The Walnut Tree
There is something radically callow about city girls on summer holidays.
Tangible entitlement perfumes the air whenever they visit the country. It demands reverence upon arrival, the bend of a knee, if you will. Nature’s, people’s, whoever’s. With no care in the world nor a task on their schedules, they starve for isolated freedom, and feel so deserving of it, too. As if their privileged lives have been so exhausting to live.
I call it a day to remember. Showers of warmth bring pollen-drunk beetles into a waltz. Clouds melt into each other, smooth layers of whipped cream gliding on top of a cake. Sultry provocation hangs in the airy bubble. Thoughts of honey pool water at my mouth. An ominous adventure assembles across the horizon and I drink it all in.
My feet dangle off a never-bending willow tree, toes playing restlessly; back and forth, up and down. A greedy lungful draw in vivacious rainbows of fragrances, the finest of nectars. Caressing sunbeams mirror themselves in the river below me, bewildered and swollen, even in the ripest of months. A wide daffodil meadow lays beneath me, blanketing acres of yet-uncultivated land. High as I may have climbed, my eyes still meet not nature’s finest gardens’ end. Butterscotch florettes play a rhythm of serendipity and chance. Off they sway across the field, to further beautify this day. They go anywhere the wind blows, arrive nowhere in particular. A spectacular verve, really.
From way above the lacey tree, a majestic landscape begs to unfold further. I know the place like the back of my hand. It is steep and flat, slippery and gliding; not quite the attraction you’d pay to visit. Swamps rest down below, too, luxuriant in reed, horsetail and crumbs of fallen rocks. Back in the day, local folks bestowed the marshland to globetrotters for picnics and such. They would happily take the land, as rich men do, and nestle down there; drink a few beers, fish themselves a fat carp just in time for dinner. Their kids would come with, but every so often. Notoriously into themselves, airs rarely mingle with us common boys. Through habit, we grew to steer clear of them as well. Reminiscing is dull, pointless, I reckon. Nothing’s left of the place, anyway.
I dare not be bothered on a day like this. Not by the mosquitos serenading too close to my ear for comfort, nor the naggy leather camera strap sweating at my nape. I take the burden off my neck, find relief. Skin inhales with rush, shoulders loosen up. A meaty branch rests between my thighs, my feet locked beneath it in a skillful knot.
Too far for my eyes to see, yet just enough for my curious lens, I discern a pair of white summer sandals in one of the photos I took. Bare legs and what seems to be the hem of a plaid dress peek out of the rare papyrus bushes dripping around the marsh. A stranger.
Better yet, a girl.
It’s peculiar, you see. A picture won’t ever see what meets the eyes. A visual, on the other hand, that materialized, factual state of being, will forever mummify a moment the way it is. Won’t add anything to it, won’t take anything from it.
With restless fingers, the toy is triggered, demanding answers. My breaths deepen, quicken. Whoever the girl is, she is but mine to see. The idea of it sounds so exclusive all of a sudden. Dancing around the inside of my lens, my eyes urge to see more than what’s offered. I yearn to be impressed with what I find, the unwise fifteen-year-old that I am. Wise or otherwise, find I do.
Nestled in a bed of thick roots, vines, and moss-coated rocks, there she lies, the epitome of tamed opulence. Sophistication oozes out of her pores and it is effortless, poignant. Her knees fall loose to the side, one atop the other. Her hair, blonde and cotton-like, levitates of its own accord. Eyes, piercing gems darted at the sky, blink for shield in spite of the imposturous shine. Parted and juicy, her lips drench in crimson hues. Dazed at the sight, I assume they taste of blue fruits; blackberries or the darkest of cherries. Frozen in a half-smile, the tips of her pearly teeth nibble on the silky lip flesh. In her right hand rests a branch, soaked in nutty treats. A luscious walnut tree topples over her slender frame. It grants just enough exposure for my liking, not enough cover for hers. Fractions of sunshine spill down her fair skin. She is translucent, ghostly.
At my silent command, a lively breeze lifts sheets of dress fabric in whispering burbles. Magnificent motion. Worthy of all the sighs in the world.
Clandestine, my eyes now observe something else rather than plain female anatomy. My fingers tremble over the overused shell in my hand at the sight. Several more shots make it into my private gallery.
Peculiar fires ignite inside me- the allure and wrongness of it, I suppose- put out in vain by storms that stem from logic. I am a stranger to her, I realize, but she is no longer one to me. It is a pitiful delusion, this self-pardoned justification of my intrusion. And be that as it may, I yearn to know what kissing the girl would be like. Touching her. Occupying the muddy seat next to her. Somewhere along the lines, between knitted clouds and the youngest adult thoughts to ever exist, the sin of longing is born.
Her cleavage is blush, a baby powder pink. Bulging lilac veins embroider iridescent skin like magic. Breasts, perky and lush, peek out just enough to feed me a forbidden illusion. Her legs are smooth and sticky, gazelle’s. I assume they will eventually grow into their rounded, feminine shape. Her thighs- goodness- pale fields of skin exposed to the heat and, unbeknownst to her, my eyes as well.
I shouldn’t be curious about those things, but I cannot help it, either. In no-man’s land, the girl unwinds herself to sleep, her bobbing foot tempered alas. I dare envy her luscious, toasty trance. More than that, I need a taste of it.
Fusion of pleasure and angst fill my belly whole. Skin shivers, muscles clench to pain, my body feeds on rushing blood. I know where this is going, it’s happened before. A temperate growth roots between my legs, halts at my buttocks. It tingles and tickles- not in a physical way- only at the sight of her. Unnerving pants leave my body, waiting for no consent. Excruciating awareness grows on. The girl plays an involuntary role in my game of muse, madness, and grinding. Snapping myself out of the thrill is a daunting struggle, as is easing my breaths. The girl is so clueless of my presence, vulnerable. Gullibility leaves me feeling all the more eclectic. A wicked little appetite builds beyond arousal, begs to be unchained. Aesthetically showered in temptation, the girl sleeps under the walnut tree.
Despicable, immoral, my consciousness scolds. I could care less about epithets. Alone, aroused, and shunned from scruples, or judgment for that matter, I devour the fantasy like a fine meal. I bedew my lips and think of hers. The burden of blues and untrained lust sets me ablaze. Ponderous pleasure stings against my insides, a collage of unfamiliar sensations awoken. Up my thighs it travels, the hastening surge: tightening, bending me out of shape. Hanging for dear life, feet cramping in their tangle, the physical fruit of my sadly unearned labor transpires into unscrewed jolts. I am catapulted elsewhere.
Puzzle pieces of relish and regret burn down to ash. The hype doesn’t stick for long. The thrill of it exhales.
Quietness becomes me the moment I set foot home. I salute my parents, bathe, change into clean clothes, and sit down for dinner. The sun had no mercy on me. I feel not peckish nor exhausted; rather, wasted and floundering. The heavy burden of a full day’s work in the country does that to you sometimes.
Words fail me that evening, my thoughts do not. You can complain about work, the weather, or what-not-have-you, and all to no good cause. School’s out, the day’s work is done, and not much else happens in the meantime. Old news is old news, no matter how you read it. I remind myself of the day gone, the guilt of it expired, behind me. Relieving my earlier mischief is a private affair. Poking the bear at the table is no fun, and neither is answering pesky questions. I know better than to rat myself out. There is priceless comfort in the idea of having orchestrated a memory all of my own.
Daffodil meadows gleam outside the kitchen window, stained by dusk’s richest palette. The day sinks into the deepest of nights. I capitulate soon, dishonored in my surrender, swaddled in naivety I have yet to outgrow.
The house is empty when I wake. My parents are nowhere to be found. There is no note on the table, no dog barks outside. Not even the mailman showed face for his ceremonial round; his sole mission unaccomplished. A voice summons me from somewhere inside the house, a raspy texture rings through it. I follow the urging pitch and it leads me to the kitchen, where the radio tells its morning story, over seasoned with menace and spite. Well, the way most news come these days.
‘What was to be the busiest summer season this town had seen in years, has now become an ominous absurdity forever shrouded in tragedy.’
A woman walks into my window frame, dressed in black. Wearing shadows for faces, a handful of others follow down the road. My mother steps in view last, a grieving woman on her hand. Suited in the darkest of darks, she matches the rest to perfection. A bouquet of daffodils shivers in her hands. Hefty tears wash her face clean.
It is the loveliest, saddest thing I have ever seen.
‘…Town residents gathered around the mock cobblestone center to mourn…’
A police vehicle drives up the hill, then halts. Inside it argue two officers, uniformed and stoic. A third man steps out of the car, screaming for dear life. There is no uniform on him, but rich man’s clothes. His cheap threats shoot like bullet blanks at no target. They won’t really kill you, the blanks, they just hurt.
Same thing with threats.
‘….a young life lost too soon’.
The radio lady breathes in.
Quietness sounds before she speaks again.
‘In the early hours of Wednesday, third of July, and after a whole day’s search, police recovered the deceased body of Paula Rivers, a fifteen-year-old girl vacationing with her family at their holiday residence. According to reports, Paula first left her home yesterday morning, on her way to explore a former picnic area, located just a few miles outside her home…’
Monday was yesterday. I know because I checked.
She looked lovely. I know because I was there.
My head slumps beheaded in defeat, eyes wetter with every blink. Electric balls of pain claw up and down my throat and chest in fury; thumping beast wilding on the inside.
‘….our sources allege the teenager had survived through the night, before passing this morning, on the way to the hospital. Limited dispatch in the area made it impossible for police forces to access the area until several hours later. Despite the Rivers family already pushing for accountability, autopsy is yet to determine whether Paula’s life could have been saved had a timelier response ensued.’
Hearing sounds is unbearable, cruel. I looked without seeing, read all the wrong signs. Beneath my palms trembles the sink, sharp recollections reassembling on their own.
It all comes together in thunders. The police, the mourning outside my window; my mother missing from the house; my mother wearing black on the road. I recall the willow and the walnut trees, now livelier and scarier than ever; the deep marshes and rocks; emerald veins and wide open eyes and bobbing feet; her cherry flavored, blood-dipped lips.
‘Police note there were no evidence of foul play on scene…’
A gallery of photos doesn’t count as foul play- nor evidence- if there is no crime to be solved, pried into. Dirty deeds suffer consequences, dirty thoughts do not.
‘…initial medical exams estimated the cause of death to be a severe head trauma, caused by a sudden fall.’
Ignorance is a bliss until it kills you.
Ask any man, woman, and child around here, and they’ll all tell you the same thing. You never, ever climb a walnut tree. That is the end of it. God-given countrymen like to tell stories of their cousins and brothers and uncles and grand-grandfathers, all of whom died harvesting walnuts. It is not the kind of tree you’d trust your life with. Make no mistake, a walnut’s bark is crust, thick waterslides, an almost given slippery slope, a misstep towards death. Climbing the tree is easier than descending it. Its branches are hundred years old, conniving in their resistance, resilience. Walnuts swing more than they stand stills. Nature’s finest troublemakers, with a temper that rarely forgives.
You are a fool to think you can outsmart a walnut tree. It pleases itself, selfish in its habitat. It compromises on nothing, wants nothing in return. A walnut tree stands alone, drinks alone, grows alone. A walnut tree only thrives when left alone.