Mort’s Tree

This is my entry for Trifecta Week 76. The word this week was blood, using its 3rd definition:

*****

The tree was still a baby on the day Mort’s mom shuffled across the soft carpet of grass in the cemetery, a broken bag of bones in sensible shoes. Its trunk was a hand span across, tendril-like roots just beginning to quest deeper into the soil.

Mrs. Ramsey stopped next to a fledgling branch and wrapped her fingers gently around it, swaying with it in a quiet private dance. “Right here,” she said, pointing at the unbroken ground. “Mort loved the woods; never saw a tree he didn’t want to climb. He was only fifteen, you know.” The official made appropriate noises, nodding. “Right here,” she repeated, with a watery laugh that was part sigh, part sob.

On the day of his funeral, Mort sat on the same branch his mother had danced with. He bounced on it experimentally; it never would have held his flesh and bone weight. A leaf fluttered to the ground. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know I could do that.”

Intermittent sunbeams dappled strange patterns on the silly looking casket that his parents had chosen. Mort had to laugh. As wonderful as they were, they sometimes showed a distinct lack of taste. Evidenced, he supposed, by naming their only son Mortimer. He laughed again, figuring that Mort had suited him just fine.

When the time came for his father to pull his mother from the grave site, she stared up at him as if surprised to find him there and stumbled awkwardly to her feet.

He crab walked next to her as they started away, glancing back again and again towards the tree that stood sentinel to his son’s headstone. There it was again – a branch moving on its own.

“Milly,” he whispered. “Look!” The silly grin on his face got through the haze her brain was surviving behind and she turned. Two leaves drifted towards the ground as the branch bobbed a goodbye.

“You take care of my boy,” she told the tree. “He’s your blood now.”

****

For the second time in a year, one of my son’s friends was killed in a hit and run accident. The first one I didn’t know; he was from a different city and it was a friend of a friend kind of thing. The second one he was closer to, played basketball with. I’d met him a few times, knew his name. He died right around the corner from where we live, last Thursday night. As if losing your child isn’t bad enough, to know that someone left them there, more worried about themselves than the one they left behind, has to be so crushing that I can’t even imagine the pain. I guess this is my way of trying to offer something back. That, who the hell knows, I’m really not even sure what I’m trying to say here. Regardless, this is for them, the only small thing that I’ve got to give. My soundtrack today? My kid in the background on his Xbox headset, because I’m incredibly lucky to have him sitting in the next room right now.

******

Categories: Fiction, Mort's Graveyard Tales | 25 Comments

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25 thoughts on “Mort’s Tree

  1. It’s beautifully touching and your note at the bottom made me sob. If all you ever had to give someone was your words, they’d be a very blessed recipient indeed.

    • Thank you, SAM. This one wiped me out and I had to go look at baby animals on Pinterest for an hour before I went back to life…

  2. The story was so touching, but the context that your author’s note added was simply heart-breaking. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. You can’t help feeling useless, there’s not anything that you can do except try to put just a little light out there, I guess.

  3. Incredibly moving. I thought that before I read your note. Reading that breaks your heart, and you wonder how people can go on. I love how you insert a tiny bit of humor with the funny casket and his name, makes us believe he’s going to be ok in his new state. Beautiful, Shannon.. a lovely, tribute.

    • Thank you, Steph, as always. The only thing that I could do was try to imagine that maybe the parents could get a little bit of comfort at the end, because it destroys my heart even trying to imagine what they must be going through.

  4. This is a wonderful story. I don’t know how those who kill in hit and runs live with themselves. LM x

    • Well apparently they can’t do it easily; my son told me this morning that the driver turned himself in. Which doesn’t mean much, all in all, but at least the parents don’t have to wonder any longer. Thank you for reading, and for taking the time to leave a note.

  5. David Wiley

    You have a remarkable gift with words, and this tribute is worthy of praise. How horrible it must be to be that family right now. I can hardly believe that would happen twice within a year. 😦

    • I honestly couldn’t either. I try to remind myself of all the asinine shenanigans we pulled as teenagers and survived, because otherwise I think I would have a panic attack every time the kid tries to leave the house. Thank you, David.

  6. This is a great write. The ending line is just amazing. And your narrative at the end – Tragic.

    • I tell you what, writing that last line left me sitting at my desk with my head in my arms, just crushed. Thank you, very much, for reading and commenting.

  7. If nothing else says it, this one does. You are a writer. This piece is nothing less than perfection and stirred emotions in me I thought long dead.

    • Oof…I’ve been a little weepy off and on the past few days and you just made me cry again. So…thanks, which sounds weird but feels like what I mean

  8. Draug419

    Beautiful and sad. I like Mort, he feels so natural–just like a kid–even when he’s a ghost.

    • That’s exactly what I was hoping for, so thank you. He’s one of those characters that really makes me wish that I could draw what I see in my head.

  9. Oh wow, this is so beautifully written and so moving. Your comments at the end are even more moving. I cannot imagine what those poor parents are going through. A lovely tribute you’ve done here.

  10. The story was right out of the Serling tradition – that little something that makes the mystery. I love that the tree branched danced for the parents, that his mom felt his son lived on.

    As for your notes, I’m so sad about these losses. Hit and Run drivers are the worst – usually drunk or high, and so all the more scared to get caught, they are hellacious examples of human nature at its lowest. I’m sorry for the child close to your family, and glad you can hug your own son a little tighter tonight. Heck, give him a hug for me, too, willya? My daughter is in SoCal and I’m in Wisconsin, so that “reach out and touch” doesn’t work. More like “reach out and text.”

    Stellar work on this story. Gave me a little chill. Amy

  11. This is beautifully written and very moving.

  12. Oh that’s so terrible. Someone hit and killed my beloved dog and didn’t stop. Their selfishness complicated my fairly-simple grieving process. I cannot begin to even fathom the depths of despair I would feel in this situation.

    A good friend of mine lives in Indonesia and has recently educated me about this: http://www.omg-facts.com/History/There-Is-An-Indonesian-Island-In-Which-T/54254 Which fits your story in a sad way.

    • It really does just make it so much worse, doesn’t it? As horrifying as the thought is, accidents do happen. But if you don’t take responsibility for it, it’s just one of the worst decisions you can make for everyone involved, including yourself. Thanks for the link, I’ll take a look.

  13. This was a touching story. I could feel the parents’ heartbreak, but I had to smile at the son’s thoughts and the movement of the tree branch. In kid fashion, he was playful, yet sent a sign that everything would be okay.

    It’s devastating when young lives are lost. Growing up, I lost several friends- guns, drowning, robbery, drunk driver- so I never had the teenage “I’m invincible” mentality. As parents we do relate these deaths to how it could be our child. It’s hard not to.

    • That was my intent, so I’m very glad that the kid-like essence was still there. I admit it was also a self centered desire to write the story with an uptick in mood, to find something, even imaginary, that made it feel just a little less awful.

      I’m sorry to hear you learned this lesson so young; with all of our idiocy, I didn’t lose any friends. I can’t imagine the way my world view would’ve changed.

  14. What an excellent story to offer those parents.

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