Psychopomp Magazine Fall 2013 - Page 12


by Kelly Lynn Thomas

One dry, summer afternoon, Rises Tallest reached out his branches to touch Brightest Red, the sugar maple who had been his partner in shading their corner of the humans’ park for almost two centuries. Oaks and maples couldn’t cross-pollinate, of course, but the nearest trees of each of their kind stood a mile away, across the park’s expanse, and Rises Tallest and Brightest Red had always been fond of each other.

When Rises Tallest touched Brightest Red, her leaves felt dry, autumn crisp, though the days still grew longer.

“Red,” he whispered across the path that separated their trunks, “What’s wrong?”

Brightest Red replied with a creaking moan, “I feel weak. I am so thirsty. It hasn’t rained in so long.”

“Your roots reach as deep as mine, and there is water there,” Rises Tallest said.

“There is something wrong with my roots,” Brightest Red replied. “I have stretched them as far as they will go, and I feel no water.”

Rises Tallest rustled his leaves.

Although the human footpath separated their trunks, beneath it they had wrapped their roots around each other. Rises Tallest pulled water from the soil and moved it through his roots to Brightest Red’s. He asked the sky for rain, but the sun shone on.

Brightest Red had not been feeling well all summer, but neither tree was a young sapling anymore, and Rises Tallest had his bad spells, too. For a time he gave her all the water he could pull from the soil, and it helped a little. Some color came back to her leaves, sap began flowing again to her smallest branches. But the effect wore off, and her roots and branches began to crack.

They both knew that Brightest Red was dying.

It took the rest of the summer for Brightest Red to fade. Her leaves cooked in the hot sun, her branches dried out, and her roots began to rot. Rises Tallest kept her as comfortable as possible until the last of her sap hardened one day at the end of August, just before dawn spilled orange light over the city.

Rises Tallest clutched Brightest Red’s roots to his and shook off many of his leaves. The other trees in the park, the elms and hickories and gingkos, shook off their leaves, too. The robins and sparrows who had rested on Brightest Red’s branches sang songs for her for three days. The trees spoke of Brightest Red’s life, and lamented that come fall, the park would be dim without her beautiful, fiery leaves. Rises Tallest shared their laments in his heart, but said nothing.

When Rises Tallest’s leaves began to lose their color, one of the sparrows who used to nest in Brightest Red’s branches came to him. “Sugar maples all over the city have died,” the sparrow said, fluffing his feathers out. “The woodpeckers are talking about it.”

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