Treedom – A.J. Cunder

Treedom – A.J. Cunder

November 2021

We were playing in the park when Garold first took root. We stopped kicking our ball and stared when Jack pointed to the man standing motionless in the middle of the grassy field.

“Isn’t that the homeless guy who sleeps by the shrubbery?” Thomas asked in a whisper. “How long has he been like that?”

Like a tree that had just been planted, the homeless man’s legs remained frozen, and we inched closer almost without realizing it, edging along the stream cutting through the park. He placed his arms at varying angles, adjusting the bend in his elbows, shifting—never lifting his feet—as though trying to find a natural position.

No one else in the small park spared him a second glance. Dogs preoccupied owners, joggers ran along trails that wound into the encroaching forest, parents collected kids from an old playground with wooden structures on the verge of collapse. A rusty merry-go-round squealed as loud as the children. Only the three of us, on the cusp of adolescence ourselves, paid the strange man any mind.

“Should we go up to him?” Jack’s lips curled in a telltale grin. Always the adventurous one, he often inspired our quests—exploring the schoolhouse after dark, or pushing Thomas up his chimney to search for treasure. He took us to a lake once, describing jewels and gems hidden beneath the waters, but blushed when I stripped to my underwear. “Girls can’t do that in front of boys,” he insisted, but I ignored him and dove in.

“And do what?” Thomas asked, shoving hands in his pockets, glancing around as though planning an escape.

“Mr. Morton says in science class we need to be good observers of the world if we’re going to learn anything.” Jack rubbed his hands as though trying to start a fire. “What if the man’s turned to stone? A living statue? What if Medusa is loose in the park?”

Thomas swallowed, and Jack said, “Come on, let’s find out.” He started walking with his determined stride, hopping from stone to stone across the stream.

Three meters from the man, we huddled together. His gray hair coiled like vines to his waist, and silver tags flashed from his neck. I gave a tentative wave, but the man’s eyes never moved. His face was rough and leathery, almost like bark, the embroidered name on his jacket—G. AROLD—sprouting threads as time picked out the stitches.

Garold,” Jack said with a chuckle. Somehow, the word had a nice feel to it, the way it started in the back of the throat and rolled off the tongue.

Thomas whispered, “My mom tells me never to talk to strangers.” He probably remembered his mother’s scream when she had found him with his head up the chimney, covered in soot, and the corporal punishment that followed.

“We’re not talking. We’re watching,” Jack said. “Mr. Morton—”

“I don’t think he meant this.” Thomas pushed his hands deeper into his jeans, as though trying to bury his forearms.

I slid my own hands along the pocketless fabric of my dress, searching for a place to slip my fingers. Not finding one, I fiddled with a strand of long hair my father rarely let me cut, fidgeting in the clothes he insisted I wear. “He looks harmless enough.” I fished a granola bar from my backpack stash, often used to feed the squirrels and woodland creatures we encountered, and held it out to the man, who slowly extended his arm. Inching closer, I dropped the bar in his palm, searching his face for…something familiar, perhaps, a kindred spirit, even if I didn’t quite recognize it at the time.

A bell tower tolled, and Thomas jumped. “Come on, let’s go,” he said. “Or I’ll be late for dinner.”

With a last look at the man standing in Grove Park, we crossed the rickety wooden bridge and split for home along the cobblestone roads.

When a week elapsed and Garold remained rooted like a scarecrow, the tiny Welsh town of Gwernogle took notice. Some tried to approach him, but he never said a word, always staring out to his own horizon. Thomas’s mother wondered if it was safe to let her son play where an odd man might prey on children, but Thomas argued that Jack would be there to protect him. Jack’s father gave him a Swiss Army knife and made sure he knew how to flip out the blade. My own father, the town’s pastor, went to see the scene for himself. “How long has he been there, Ash?” he asked me.

“Almost a week, I think.”

“The police should check on him. He could be ill,” he reasoned.

A cruiser came, and an officer tried talking with Garold, asking if he needed an ambulance or a ride somewhere—but Garold only said, “I belong here,” his voice like leaves rustling. He broke no laws by standing in a public park, so the officer scratched his head, scribbled some notes, and shrugged when my father asked what the police could do.

Our parents all but forbade us to play there, but of course we didn’t listen. Garold’s mystery became our mission, our chance to play detective, investigating the strange creature who claimed this space. Jack imagined finding fame and fortune, the prodigy child who had discovered the first living statue. Thomas pretended to be a scientist, proposing hypotheses and theories, examining the soil around Garold’s feet, taking samples and extracting conjectures—what kept him there? How did he survive? When would he leave? And I was a philosopher, wondering what it meant for Garold to stand there each day, unmoving, rooted to the ground, a singularity, a blip in the otherwise uniform grass that had grown for countless years undisturbed. The town groundskeeper grumbled at first, his routine altered. But finally he began mowing around Garold, who never shifted even as the ancient, roaring machine approached. Soon, the grass grew around his feet, swallowing his boots with their holes near the toe.

A week later, we were still no closer to solving Garold’s mystery. I offered him another granola bar as we gathered around him, the only souls besides Garold in the heart of the park. Most of the other children, after spying Garold frozen in his eternal vigil, would abandon the swings and playground to the ravens keeping watch among the metal bars and plastic towers.

We never saw Garold ingest what I gave him, and no wrappers littered the ground.

“What do you think he eats?” I wondered. “Or drinks?”

“Maybe other people bring him food? And water?” Thomas wondered, sitting in the grass. He held up a hand to shield his eyes from the sun even as thunderclouds approached. “Should’ve brought glasses,” he said as Garold slowly moved an arm. We froze, watching him, until he stopped, his hand between Thomas and the sun, a thin shadow falling across Thomas’s eyes.

When Garold stilled, Jack continued notching a stick with his knife. “Maybe he absorbs nutrients from the ground, like a tree.”

At this, Garold slowly turned his head. He smiled a deliberate, crooked smile, his few remaining teeth jutting from chapped lips. “You understand,” he said, dry as kindling.

Jack jumped at the sound, eyebrows raised, and Thomas scuttled behind him. “Understand what?” Jack asked, smoothing his blonde-streaked hair, shrugging off his moment of skittishness.

Garold nodded. “Like a tree.” We glanced at each other, and he shuddered, holding his silver army tags to his nose and squinting. He pulled on the chain until it was taut, in danger of snapping, but then he exhaled and slumped, the tags falling against his chest.

The first drops of a coming storm splashed our foreheads. “Come on,” Thomas said. “We’re gonna get soaked if we don’t leave.” He tugged on Jack’s sleeve, who looked for a moment like he’d pull away.

“What about him?” I asked, a sudden spark tingling in my gut, an itch spreading through thoughts that had long swirled inside me. Like a tree, he had said. Like a tree. I pulled at a strap of my dress, resisting the urge to slip it off, to emerge from the wrappings that defined me, marked me as girl.

“If he doesn’t want to get drenched, he’ll move too,” Jack said.

A thunderclap shook us to the bone like a bomb detonating, and Garold’s face twisted as he shuddered. He raised his arms over his head as an unkindness of ravens croaked nearby.

We ran—but Thomas turned back and draped his poncho over Garold, quickly, as though afraid to stay in contact with him for too long.

“Come on!” Jack yelled. “I’m not waiting for you.”

We didn’t stay to see if Garold took shelter when the rain came, but the next day he stood, same as the days before, Thomas’s poncho still slung over his shoulders.

When complaints came to city hall, the town council made their own inquiries with the Gwernogle police. The chief offered her apologies, but despite all biological laws, Garold didn’t exhibit any physical distress. He only ever said, “I belong here,” when officers approached, and even if parents feared for their children’s safety, the police had no probable cause to forcibly remove him.

So the council of seven hosted a town hall which, despite our parents’ reservations, we attended.

“It’s just not normal,” the townspeople said, fifty of Gwernogle’s three-hundred residents crammed into the old stone inn that had for centuries served as the gathering place for official business. Gas lamps flickered along the walls—while most of the town had reasonably reliable electricity, the inn was so old that any renovations would risk bringing it down completely. “What kind of person stands in the middle of a park all day? Our kids are afraid to go there. We have to stay with them or drive them all the way to Brechfa to play.”

From their lofty bench, the council of seven dark suits looked down upon those gathered. They added, “It certainly is strange, and we’ve had our police department out to investigate. Clearly, they have been inadequate in resolving the problem. We aren’t quite sure why he’s there or what he’s doing, and none of the officers have been able to figure it out either. A concern we must address with their leader.” They glanced at the police chief, who frowned as she hovered near the exit.

I stared at my fingers, imagining them to be roots, tendrils to penetrate rock and soil. I swallowed and raised my hand.

“Yes? Young lady in the back, you have something to say?” the council asked, faces pale even in the flickering orange light.

I stood and plucked at my dress, envying Thomas’s jeans, Jack’s dark jacket, their short hair, the stubble that would soon sprout on their chins. I felt my own smooth cheeks, folding arms over a budding chest as Jack raised an eyebrow, Thomas’s knee just touching his, Jack letting it stay there.

I took a breath and said, “He is a tree. He told us.”

A few chuckles bounced around the room, along with “absurd” and “ridiculous.”

“Young lady,” the council said, “he is clearly a man, not a tree. Whatever delusions he may have, he cannot remain a permanent fixture of our park. It simply isn’t right to behave in such a manner.”

“Unsightly. Frightening,” some townspeople chimed in. “Unnatural.”

Thomas’s forearms disappeared in his pockets—how I wished I had pockets of my own—and he muttered something under his breath, shifting his leg away from Jack’s.

I started to sit, but then straightened and added, “He says he’s a tree. Wouldn’t he know?”

No one answered, though the adults looked to one another, a hint of fear shading their eyes, distrust of anything that disturbed the norms settled for centuries upon this small, isolated town in the middle of the Welsh countryside.

After little more discussion, the council instituted a curfew in Grove Park that would take effect the following night. The police chief received her commission: anyone in the park between 11 PM and 6 AM must be ordered to vacate the property.

The town groundskeeper made hasty signs and posted them at the park’s entrances. We considered tearing them down, but decided instead to sit with Garold when the police came. It was an opportunity to express ourselves, to lash out against the establishment, whatever that meant, to fight for something even if we didn’t entirely know what exactly we were fighting for. Or perhaps we did, in some subterranean part of us; a seed had been planted, taking root in our minds. When I saw Garold, I recognized in him something I had long tried to hide within myself, a search for self-identity amidst a sense of disconnectedness, a sense of unbelonging. I kept this from the others, though. They didn’t need to know. Not everything. Not just yet.

Thomas, of course, nearly stayed home, citing a stomach ache, but Jack threw pebbles at his window and promised to keep at it until Thomas finally snuck out the back. I stocked my backpack with snacks, and Jack brought a flashlight and rope so we could tie ourselves together around Garold—if it came to that.

We got there before the police, but not before the ravens, who shuffled along the edge of the park where the border blended into the forest. They croaked and flapped their wings as a crowd began to gather, spectators carrying electric lanterns. “Is that Jimmy?” Jack asked, spotting our classmate, captain of the football team.

“Yeah, I think it is,” I said, waving to Jimmy who raised a hand in return.

“Come on over!” Jack called. But Jimmy ignored him, his parents clutching his shoulders.

A sudden chill bit through our clothes, and we shivered, a quick glance passing between us. “Is this really a good idea?” Thomas asked.

“Of course it is,” Jack said. His hand darted like a fox, so quick I might have missed it if I hadn’t been looking. Even so, I blinked and wondered if I really had seen him squeeze Thomas’s hand.

“I belong here,” Garold kept repeating to no one in particular, the grass at his feet now reaching past his knees, blending so thoroughly it became difficult to discern where his body ended and the earth began.

When the police arrived at 10:45 PM, they issued a warning, shining their spotlights at Garold. “As per local ordinance,” the sergeant said, “Grove Park shall close to visitors at eleven each night. Sir, we are giving you a lawful order to leave now or face legal consequences.” The sergeant looked at us as though just noticing we were there. “What are you kids doing? Go on, get home now. Where are your parents?” He looked to the crowd interspersed along the tree line.

“We’re not leaving,” Jack said. “We won’t let you take him.”

The sergeant shined his light in Jack’s face. “Come on, now, no sense getting mixed up in this. How old are you, twelve, thirteen? You really want a police record?”

Jack dropped to the ground at Garold’s feet—Thomas too, though sweat started to bead on his brow, and I followed. We leaned against Garold’s legs and wrapped the rope around ourselves.

“Sarge? Should we take them all?” one of the patrol officers asked.

“Wait till they fall asleep, then we’ll take the tree man. Can’t be long, they’ll knock out soon enough. And see if we’ve gotten any calls about missing children.”

But we didn’t fall asleep. We stayed up long after the crowd of townspeople dispersed, long after the officers finished their fourth cups of coffee, with the ravens still watching like silent sentinels. “All right kids,” the sergeant finally said. “You win. Why don’t you let us take you home, and we’ll leave this man alone?”

“Thank God,” Thomas said, starting to shrug off the rope when Jack grabbed his arm.

“Wait. First, this man is a tree. Second, how do we know you’re telling the truth?” Jack asked, his eyes narrowing.

“You’ll just have to trust us, kid,” the sergeant sighed.

“I think we’ll wait until morning when you can’t make him leave. Six AM, right?”

The sergeant ground his teeth, and the standoff continued.

We took turns sleeping. The police did the same, with nothing else they could do short of ripping us bodily away. Garold stood as he always stood.

When a gray haze lightened the sky, our parents found us in the park after we didn’t appear for breakfast and they discovered our empty beds. Perhaps they should’ve been more concerned, but it was Gwernogle after all, and nothing bad ever happened here. Jack’s dad only chuckled and praised his son’s rope work. “I taught him that knot,” he said to the sergeant who checked his watch.

Nevertheless, Thomas’s mother gasped, “What on Earth were you thinking?” She reached for his hand, but he wriggled away. “Thomas, what are you doing? Come with me this instant.” She looked at Garold and frowned. “Thomas. Right now. Come with me.”

My father stared at the ground, rubbing his chin.

“I’m not leaving!” I called out, and he scowled.

“Thomas, you have to go to school. Come with your mother. Come right now.” Her glasses trembled dangerously on the bridge of her nose. “Stop this madness.”

“Tell them to stop.” Thomas nodded to the police, fingers wrapped around Jack’s wrist, eyes widening as though surprised at his own boldness.

“Okay,” the sergeant said.

“Really?” Thomas squeaked.

“Six AM. Curfew’s over. Until tonight, anyway. We’ll be back.”

“And so will we!” Jack yelled between yawns.

Our parents tried to stop us. My father threatened to ground me, lock me in my room, take away my spotty internet. But I insisted I’d climb out the window. “Ashley, what’s gotten into you?” he asked, running fingers through his hair. “You were always a well-behaved girl. Why this sudden change?”

“Maybe it’s not so sudden,” I offered, before my voice withered. Maybe I’ve never felt comfortable as your little girl, I wanted to say, as the perfect pastor’s perfect daughter. Maybe this skin isn’t really my own. But of course, I only looked down as he tapped his fingers on the counter.

Thomas’s mother outlined the dangers, some more likely than others, and listed the health effects of improper sleep. But he shook his head, and said, “Jack will be there.”

“You do everything with that boy,” his mother said, frowning. “If he walked off a cliff, you’d follow him.” And Thomas didn’t deny it.

Jack’s own father gave him sleeping bags and water canteens, and showed him more sophisticated knots.

Unable to contain us, our parents came on the second night of our vigil and watched on the wooden bridge beside the ravens, wary of violating the curfew themselves. When the police arrived, they brandished their nightsticks. One officer spun his like a propeller, and it whistled through the air. They tried half-heartedly to untie the rope that bound us, and Garold stiffened more than usual at their approach; but we covered the knots with our hands, our bodies, Thomas’s arms wrapped around Jack’s waist, and eventually the police gave up, retreating to their cruisers, where they sipped coffee and joked about worse ways to pass a night shift.

On the third night, the council of seven appeared in their raven-black suits, faces like ghouls in the lamplight. “Sergeant,” they said. “Why is this man still here?” Birds cackled in the trees, a murder of crows circling over Garold’s head.

The sergeant nodded towards us. “He’s attracted some sympathy from the youth.”

The council hovered over us like shades of Hades. “If they are a problem, Sergeant, then remove them as well,” they said.

The sergeant laughed. “Right. And when the local paper runs a story about the police abducting children in the park, you lot will be the first to call for our resignation. I’d like to keep my job, thank you.”

The council scowled, and they conferred with one another. Then, as one, they reached for our rope. The ravens fluttered their wings.

“I wouldn’t do that,” the sergeant said, tapping his nightstick.

“And why not?” the council hissed.

“Well, you see, since you’re not officers of the law, if you lay a hand on these children, then that would be battery. Something I just couldn’t turn my back on.”

The council looked for a moment like they might do it anyway, and we held our breath, eyeing the ravens that hopped closer. Thomas grabbed Jack’s arm and squeezed. But Garold rested his hands on our shoulders and stared at the council, acorn eyes boring into theirs of obsidian.

Without another word, the council of seven withdrew into the darkness, and the ravens along with them.

“Think they’ll be back?” one of the officers asked.

The sergeant shrugged. “Let’s hope not. Can’t say I appreciate when those devils tell me how to do my work.”

On the fourth night, we found a case of water by Garold when we arrived, along with a bag of chips and a container of homemade casserole. On the fifth night, our classmate Jimmy shuffled up and asked if he could join us. His parents screamed from the park’s border, but he stood resolute, his back turned to them, eyes cautiously darting between Jack and Thomas. “You two, are you…” he couldn’t seem to finish the sentence, but I knew what he meant. I think we all knew.

“Sit with us,” I offered. “We won’t turn you away. Garold certainly won’t.”

On the sixth night, Mr. Morton came with a notebook. “Fascinating,” he’d mutter occasionally, asking us questions, trying to interview Garold who never said much, other than, “I belong here, as a tree. No, not a man. A tree.” Mr. Morton stared, once, when Thomas’s pinky overlapped with Jack’s on the ground, frowning at first, but then twisting his lips in what might have been the beginning of a smile.

On the sixth night, we insisted that our parents sit with us. At first they stood a ways off, apologizing repeatedly to the police, who just sipped their coffee. But we grabbed their hands and brought them closer. We introduced them to Garold, who ever so slightly nodded his head.

“May I ask, sir, what it is you’re doing here?” Thomas’s mother dusted off her sleeve. Perhaps she saw the way her son’s foot tapped against Jack’s. Perhaps she chose to ignore it.

“I belong here,” Garold rustled. “Should have been planted here instead of mother’s womb. I should wear bark on branches, grow leaves, not hair. Drop acorns, not…” His lips tightened, and he tugged on his army tags until the chain nearly broke.

I fidgeted—but this night, with jeans borrowed from Thomas’s wardrobe, I had something underneath, something between my skin and the scratchy wool of my father’s dress. Thomas never questioned why I wanted them, when I asked for a pair, just handed them over and said I’d probably look better in them than he did.

Garold’s eyes shifted like roots searching for purchase, and caught her gaze. “Do you believe that I belong?”

“Oh,” Thomas’s mother answered, glancing away. “I suppose we all belong, don’t we? One way or another.”

Garold slowly smiled.

On the seventh night, Jimmy brought the rest of the football team. They came at first to see the novelty—and because the school’s star athlete told them to. But then something shifted; around Garold, we all seemed to find a sense of belonging, near this man-who-was-a-tree, where normativity began to fray around the edges—if we could accept this, what couldn’t we accept?

Our nightly protest slowly transformed. People came at first to see what the whole town talked about, but then stayed for the fellowship, where conversations bonded strangers around bonfires, the community gathered with Garold at its center. Those who were more vocally inclined offered entertainment, and even the police partook of the homemade pies and dishes that went around.

Folk began asking Garold where he came from, if he had any family, but he never said much other than “I belong here.” Then they started asking why he thought he was a tree.

Jack intervened, holding up a finger. “No, no, no. He doesn’t think he’s a tree. He is a tree.”

In that moment, my heart sang. I added, “He’s probably never felt comfortable in his own skin. It’s not like bark. It’s too soft.” He closed his eyes and hummed as I spoke. “The world moves too fast for him. Trees, they take it slow. This is where he belongs. The world doesn’t feel wrong, here. He doesn’t feel wrong.” I wound a coil of hair around my finger. “Like me.”

The townspeople nodded—perhaps they didn’t hear those last words lost to the wind, or didn’t know quite how to process them, their heads tilted slightly to the side as they said, “That’s nice,” and moved on to other conversation.

A fortnight after our first vigil, Jack asked, as he stood watch over Garold—still wary of the police, still fingering the Swiss knife in his pocket—“Do you think they’ve finally accepted him?”

“Who?” I asked, trying to coax a shrew towards me with a handful of oats as someone in the crowd sang “Suo Gan.”

“The town. The adults.”

Thomas shrugged, hands eternally in his pockets. “Seems like they’re warming up, at the least.”

“I meant, accepted who?”

“Oh. Garold, of course.”

My thoughts flashed to the scissors sitting on my dresser back home, their gleam in the lamplight, my own visage in the mirror, the glint in Thomas’s eyes when he looked at Jack, my father’s preaching on Sunday. I searched the crowd for my father’s face and caught him laughing with Thomas’s mother, nodding in our direction, throwing us a smile and wave.

He came over, a package tucked under his arm, bringing Thomas’s mother and Jack’s father with him. “Hello, Garold,” he said as he approached, hefting the brown paper. “We, uh… the three of us got you something.” He held out the gift, but Garold made no move to accept it. So my father untied the strings, stripped off the wrappings and waved a denim jacket with embroidery like vines running down the sleeves. Garold’s face brightened, even in the shadows cast by the fires, and Thomas’s mother helped him shed his old skin, disturbing the squirrel perched on his shoulder.

“You didn’t have to,” I said to my dad. “But thanks.”

He squeezed my shoulder, and that morning, before catching a moment of sleep, I slipped my hair between the shears and cut it, strands floating to the floor like leaves. When breakfast time came, I stood at the top of the steps, waiting to descend, taking a breath, remembering Garold. Each step felt like I carried a millstone, but foot by foot, I dragged myself to the table. My father looked up from his coffee mug, ran his eyes over my head, but said nothing, only swallowed once and finished his meal.

When Jack and Thomas saw me at school, they gaped for a moment, but then punched my shoulder. “New look, huh?” Jack said, his cheeks slightly reddening. “Maybe I’ll try on one of your dresses tomorrow.”

“Do it,” I teased. “I’ve already got a pair of Thomas’s jeans I’m going to wear.”

When Garold saw me later that day, his smile cracked through leathered skin wider than I’d ever seen before, like a split in bark that could never close again. “You understand,” he said, though I wasn’t quite sure, this time, what he meant.

Garold’s newfound smile brightened his face even as children sat under his shade to escape the sun, or swung from his arm as they might a branch, little boys climbing to sit on his shoulders beside robins and bluejays, pointing out and laughing as though they had scaled the tallest tree in the world. Ravens occasionally watched us from the edge of the park, brooding, but they never came close.

The council quietly rescinded their ordinance, and the following night, at the Treedom Rally, as our gatherings had come to be known, the police assured us Garold would be left to conduct his business in whatever manner he wished.

“I still don’t trust them,” Jack said, even as the townspeople cheered and congratulated Garold. “We should stay, just in case.”

But we were tired—we were ready for a night of sleep in our own beds. So we didn’t stay. Perhaps we should have, because the next morning, Garold was gone. His clothes remained—boots with chipmunks nestled inside, jacket spread upon the grass—and a sapling rose where he had once stood, the soil churned at its base as though someone had just planted it. The disturbed ground was oblong and the length of a man, but none of us mentioned that aloud.

Jack bent over and picked something out of the dirt. “His army tags,” he said, holding them up to the sun.

We protested at the police station, but they insisted they hadn’t taken him. The town council similarly held up their hands and shrugged. We tried to form a search party, but our parents said he had likely just moved on, that he must have found whatever he was looking for. No one bothered to dig up the sapling, to see what lay beneath it.

In the park, we ringed Garold’s sapling with stones big enough, high enough, to mark it as sacred, a barrier against the town groundskeeper, who grumbled each time he passed our shrine. It would remain a testament to Garold, a monument, we reasoned. We would ensure Gwernogle never forgot.

Jack scratched Garold into one of the rocks with his knife, adding, who is a tree, while I left a handful of granola so the birds and squirrels would come. Thomas bowed his head and said something that might have been a prayer, though we had never taken him as spiritually inclined. I laid a hand on the bark still supple and soft and a tingle shot up my arm, up the sleeve of Thomas’s shirt I had borrowed, through my body, across the jeans so wonderfully scratchy and tight on my legs. Suddenly, I knew. “He did it,” I breathed. “It’s him. He never left.”

Jack scoffed, but then he felt the bark too, and his eyes widened. In a flash, he nodded, then hugged Thomas, pecked him quickly on the cheek. Thomas wiped his face at first, glancing around, but then touched a finger to the sapling and nodded too. It didn’t make sense—not logically, anyway, not according to the laws of biology or science. But it did make sense in the same strange way that faith makes sense, even when reason or convention say otherwise.

We tried to guess what kind of tree it might be, but of course we were no experts in dendrology. The nascent green shoots might have been oak, as Jack suggested, or willow, as Thomas believed, or even maple, as I supposed. We hung Garold’s tags at the sapling’s peak, where they still rest to this day, never bothered by ravens. And whenever we have moments of doubt, or uncertainty, we visit Garold and climb his branches, pulling ourselves to the top where we sit beside robins and cardinals, Jack and Thomas hand in hand, my own legs clad in jeans. From that height, we look out on the town, the twinkle of new electric light shining through the old stone inn and the shrinking flock of ravens who linger on it.

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