Leaf and Branch
When she was fourteen, my daughter became a tree. She didn’t just turn overnight—suddenly appearing, like the Christmas tree we set up in the living room every year. She turned slowly, beginning with her skin.
My wife and I were in the kitchen one Saturday morning in March, the table spread with newspapers and the accoutrements of coffee. We heard a shriek from the downstairs bathroom. I beat my wife to the stairs and thundered down, my heart left somewhere in the kitchen. I stopped in front of the bathroom door, caught between needing to know what was happening and not wanting to burst in upon my daughter half-dressed. My wife pushed her way into the bathroom.
I waited at the foot of the stairs, sitting hunched on the bottom step and staring gloomily at the pattern of lint on the hall carpet. Sounds of voices came to me from the bathroom—crying and lamenting from my daughter, steady reassurance from my wife. What on Earth was going on?
Finally, my wife emerged from the bathroom. I stared a question.
“It’s all right,” said my wife. “Just girl trouble.”
“Jesus,” I thought.
The skin on my daughter’s back went first, turning ridged and woody, and quickly becoming bark-like overnight. She didn’t want me to see her skin, but it was impossible to hide her hair and eyebrows as they changed colour—from auburn to green. After a week, delicate leaves were curling over her head. She refused to go to school, and she barely touched her phone.
She grew taller, sprouting up and straightening out. Her arms and legs grew thin, and her fingers and toes rooty and long. She had the look of a young mountain ash, I thought. I said this to my wife.
“Roan,” said my wife, (pedantically, I thought).
“Roan, then,” I said.
“God you look weird,” said Danny, her younger brother, who had paused in the doorway, skateboard in hand.
“I think she looks beautiful,” said my wife.
We were gathered in the living room. My daughter stood tall in the centre of the room. She spread her arms, silvery-grey, lifting them towards the ceiling, nearly touching it. “I want to be outside,” she said.
“We are going to have to tell your grandparents,” murmured my wife. “Maybe if I sent them a picture, they would understand better.”
My daughter’s face had grown smooth and papery, and, well, wooden; it had slimmed down, growing more elongated. Her expression remained fixed much of the time, but her eyes didn’t change—bright and blue and curious.
“They won’t understand,” she said.
“Perhaps not,” said my wife, patiently, “not right away, but they’ll get used to the idea. And anyway,” my wife added brightly, “you make a striking tree.”
It’s now passed the middle of September. My daughter says less these days. Her foliage has grown spectacular with the advance of autumn—green paling to a delicate yellow, flecked with red. I always talk to her when I’m in the yard. She plants herself here and there, moving from one spot to another, depending on her mood, and I carefully mow around her if she roots herself in the middle of the yard. I don’t always see her at first, but I usually hear her, softly singing or rustling her leaves, even if the wind isn’t blowing. And sometimes I’ll come outside to find my wife standing beneath her branches, embracing the slender trunk and murmuring, one cheek pressed to the smooth bark.
My wife is better at this than me.
“Don’t worry so much,” she says to me. “It’s going to be fine.”
So I try not to worry. My daughter is getting sleepier as the year turns. But I have a sad feeling when I think about her out there in the yard, especially if I wake in the night. The bedroom window is always open, even if the nights are cold. I lie and listen, my wife beside me, still as a stone. Tears prickle my eyes as I think of my daughter maybe going away forever. One day, I’ll come outside, and she might be simply gone, or she might plant herself permanently, withdrawing forever into a reaching stillness I only partly understand.
But for now, I talk to her, and I make sure she gets the best water—a special compost tea I make with a recipe I found on the Internet. And she seems happy enough—swaying and bending as she grows more and more accustomed to her new form. As long as she’s happy—that’s what I tell myself
I keep an eye on my son these days, though, as he crashes around the house and sometimes falls into moody silences. He’s just twelve. They say girls mature quicker than boys, but who can tell.
He has published nonfiction with Hippocampus Magazine, and his short fiction has appeared in The Penmen Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and The Flash Fiction Press. He considers coffee a food group, and he loves to walk and read, usually at the same time.