I’ve come to love the silence. It makes me think of warm blankets in morning sun. How I wish I could climb into bed.
I have been standing in this same spot for 156 years. Not many maple trees live as long as I have. I suppose my longevity is part of the curse. I do not mean that metaphorically. I was cursed by a middling sorcerer, in fact, and turned from a young woman into a tree. Mercland Masters, the small, greedy banker of Linton, cast a spell on me after refusing his marriage proposal. It was the fourth refusal I had given, but it stuck. He planted me at the bottom of a steep hill, the intersection where his mansion’s winding lane met the highway linking Linton and Bricktown. My crown would always be in his view, and all of the rain and snow above would slosh into my roots and drown me.
It was my curse to live this way, near the road and in front of a stand of rough-scrabble, ill-mannered spruce trees.
I had plenty of room to grow then. I spread my limbs long and wide, and in the autumn, my leaves became a thousand rubies, glinting in the lowering sun. I learned the secrets of the universe, the handshake of thunder, the conspiring wink of electricity’s eye— all knowledge I gained through my roots winding deeper into the clay soil. Five years after he had planted me here, I whispered my own curse through the wind in my leaves. I saw Mercland’s mansion struck by lightning and knew that he had burned.
My name is Mercy. I was 18 when I became this majestic maple. At that time, the highway was a dirt road traversed by horses and buggies not more than five feet from my trunk. My limbs stretched over the road and travelers who touched my leaves received good luck. Later, the steam shovels came and went, leaving a paved two-lane rural route and then a four-lane state highway just twenty yards in front of me; for decades it shook my limbs. I wept when I saw teens careening to their deaths on drunken joy rides. I shimmered when I witnessed good deeds as one fellow helped another at the side of the road. As best I could, I blessed the hitchhikers, commuters, and family station wagons, if they moved slow enough to catch a falling leaf.
(I ignored the impossible, ignoble spruces. They died off as decades of road salt seeped into the soil. I do not miss their scratching voices behind my back.)
Twenty years ago, this was a honking, screeching, hissing highway and mad cars bustled between Linton and Bricktown. The paved road has long since crumbled. The sooty diesel breath from trucks and buses no longer coat my leaves in summer. No one lives in Linton or Bricktown anymore. I am grateful for this and for the silence. I can feel the rings inside me swelling, sighing, giving way. My roots crack the clay. I am tired and ready for bed.