A short story based on a prompt from Reedsy: A tree that connects the story of multiple characters. I hope you enjoy!
Carl limped through his yard, his arm shaking as he shaded his eyes against the sun.
Carl leaned against his cane, twisting back just far enough to catch his daughter standing in the doorway.
“I told you to let someone else do that!”
Carl didn’t bother responding, letting out a grunt as he continued to limp down the slope of the yard.
“Dad!” She yelled after him, her eyes flickering back and forth between her father and the infant in her arms.
Carl didn’t listen, humming softly as he weighed the seeds in his hand. They were heavier than he’d expected. Though, he supposed they meant more than any old random seed. Why shouldn’t they carry more weight?
His daughter disappeared inside the house, reappearing a short time later with a bonnet strapped to her child’s head.
Carl was still humming as he began to dig a small hole, repeatedly thrusting his cane into the ground until it gave way.
“You can wait for someone else to do this,” she said, her eyebrows furrowed against the sun.
Carl shook his head, continuing to jam his cane downward. “It’s the kind of thing a father likes to do himself.”
“It’s gonna take forever to grow.”
Carl hesitated, leaning against his cane as his arms shook more violently than usual. He took a deep breath, pointedly ignoring his spasms as he surveyed the yard. “Do you see my yard?” he asked, his voice shaking. “Take a look, Gloria. How would you describe it?”
Gloria frowned. “It’s nice.”
“It’s barren,” he snapped. “There’s no trees. No shade. Nothing pretty… nothing like the yard you grew up in.”
“It doesn’t have to be the same.”
Carl worked his jaw, doing his best to hold back what emotions he could. “Your mom had the green thumb. She did all the growing and… she’s the one that made things nice for you.”
Gloria smiled, brushing a hand against his shoulder. “I’m sure she taught you a thing or two over the years.”
“I never thought…,” Carl steadied his hand against his cane. “You’re right… it’s going to take years for this tree to grow, but it’s better late than never. I can do what I can to make things nice for you. For little Maddie.”
Gloria’s lips quivered as she looked down at her daughter, offering no more protests as he finished making his hole. After some time, she made a decision. “Why don’t we plant it together, dad? We can do it in honor of mom.”
Carl smiled at that, offering her some of the seeds. And, together, they filled the hole.
Maddie waddled through her grandfather’s yard, giggling at the funny shape of the clouds overhead. Her mom was right behind her, ready to catch her if she fell, but she would not fall. She was strong. Like her mom. Like her grandfather.
“The tree is coming along!” Gloria shouted, careful to speak loud enough for her father to hear.
Carl nodded, almost certain of what she had said. “Just a sapling as of yet, but it’s growing.”
“Tree!” Maddie repeated.
Gloria smiled at her daughter. “Soon, it will be as strong as you, pop!”
Carl smiled. “I believe we are on opposite trajectories.”
Maddie jumped, latching onto the lowest branch of her grandfather’s tree, giggling as it held her weight.
“Maddie!” Her mother yelled, only just realizing where her daughter had gone. “Get off of that! It’s not strong enough!”
Maddie’s giggles cut off as she dropped to the grass, but her good humor was unabashed, proceeding to do cartwheels across the lawn.
“It held,” Carl said, his voice weak as he lounged in his chair.
“Barely,” Gloria sniffed, frowning after her daughter.
Carl nodded. “But it held. Just as the two of you will.”
“Don’t talk like that, dad.”
Carl nodded again, though about what she wasn’t sure. “You know what it is to lose someone, my love. It is the way of things. Your mom. Maddie’s father… you must not hide from my going.”
“I’m not hiding! It’s just not time yet, pop. You have years left in you.”
Carl frowned, his eyes heavy as they laid on his daughter. “Maybe. But how many did you think your mother had? Your husband?”
Gloria began to bite her lips, anxiety stiffening her face. “None of this is fair.”
Carl’s lips twitched upward. “No, not fair at all. Especially not for you, my love. And yet you stand, strong in the knowledge that you are loved.”
Gloria leaned into her father, tears welling up at the edges of her eyes. “I love you.”
Carl kissed the top of her head. “Forever and always.”
“Forever and always.”
Maddie ran her fingers across the bark of granddad’s tree, her eyes lingering on its cracks. Tears mingled with the dirt at her feet, but her lip was stiff, her eyes hard as she came to terms with the moment.
Her mother had explained death to her. Long before the death of her grandfather, she had revealed what happened to her father. What’s it meant to lose someone close to you, but she’d never…. well, this was the first time she’d experienced it firsthand.
Her grandfather was gone. A memory. A ghost. And yet… the tree was here… Left behind as a gift for her. How long would this tree last?
“He made it for you.”
Maddie didn’t bother looking, content to stare at the tree as her mother joined her.
“He wanted you to have shade. To have beauty and love, and a life like I had.”
“He didn’t need a tree to do that,” Maddie sniffed, unable to look her mother in the eyes.
“No,” Gloria agreed. “But he wanted to give it to you anyway.”
Gloria grimaced but said nothing as she put an arm around her shoulders. “He gave what he could.”
“I only wanted him.”
“And we had him,” her mom whispered. “And we’ll continue to have him for as long as the wind blows.”
Maddie looked up at the tree, watching the wind stir its leaves. “I only wanted him.”