The Only Tree In The Field
– By Michael Naghten Shanks
Amber light from the low rising sun beams between milky clouds that spill across the sky. Its warm tone brightens the rain soaked bark of the only tree in the field.
I am kneeling in the long grass beside the brook: the khakis she bought me are drenched in the morning dew.
I hold her heart in my soil-speckled hands. It is the last piece of her that I will bury.
This was where we first met. I was climbing the tree when she appeared, like a bud bursting up through the soil.
“Bet you won’t jump in from there?” she said.
From my angle all I could see was her curly ginger hair, freckled forehead, and chestnut brown eyes.
The stream was only over a foot deep, but I wanted to impress her. I broke my ankle and she and I became inseparable.
We had our first kiss behind the tree. We carved our love into it before we knew it was a cliché. We got married when I inherited the house. We never had children, but we did go through our fair share of cats and dogs over the years. We built a nice little garden and grew everything we could to sustain ourselves.
I found her here the first time she had a stroke, and the second. Last night was the final time. Since then I’ve been planting pieces of her, hoping she would grow again.
Michael Naghten Shanks is a writer from Dublin.
Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNShanks
– By Emily Cross
It is often said that when you are about to die, your life flashes before your eyes. In my case however, it was more of a question of many lives than one in particular.
I have existed for a hundred lifetimes but for only a hundred brief moments have I been able to reach out to him, across the divide between the end of that life and the beginning of the next. For this is our eternal punishment – my never ending cycle of ignorant life and his never ending lack of it with only a brief crossover between, allowing time for only a touch and maybe a kiss before the next life begins.
It is snowing today, although it is spring. The white blue slant of light cuts through the dark shadows of the room, illuminating the rough plaster of my bedroom ceiling. For fifty years, I have laid in this bed, every single night staring at this same ceiling, my husband beside me snoring as I listened to a painful silence which resided deep inside of me that I never understood – until now.
It is always in my final moments of life, that the curtain is drawn back on my memories and I finally remember him – love and pain intertwined tying our souls forever together.
It will be today, that this life will end and that we will meet again.
Tilting my head to one side, resting my cheek against the smooth pillow, I can see the soft clumps of snow falling through the gap of my curtains. The world is coated in a pure white, with hints of green and bark peeking from beneath.
Closing my eyes, my mind is full of white. There was much more of it back then in the wilderness – more beautiful and deadly . . .
I remember that night sky – a cascade of colours as the aurora lights shimmered above the black forest. I tightened my grip on my father’s gun; its weight was a comfort in my hands although I could barely feel it.
It was so cold.
It was then I remember that I heard the wolves singing. Their death song seemed to make even the trees sway and dance.
I tried to quicken my pace but it felt like every limb was weighted – I stumbled then fell.
I knew I had to move. ‘Get up and go’ my mind screamed, but my body said ‘no’ and that voice grew quiet and still.
I thought of my parents. I thought of Anya. I even thought of Sasha – and wondered would he feel guilt or relief when they found me?
I didn’t feel as cold now. My breathing, once panicked now grew more calm and slow and my mind drifted away from the present, my world beginning to slip away. . .
I lay on my back now, I must have moved at some point but I don’t remember how – all I remember is that night sky going on forever. . .
It was then that I remembered.
He is coming.
It was there on that bed of snow, between the slowing of my heartbeat and freezing of my body that I finally know myself again. I am no longer the young man, tricked into the woods, soon to become prey – I am only his. I feel the life seep from my bones, as I watch the heavens colour the sky.
He is here.
His lips gently press against my frozen lips, parting them slightly. He steals my breath away with the smooth feel of his kiss. Gently he pulls away, and I open my eyes to meet his – obsidian black of eternity, they peer into my soul and I know I am his in this life and the next . . .
I feel my chest restrict, and the pull of the next life as my final breath escapes in a whispered farewell.
Quickly he leans in again, stealing a final kiss before I am truly gone. . .
My cheeks are wet with tears.
I am no longer with him. I am still here, lying on a soft bed of covers and pillows watching the snow fall. I can hear the hushed whispers of the doctor speaking to my daughter in the hall. She worries that I am in pain, if only she knew the cause of my pain – an eternity of stolen moments and separations.
I can hear her move toward my bedroom, away from the doctor, her footsteps rapping against the hard oak floor. I wish I had the energy to wipe my cheeks dry, but my hands remain still – resting uselessly on the decorative duvet.
I hear the pain in her voice, as she plucks a tissue from the box by my bed and gently wipes my tears. The tissue trembles against my skin – she tries to still her shaking hands. I continue to look out the window, pretending not to know her grief. She leans in and presses a brief peck against my cheek before whispering an excuse to leave the room.
Even after she has left, I can smell her perfume . . .
I remember that smell of perfume, lingering in the air. Our bed was unmade and messed. He didn’t even have the consideration to make it. I leaned against the wall for support. He didn’t care if I knew about her or not. He didn’t care at all.
I ripped his necklace from my neck and threw it on our bed. It was a birthday present. The party was still in full swing downstairs – everyone getting splendidly drunk in spite of prohibition. He didn’t think I noticed when he slipped away, only a moment after her. It wasn’t the first time but it was the most painful. I don’t know why.
Without realising it, I had crossed the room and had reached out and touched the sheets of the bed. It was too much – all too much.
All too much.
I went to the bathroom, locking the door and began to fill the bath. I lit some candles and watched them sway, as I stripped off the dress he had bought me.
I remember now it was so easy to let go then – much easier than times before. I let the taps run and the water rise as I let myself sink below the surface. It is here encased in the warm scented water, that I finally remember myself.
He is coming.
I am no longer her – that young woman, betrayed by her husband – I am only his. I feel myself struggle as I begin to choke on the water and make sure to press against the sides of the bath to keep under the surface. I wanted this to end. My vision begins to dim and fade. The struggle leaves my body and my mind finally feels ease.
He is here.
I feel his gentle touch as he traces my cheek. I close my eyes, savouring it. Time is running out.
There is no water now, there is only us.
I feel my chest restrict, and the pull of the next life as my final moment escapes into this watery grave. I cannot whisper, yet I know he hears me.
“I love you”
Then I am again truly gone. . .
I think it has stopped snowing now. I can hear the grandchildren laughing in happy ignorance outside, as their mother bangs around in the kitchen – trying to remain busy while she waits for me to leave.
It is all about the waiting now.
She will wait in dread, while I will wait in anticipation – not for this life to end but for him to finally come.
I feel small in this bed now, engulfed by its size. Its vast space almost feels suffocating and hot, although for more than ten years, one side of this bed has been empty and cold. The bed is too much, too big for someone so little, too big for me . . .
I am lying in a cot, cramped between two still warm bodies. The sisters do not know yet that I will soon follow my brother and sister from this hellish place.
Even here, I can still hear the constant bustle of the Calcutta streets – it had been our family’s home since I could remember. I was the only one left and soon I would be gone too.
The agonised moans coughs of the neighbouring beds which were constant in our time here finally quieten, everything growing silent. My time is ending and he is coming.
I am no longer the young boy, begging on the streets, starving to death and suffocated with disease – I am only his. I feel the breathe leave my heavy lungs, as my hearing grows more silent and my coughing stills.
He is here.
I watch as he approaches me, the shadows pulling into his existence. He leans down and I feel his cool breath on my cheeks and lips. There is no more hurt or agony now, there is only us.
His hand touches my forehead, stroking my fevered mind into calmness, then he kisses me on the lips. It is gentle and soft, like when I felt my mother’s silk.
I know I am his in this life and the next forever.
There is the pull again of the next life as with a shuttering cough, my final breathe escapes into the heat of this never ending season. I cannot say farewell. . .
Everything is distant now.
I know that my family is here with me, but I am no longer with them.
Whispers are fading, growing quieter.
From my window I see the snow is beginning to melt and disappear.
The small space of my bedroom is full now, – people holding my useless hands and stroking thin hair.
My life is fading brightly as the body begins to die and my soul prepares.
The familiar is becoming strange and everything begins to depart.
He is coming.
It is here on my plush bed, that I am no longer an old woman, looking at the snow, waiting to die – I am now only his. I begin to feel the life seep from my useless body, as I watch the snow melt from the world outside.
He is here.
I feel his gentle touch as he traces my wrinkled cheek. It was only us now.
His lips gently press against mine, before the next farewell begins.
We are eternally bound to live this cycle of love and separation till the heavens cease.
Closing my eyes, I feel my heart has stopped beating and my lungs have stilled.
Yet, I am not afraid, I know he is here with me.
He will never leave me.
Neither in this life nor in the next.
For truly, my lover is most eternally constant.
Death always is.
Emily Cross is a pseudonym aspiring to be a published and (hopefully well) paid author. By day, she is an unnamed mild-mannered if not neurotic PhD student. By night, she is Emily Cross, a blog hopping chocoholic with delusions of literary grandeur, who procrastinates her time through tweeting, blogging and posting random thoughts across the blogosphere. You can find her most recent ramblings on her blog.