Standing under the cherry tree, I angle the camera towards the sky. I don’t want any identifying details in the shot; not the climbing frame where children squeal, or the boys doing wheelies on their bikes, or the old ladies grumbling. Not the lake with the ducks, or the daisy-covered hill leading up to a row of evergreens.
My parents had a tree like this. My sister and I spent hours climbing it, sitting in it, staring out over the high beech hedge. It was the centrepiece of my birthday parties; girls sat on the blossom-strewn lawn in their party frocks, scoffing chocolate fingers and crisps.
My upbringing was privileged. The rural setting, where the only thing polluting the air was the stench of manure on muckspreading days. The father who worked six days a week and never hit us hard enough to bruise.
Blossoms drift over the lake, out of reach of any hands that might try to catch them. When they finally fall, a drake darts, perhaps mistaking them for bread.
I love city parks: their smooth tarmac paths, well-pruned trees nodding their approval. I’m amazed that the world has allowed me to disappear into anonymous urbanity, where no one complains to my mother that I didn’t greet them in the street. Where I’m more than “Harry’s lass.”
My parents cut down the tree after I left home. On the visit I didn’t know would be my last, Dad mocked me for going out to the garden to look at where it had been. He mimed crying, saying in a warbly voice, “oh, poor tree.” My fists hardened like cherry pits. I stared at the stump, covered in chemicals to kill the roots, and vowed to stop being so sentimental.
When I examine the photo, I notice two ducks have flown into shot. Their silhouettes loom from the edge of the frame. Another viewer might say it was lucky to have them, but I want the tree to stand alone, rooted in ground no one can see. I crop them out, leaving nothing but blossom and sky.
Hannah Whiteoak lives and writes in Sheffield, UK. Her stories have appeared in various publications, including Banshee, Reflex Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, and the 2020 National Flash Fiction Day anthology. Find her online @hannahwhiteoak or www.hannahwhiteoak.me
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