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Home: The Toast

Once there was a tree
and she loved a little boy.

And everyday the boy would come
and he would gather her leaves
and make them into crowns
and play king of the forest.

He would climb up her trunk
and swing from her branches
and eat apples.
And the apples stained his mouth a strange color
and it wasn’t green and it wasn’t red
and the stain wouldn’t go away
no matter how much his mother scrubbed his mouth
after he’d eaten them
(she loved the little boy very much)
And they would play hide-and-go-seek.

And when he was tired,
he would sleep in her shade.
(she loved him best when he was asleep)
(he never woke up with quite the same color eyes)
(and his mother hated to hug him after he came home from the tree)
(though she could never explain why)
And the boy loved the tree, very much.

And the tree was happy.
But time went by.
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.

Then one day the boy came to the tree
and the tree said, “Come, Boy, come and
climb up my trunk and swing from my
branches and eat apples and play in my
shade and be happy.”
And the boy did.
And it seemed to him that time passed differently
in the shadow of the tree
and it seemed to him that he felt dizzy
after only a few minutes of playing
but the sun was gone, just the same.
(the tree was a very giving tree)

Take my apples, Boy,” said the tree, “and sell them.
Then you will have money and
you will be happy.”
“No thank you,” the boy said politely. “I really
should be getting back to the city.”
“I insist,” said the tree,
and it seemed to the boy that the ground grew hot and hummed around him
and his wrists hurt and his throat hurt until his mouth opened
and he said “Yes”
and the tree purred.
Hand to God, the tree purred
and then he was sick in the bushes.

So the boy climbed up the
tree and gathered her apples
and carried them away.
And the tree was happy.
And the boy stayed feeling sick.

And the tree stood a little taller, and grew back
all of her apples,
and then some.
And the apples weren’t quite green
and they weren’t quite red.

But the boy stayed away for a long time….
and the tree was angry.

And then one day the boy came back
and the tree shook.
and she said, “Come, Boy, climb up my trunk
and swing from my branches and be happy.”
“Please,” said the boy.
“I have a home. I have a wife. I have a family,” he said.
I didn’t want to come back. I don’t–
I don’t remember how I got here.
Where are they? Have you seen them?”
“I have no house,” said the tree.
“I can’t remember their names,” said the boy
almost to himself.
“The forest is my house,” said the tree lightly,
so lightly the boy could almost think
he imagined hearing her voice.

“But you may cut off
my branches and build a
house. Then you will be happy.”
“Yes,” the boy said slowly,
“Then I will be happy.”

And so the boy cut off her branches
to build his house.
And he forgot the names of his wife
and his children
and the house outside the forest
(he had never been outside the forest)
and he ate nothing but apples
and grew thinner and more thin
and smiled every day
and fell down often
(he was so clumsy)
And the tree was happy.

But then one day the boy wandered a bit further than usual
and he crossed a stream
and as he crossed the stream his mind came back to itself.
And the boy ran. The boy ran and he shook and he ran and he vomited and he ran.

It took the police a week to find out his name
and his last known address
and his family cried
and he cried
and they hugged
and the tree knew where he was.

The boy stayed away for a long time.
And when he came back,
the tree was so happy
she could hardly speak.
“Come, Boy,” she whispered,
“come and play.”
“I am too old and sad to play,”
said the boy.
“No, you’re not,”
the tree said. “You’re just a boy.”
and for a minute it seemed to the boy
that she was right
and his knees didn’t ache
and his ears weren’t fogged
and he could almost hear his mother calling him home for dinner
instead of being dead and laid out in the ground
face turned up in the dirt
(which is where she really was)

“Cut down my trunk
and make a boat,” said the tree.
“Then you can sail away…
and be happy.”
And so the boy cut down her trunk
and made a boat and sailed away.
But even though the wind blew
and the waves slopped against the side of the boat
the boy knew he wasn’t going anywhere.
“I know this isn’t real,” he whispered
and he knew the tree was smiling
and he was right.
There was no boat.
And he had never left her,
she had never let him leave her,
not even when thought he had.
She had never let him really leave her.
And the tree was happy.

“I am sorry, Boy,”
said the tree,” but I have nothing
left to give you -”
“You have never given me anything,” the boy said.
“How long have you kept me here, really?”

The tree ignored the question. “My apples are gone.”
“My teeth are too weak
for apples,” said the boy. “Am I old? Did you let me grow old here, alone?”
“My branches are gone,”
said the tree. ” You
cannot swing on them – ”
“I am too old to swing
on branches,” realized the boy. “You let me
grow old here.”

“My trunk is gone, ” said the tree.
“You cannot climb – ”
“I am too tired to climb,” said the boy.
He was too tired even to hate her.
At least the tree was real.
“I am sorry,” sighed the tree.
“I wish that I could give you something….
but I have nothing left.
I am just an old stump.
I am sorry….”

You are not sorry, the boy thought to himself.
“I don’t need very much now,” said the boy.
“just a quiet place to sit and rest.
I am very tired.”
“Well,” said the tree, straightening
herself up as much as she could,
“well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting
Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.”
And he was too tired to fight her.

And the boy sat.
And the tree was happy.
And he is still sitting there,
under the apples that are not quite green
and not quite red
and he has not moved for a long time
and the tree is very
very
very
very
tree2very
(the tree is not a stump)
very
(the tree was never a stump)
very
very
very
(the tree has grown her branches back)
very
very
(the tree is looking for other boys)
happy.

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