Willow’s Way: Part 2

Tayde McDonald, Creative Writer

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There once was a weeping widow. She remained in a tiny cottage surrounded by a field of trees, where she cried all day long. No matter the day, season, or year, the widow always seemed to be sobbing about something.

One day she grabbed one of her dozens of handkerchiefs and a large basket and left her house. At dawn she went into the field of trees and picked enough berries to fill her basket to the brim. The fruit she collected usually lasted her about a week, that way she could last as long as possible without having to go outside again for food, or for anything else. She couldn’t stand being in the outside world for too long. The only fruit she picked were berries from a nearby tree.

She approached the tree and began roughly yanking fruit off of it. She wiped her tearful eyes as she did so.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” said the berry tree. “I’d appreciate it if you’d pick my fruit more gently. You’re hurting me.”

She tore another berry off of the branch and glared at her. “You think this hurts, tree? You don’t know pain, you’ll never know what it feels like to lose the on you love, the one that makes up your entire life! You get to live for centuries, but humans only have a few decades on them, sometimes less than that! The pain I feel is stronger than you will ever imagine, it’s all over my body, don’t you dare talk about pain to me, you hunk of wood!”

Berry was not afraid of the old widow, they went through this exchange every week. Only this time did she realize something.

“Pardon me, but you’ve lost someone you care about, haven’t you?”

“What’s it to you, leaf wig?”

“It’s just,” she began softly. “I have a friend who might be going through the same problem. It would mean a lot to me if you spoke to her—,”

“Hah, a tree? Feeling pain? That’s hilarious. You lot have nothing to fear, you’re practically immortal. The only time you feel pain is if someone takes an axe to you, which should be much more often if you ask me. Now stay quiet and give me the rest of the fruit.”

“Just—listen—please—,” she said, crunching up her leaves in a wince. “Just look beside me, a little off in the distance. She’s a poor willow that’s always crying, I just want her to be happy.”

The widow sneered and looked just in hopes of shutting the tree up. But when she saw her, she gasped.

She saw a beautiful Weeping Willow, its branches feeble and thin, its leaves light, falling to the ground. In the breeze they fluttered, shimmering from last night’s shower. But this couldn’t be, she had walked this field for years, she knew every vile piece of wood like the back of her hand.

She sniffed. Her hands shook and scratched her pale, bony arms. “I don’t understand,” she stammered. “I’ve lived here for years. I’ve never even seen that tree before.”

“Well to be honest,” said Berry. “We all knew she was here, and we knew she cried, but we’ve never approached her until now. You know how it is around people who never stop crying, I mean, you’re someone who never stops crying. I just hate how we were kept from feeling the impact of her sadness before yesterday, but it’s as if we didn’t fully realize she was even here.”

“Peculiar,” she said, wiping her face, “If she’s sad, I don’t know what I can do to help. I should just leave.”

“Please,” she said as the woman started backing to her door. “I’m begging you, I don’t think I can carry on knowing that she’ll be weeping right beside me for another hundred years. Please, just see if you can help.”

Her fingers twitched as she plucked at the twigs of her basket. She stood for a long time, indecisive and frightened. She was a tree, just a stupid tree, she thought to herself. What could she do to help her? She should just go back to her cottage, eat some of the bitter berries, and sob into her pillow where no one could get to her.

She looked at this this berry tree who had stood outside her window for so many years, who was her only source of sustenance, and who had asked her to help a friend. She decided.

“Alright, I’ll go.”

 

The woman stayed beneath the tree for days. She slept underneath its veil of leaves, eating the berries she’d collected from the maple. She remained there, and in all that time she hadn’t cried once. It was the first time in thirty-four years that she’d gone over an hour without shedding a single tear over her loss.

The woman never said a word to the tree, and the tree never said a word to the woman. There they simply remained in lamenting company. Two partners in misery, both without the strength to say anything. Until one day:

“I lost my husband thirty-four years ago to the war,” she said. “He was the best man a woman could’ve wished for, better than I deserved. We did everything together, shared every breath together, but he always shared more air with me. When he died, I did more than just die myself. I vanished. I disappeared without a trace of my former life, and became enveloped in a cocoon of shallow depression, no one else could get in.

“When we were young, we would fascinate in fields of trees, a field not to unlike this one, about what made you all so strong. How did you become powerful enough to live for centuries and as stand tall, proud, unmovable creatures? We said that surely our love would make us live long enough, too. Our lives being tied together would give us the strength of trees. Our favorite tree to gaze at was a young Weeping Willow, one like yourself.

“But when the war came—,” she choked up. “He was drafted. He left with a promise that he would return with the strength of an oak, proving that he could live for a hundred years.”

She put her head in her knees. “But he never came back. He didn’t return strong or immortal, he didn’t return at all! Our love had failed him, it failed me! Our love was useless, all love is useless!”

Her sob was louder than any other noise in the hillside. All that one could hear, even when miles away, were the sounds of an old woman weeping furiously, a terrifying, shocking sound. The trees stood silent and afraid, longing for her shrill cry to end, but it wouldn’t. She was no longer conscious of anything except the pain that love had brought her. Love lied to her, giving false promises of joy and life, only to heartlessly wrench it away from her without remorse. What a stupid, useless thing love was.

“Love is not useless,” said the Weeping Willow.

“What?” she said in a hoarse voice.

“Love is not useless.” The tree spoke with a soft, gentle tone, almost like a whisper, almost like a breeze. Had they heard right, had the willow finally said something? What was it she’d said?

“Love is not useless. It never has been, it never will be.”

The woman shook with rage and clawed at Willow’s bark. “How dare you say that? You’re a tree, what do you know about love, if anything it’s useless to you, you live for a million years whether you have it or not! How dare you even speak to me?”

Her fingers bled with splinters, her nails chipped and tore, but still she raked at the bark. The others stared, helpless to do anything.

“Stop her,” cried Berry. “Someone make her stop!”

Not even Oak was brave enough to say anything. He watched, rooted to the ground, as a willow’s bark and a widow’s skin were ripped apart.

Finally she stopped, and then she battered her bruised fists against the tree. She remained there sobbing even longer until she had no more room for anything else.

Here Willow spoke again. “A tree needs love just like a human does. I have friends who came to me in hopes to discover the source of my depression and to rid me of it. That was love, I am sorry I was too weak to give you my thanks.”

A wind blew through the trees, moving their leaves in gratitude.

“Love is what sent you to me, from a friend who wanted to protect another friend. Love is what once sent a young man to me, a young man who sat beneath me as you are now, wondering how he could live as long as I could.

The woman stared up at her face in, unable to believe what was being said. “Jonathon?”

The willow dropped a thin leaf to her feet. “I told him exactly what I am telling you now. Love life. Love everyone. Love no matter what, carry your life on the shoulders of love and you will live forever.”

She blinked, and slowly let loose a tear. These were silent tears, no more sobbing or screaming or shaking, no more noise. Two last drops fell from each eye, and those were the last two tears she ever cried.

Two final tears from the woman, two final tears from the tree.

There once was a Weeping Willow tree. She stood sad and lonely among all the other trees that surrounded her on a tiny hillside, always crying up a river. But she never cried anymore, because she knew that love would always prevail against pain, and would always create life. Even in the form of a tree.

And there once was a weeping widow, who never wept ever again.

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