When you become a tree, you don’t pick what tree. Otherwise, she would have picked the magnolia, with leaves so ample, it’s the perfect umbrella. And with those big splashy fuchsia flowers!
Instead, Marge was cast as a maple. Yes, she had rich red leaves come fall and all that. And flowers too, though spindly and too delicate for her own taste. But she was not even a sugar maple. Just an ordinary maple, like the one in her own backyard.
Still, “I am a maple,” Marge would enunciate loudly, as she stood beside the real one, with her maple paper script in hand, facing whatever group of elementary school squirmy kids arriving at her station; having trekked from tree to tree through the arboretum, the children were more interested in picking scabby elbows. Fact was, they too found the maple ordinary.
Like her, all the other arboretum trees seemed to be represented by aging arthritic widows; or so it seemed, when they’d first introduce themselves at the tree-training session. Going around in a circle, it actually could have been some grief therapy group. Some wore orthopedic shoes, and Marge wondered why in the heck they would volunteer for a tree-standing position, even if it was only for a couple of hours thrice-weekly.
Ms. Magnolia always came before Marge along the tree station trail. She would point a lot to the flower on her hat and feign a southern accent. She couldn’t project nearly as well as Marge could, but still the magnolia always kept the children’s attention.
Or maybe it was just the damn flower on her hat. A Dollar-store fake one, for sure, that she wore day after day, after day….
Marge hadn’t anticipated exactly how dull it would be to be a tree. Still, as her daughter liked to remind her a bit too much, it got her “out of the house.”
So like the other widows, she returned to her station week after week. Until one fall day, when Marge snapped; she couldn’t take it any more. How Ms. Magnolia, in her big floppy hat with the fake flower, was still most captivating – even as the real magnolia’s leaves had dulled to a bronze. Unlike now, at peak foliage, when her maple’s own leaves were a brilliant crimson.
So one afternoon, after a group of kids had reluctantly departing the magnolia, trekked their way over to the maple, and commenced their squirming, Marge barked: “LOOK at me!”
They did. They stopped picking at scabby elbows. They stared at Ms. Maple tree.
“What color are my leaves?”
There was the usual mumbling and rolling of eyes.
But this time she persisted. “I can’t hear youuu!”
“Red,” They mumbled a little louder.
“I still can’t heaaar youuuuu!!”” she said, cupping her ear, and leaning forward. And losing her balance. She fell into a tangled spiderweb of gangly squirmy children.
The teacher untangled her and helped her up. “Does anything hurt?”
Had she fallen that hard? Not really. But everyone was staring at her in horror and concern. At not the tree. Nor even at the widow. At someone who was finally, well…old.
She tried to finish her maple monologue. But her memorized script went right out of her head.
It didn’t matter. No one was listening. They were all still recovering from the old lady toppling over into the web of children.
She cut her script short and the confused group muddled along to the next tree. To the oh, most romantic, weeping willow….
And there was Ms. Magnolia. Staring at her. Which made Marge yell across the arboretum, startling birds and squirrels: “And where the heck would you be without that old hat?”
Ms. Magnolia stood stock still. Not a breeze could have ruffled the edges of even that. Her hat.
Until she took the hat off. “I would be this! A baby chick head!”
This was true. She was bald. Except for what, even from that distance, Marge could make out as a downy fuzz on her crown.
Marge did actually quit soon after that. Not only because she no longer could face Ms. Magnolia – having insulted not only a tree colleague, but a fellow widow who was now also a cancer survivor (The other “trees” who had witnessed the hat drama made a point of letting Marge know Ms. Magnolia was just finishing chemotherapy) – but because she no longer could endure how they all looked to each other, at their spotty tree stations, when they weren’t surrounded by a youthful crowd of squirmy children. Even Ms. Magnolia in her big floppy hat, could actually look desolate. Too alone. Aging, if not old.
But when Marge’s daughter asked her why she’d quit, she only said, “I wasn’t a very good tree.”
“It got you out of the house.”
Marge chuckled. “Yes. Trees do that.”
But she was damned if she would take root.