by Riley Krembil

My scars began forty-four rings ago. A couple sat beneath my thin, bud-filled branches as the sounds of their joy made its way through my bark spreading up to the tops of my leaves and down to the tips of my roots. They’d started visiting me after a long rainy season as the sun began to hold the sky for longer hours. I liked them. They weren’t like the other humans who visited this park– they seemed to really enjoy the little shade I could provide them as a young transplant. They grew closer taking up less and less space until they felt like one person against me. I enjoyed our time together. The water and food they left near my roots made me stronger. They helped me grow.

And then they took out a knife and carved their love into the base of my trunk.

Their markings were deep enough for sap to spill. Deep enough to scar. I was young then. The fungal infection their carving introduced to my system was easy to overcome. My bark was never the same, but the couple continued to visit me for two more rings to see how far their love had grown.

After I was marked, more couples came to visit me. On sunny days, they sat beneath me laughing, kissing, talking until they’d pull out a blade, rock, or sharp stick and scar me. As my trunk became overcrowded with their carvings, fewer couples came to visit me. Suckers grew along my base overcompensating for the damage introduced to my system. They were difficult to support taking nutrients away from the higher branches that needed them. My bark was still there, but over time I could feel the change. I had changed. I wasn’t as sturdy. Strong windstorms snapped off pieces of me. What leaves I had left, changed colour before the others around me. No one sat beneath my branches anymore. The only humans who visited were children with small pointy objects carving meaningless symbols to kill time.

I grew slowly. The grass around me came up in sparse clumps. Ants had taken advantage of the latest child’s carving entering through the minor wounds chewing at my insides. It wasn’t the first colony that had tried, but this time was different, this time I was different. They tunnelled through the soft wood left rotting from infection. I was the kind of tree humans avoided. I was dying.

I am dying.

The ants have nested in my roots as they eat away at my connection to the earth. I’ve lost three lower branches still attached to me. It is spring but my buds are delayed. They may never sprout. The birds fly over me choosing stronger branches to nest in. Not even the squirrels will climb my trunk anymore.

But they are back.

It took forty-four rings, but the couple is back. They move slower, sound quieter, but they are here. One of them cuts away at the suckers while the other rakes away debris left over from the melt. With each cut I feel lighter, with every swipe of the rake the air reaches deeper into the earth. It is too late. I’m too damaged. They reach for their scar, but their love has grown too far for either of them to touch. I can no longer offer them shade, but they rest near my trunk as the sun warms the ground around us. They lean against me and my frame creaks. Tension grows in the large crack in my trunk. They shift closer as they lean against me until we feel like one.

Riley Krembil is a Canadian writer who had the proud, short-lived status of “Alien” (according to her student visa paperwork). She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with an MFA in fiction writing. Her work has previously appeared on Breadcrumbs Magazine and Coffin Bell Journal.
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