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.
A petty, middling sorcerer–the worst kind! I love this opening image, the conversational tone. You do such a great job of painting character with so few strokes–the banker, the spruce trees. And this is simply gorgeous writing: “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.”
Meg, as I finished reading this, I looked out my window to see a ruby-leafed maple tree waving in the breeze. I love the legend you have woven here! Your description of Mercy as a tree (the rubies!) and the secrets that she learns about the universe are exquisite. The “rough-scrabble, ill-mannered spruce trees” made me smile. I was so worried that someone would cut her down as the road expanded, and I was glad to find that instead, she was left to her silence.
I agree with Jennifer and Silver about the language and tone. I also appreciated the idea of falling leaves as blessings and will appreciate that idea more in the coming weeks. The personification of the spruce trees and the petty sorcerer brought some tension to this otherwise elegiac tale of a woman held stationary by a spiteful man.
(Hi, Meg. How are you? I wanted to bury this note to you. I wanted to say that I hope the new avatar means you’re the new yeah write editor. And if I’m completely off, please disregard.)
What a wonderful, creative story. I was glad that she got her revenge on Mercland. And I love the way she weaves her story through time and all the changes it brought. I also love the mythology of the natural world you wove into this (the handshake of thunder, the ignoble spruces, the blessings of leaves). Gorgeous work. 🙂
Beautifully done, Meg. The “middling” sorcerer is a brilliant creation and as always your words sing. I also love the image you chose for this story. Altogether a lovely read.
It’s so impressive how you manage to convey such a detailed back-story and such a mixture of emotions without there being any sense of clutter or rush. The story simply “unfurls” completely naturally and poignantly, given her weariness and longing for bed. Another pleasure to read 🙂
I can’t quite get a grip of the voice. It’s somewhere between medieval and fantastic, a degree above the fantasy of Game of Thrones, yet bellow Lord of the Rings. It’s fascinating! Congrats!
Don’t you just hate being cursed by a middling sorcerer and turned into a tree? I know I do. 🙂