The Oak Woman: a short story

You are in an oak forest.

A dirt road cuts through the undergrowth. It would be a good road by human standards—wide and unyieldingly straight. The trees by the wayside bow inwards, mourning fallen brothers.

One might be inclined to describe this forest in minute detail and colourful language, but you already know it. It is any forest, and every forest.

Did you ever think you could hear the trees talk, if you were quiet enough?

You won’t hear them now, but would you sit awhile and remember when you could? Ignore the encroaching urbanisation, the distant highway buzz. Above all, ignore yourself.

What is real? Who is more real, you or me?

Stop.

Listen.

(Harder)

Never mind. Here comes the ambulance. Let us follow, and please, pay attention.

Our destination is this small hilltop. The poor soil here has yielded a single tree, standing in defiance of soil chemistry, erosion and foul weather. It would be a remarkable specimen, but look closer: a chainsaw has all but eaten through the breadth of the trunk.

Also of interest at the scene: One woman, two policemen, one young male, and the offending chainsaw.

Unconscious at the base of the tree lies the woman. A horrifically deep gash lays waste to her torso, slashing across her navel. The paramedics leap from the vehicle, rushing to her side.

One policeman now rises from his place tending the woman and examines the chainsaw, clearly relieved to be getting on with proper police work. Listen: his partner interrogates the frantic and bloodied young man.

‘Look, I swear, I swear. I never touched her, the man pleads. ‘I just started cutting at the tree, but she was screaming at me so I turned around and told her to shut up but she was already on the ground and there was blood everywhere.’ He brings one hand up, maybe to put his head in it, but it’s covered in blood and shaking anyway, so it hovers somewhere around his chest. Uncertain. ‘I don’t know. Maybe she threw herself on the blade, but I didn’t see her. I don’t know.’

The policeman asks, ‘And you’ve never seen her before?’

‘No. Never. I just came to clear the tree out the way and there she was. Don’t know what the hell she was doing out here. She had no right, telling me I couldn’t cut down my own tree. She was trespassing. This is my land.’

The policeman confer over the perplexingly bloodless chainsaw. The paramedics haul out a stretcher with helpless urgency—this far from the hospital, the woman doesn’t stand a chance. They are certain of this.

Listen.

A groan, a crack: the paramedics scramble away as the oak crashes to the ground, enfolding the woman in its dense crown.

After some debate, the chainsaw is used to clear the foliage. The officer slices each branch with the care of a finicky butcher, carving his way to its heart. His partner removes each cutting and arranges them in a neat pile, as if they might be bagged as evidence and later solve some mystery.

At last, the howl of the chainsaw sputters out, and five men form a baffled circle.

All that remains in the centre is a small pile of ash.

 

Image: Martin Liebermann. http://www.flickr.com/photos/liebermann

Image: Martin Liebermann. http://www.flickr.com/photos/liebermann

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