of the pavement and when they shed their leaves in autumn,  the gleaming, mulching, golden heaps were treacherous.  And god only knew what damage the roots were doing to the foundations of all the houses.  No, they had to go.

There had been complaints, of course, and a petition, which she’d signed with a false name and then shredded when it arrived in the planning department.  Pierced protesters in rainbow knitted sweaters and woolly caps had been out since the early hours of this morning, forming finger-laced circles around the trunks of the trees, while hard-hatted men leaned against vans carrying gleaming equipment, and chatted and joked as they waited for the police to arrive.

Trina wondered if any of these people knew it was her who had signed the order, giving permission for the trees to come down.   She remembered joking that it was like signing a death warrant and maybe the trees should each be named after executed monarchs.  But it had to be done.  This road would look so much better by the time she got home from work tonight, even though it wouldn’t technically be an avenue any more.  People would be able to look out of their windows and see the sky.  Well, actually, they would see the houses opposite, but there would be little patches of sky beyond the rectangles of brick, and even a little sky was better than none.

The noise had been hidden by the double glazing, but as soon as she stepped outside and shut the door behind her, she heard chanting and shouting.  Three women were standing around the tree outside her house, with their hands linked. 

‘Come and join us!’ they called, as she walked past.  She shook her head, trying not to look at them.  They didn’t look like the kind of people who would understand how much she needed her job. 

And then, suddenly, she slipped.  One of her heels skidded over a pile of leaves and the next thing she knew, she was lying on the ground.  No one left their circles to help her.  Was she less important than a tree, she wondered?  So it seemed.  Slowly, she got to her feet, checking her new skirt for green stains and her tights for holes.  All the more reason to get rid of these trees. 

But then, as she brushed herself down, she heard a voice.  A tiny voice, faint and weak.  It seemed to be coming from inside her head.  She couldn’t make out what it was saying.  She shook her head to try and dislodge it.

I’ve been working too hard, she thought.  The stress is getting to me.  The police had arrived now and were marching the protesters away.  The tree outside her house was stripped of its protection, and as Trina looked at it, she gasped.  The tree was alive.  Not in an appropriately decorative, vegetable kind of way, but really alive.  Each leaf had a face.  Even the pavement was dotted with piles of fallen faces.  Some of them rolled towards her, their pain-filled eyes full of accusation.  Branches reached out and twigs turned into helplessly grasping fingers.  She stood still and closed her eyes. Maybe she had hit her head when she fell.  She reassured herself that when she looked again, she would see only the solid, tree-shaped form that had blocked the light outside her window for so many years.   But the faces were still there.  She took a tentative step towards the tree.  The faces watched.  She put out a hand to touch what had once been a leaf and tiny teeth sank into her skin.

‘Ow!’  She sucked on her bleeding finger and watched, trying to make some sense of what was happening.  She had to get to work.  It was Monday morning and there would be a huge pile of paperwork on her desk.  More forms to sign.  But the faces were watching her.  Some were angry, others terrified.

It’s just a tree, she told herself, preparing to walk past, trying not to see the tiny faces, trying not to imagine that the branches that brushed her arms were hands reaching out to be saved.   Trees weren’t alive.  Not really.  She knew that.  Ok, they grew and needed water, so yes, they were alive in a way.  But they didn’t move or speak or think, or anything.  They weren’t alive like people.  Not really alive.  They didn’t form governments and make decisions. 

The tiny voice was getting louder, pleading.  She covered her ears with her hands, but the voice was inside her head and soon it was joined by other voices.  Birds begged for their homes not to be destroyed.  Insects squealed in terror.  And as she watched, the hard-hatted men marched towards her, like an advancing army.  Uniformed in yellow vests, weapons in hand, they were eager to make the first kill.  One of them smiled and stood out of her way.  She walked past him and then turned and watched.

 One of the three women who had been protecting the first tree was on her knees, crying, her thin arms held tightly by two policemen as her body strained to reach what she ached to protect.  Out of the line of advancing men, one produced a saw.  Trina heard a scream as gleaming metal teeth sliced through the first branch.  But the scream wasn’t coming from any of the people who watched.  It was coming from the tree.  And as branches were severed from the trunk, like limbs from a torso, the screaming and sobbing faded to an anguished moan as life leaked out of each cell. Some of the protesters were praying.  

And then, like an executioner, a man raised his saw and sliced through the base of the trunk and the tree fell with a shudder.  And Trina knew the next scream came from her, from somewhere deep in her belly, from the place where children should have grown.  And when the scream faded, in the echoing silence, she heard the tree’s last breath as life drained from it, and she remembered being with her mother as she died, watching her halting chest rise and fall, and wanting so much for it never to stop. 

The helmeted army moved on to their next victim.  She ran towards them.

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