Becca Borawski Jenkins
A Girl Named Tree
When Tree's mother named her, she did not know the fate she was choosing. The baby was viney and strong and resisted swaddling. As years passed, her hair grew blonder in summer, amber in fall, and dark like it ought to be in winter. Her fingernails always needed cutting and the places between Tree's toes never came clean.
"How does the dirt get into your shoes?" her mother asked one day as she helped her daughter bathe.
"Probably when my feet aren't in them," Tree replied as she pulled a maple helicopter from the space behind her ear.
Her mother frowned. "When are your feet not in them?"
"When I go outside." Tree stood from tub. "I'm done now," she said. "I'm not thirsty anymore."
Tree didn't tell anyone the forest spoke to her. At first, she didn't know the trees didn't speak to everyone. Then, she did know, and still did not tell.
That was all the first tree said. A Ponderosa pine that stood below the southern ridge of the hill she and her mother lived upon.
"Hello?" Tree replied. She stared at the tree, her own feet rooting in place as the sun settled. But despite Tree's patience, the pine said nothing more that day. The next day the Ponderosa spoke again, and Tree waited patiently for the second, and then the third word. Over time, their conversations grew deeper, though the spaces between their words remained lengthy. She met the aspen and the tamarack. She held the leaves of the maple until her own fingertips tinged green. She joined them in licking the morning dew from the air as the minerals of the earth tickled the arches of her feet.
"You're late for dinner," her mother said, elbow deep in dishwater, when Tree returned to the house, tardy for the umpteenth time. "What do you do out there all afternoon?"
"I put the dirt between my toes that you hate so much," Tree replied as she stomped to her room, shoes in hand. Somehow her limbs had grown from the chubby starts of a toddler to the darting twigs of a teenager, her legs the fresh green branches that were best to be trimmed with a sharp blade before they matured in undesirable ways.
The sound of dishes slamming onto the counter wafted up to Tree's bedroom where she leaned on the window sill and exhaled into the night. The more time Tree spent outside, the more her mother resorted to housework, and the more dents in the walls, the fewer dishes they owned, and the more her own drawers seemed to be rearranged and strewn about.
Some months later, over breakfast, Tree's mother told her they were moving into town.
"I won't go," Tree replied as she pushed her cereal bowl away.
"I thought we could make a habit of visiting the museum on Wednesdays," her mother said, pushing the bowl back.
Tree leaned on her palm, her fingers pressed against her lips. Her nails so long they curled and spiraled.
Her mother gasped and stood from the table. "It's not good for you out there."
"I won't leave my friends," Tree replied.
"Your friends all live in town," her mother said, reaching for the stability of the counter behind her.
"I'm getting too old for your lies," Tree replied. She grabbed her backpack and headed for the door.
Tree set her pack on the ground and leaned against the big Ponderosa.
"I think it's time," she said.
The Ponderosa hummed and its weight leaned into her. Its trunk made of bark that fit roughly together like an unfinished jigsaw, like tectonic plates slowly shifting and sliding as it grew and reshaped, grew and reshaped. Appearing broken and dead, but deeply alive.
"Can I bring my books?" Tree asked as she unzipped her bag.
The big pine shifted again, its trunk moaning, branches creaking. Leaves from a nearby alder drifted down and tickled Tree's cheeks. "Of course," she thought. "They're made of us."
She settled down amid the pine's roots, amid the feet of the forest. Her hips sunk into the moss and dirt. She unfolded the book and leaned it on her knees. As the sun began again to settle, her mother's voice echoed down the slopes ranging west and then east, but even as her mother's voice drew nearer, the aspen leaves and the maple helicopters and the pine needles continued to fall. Until she and her books and her self were nowhere to be found and her mother's footsteps were another lifetime as they skittered past again and again through the night, sometimes far, and sometimes very near.
Becca Borawski Jenkins holds an MFA in Cinema-Television Production from USC and has short stories appearing or forthcoming in Menacing Hedge, concis, The Forge, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Jersey Devil Press and Corium. She and her husband spent the last year living off grid in a remote part of North Idaho, and now roam North America in their RV.