Sunday Fiction - Stars in the Oak Tree (final part!)
This week I share the second half of "Stars in the Oak Tree", that I've written for "Where the Stars Used to Sing".
If you haven’t read part one of “Stars in the Oak Tree” yet, simply click on the link.
Stars in the Oak Tree, Part 2
She wiped the sleep from her eyes and realised that the sound was coming from outside her window. Opening the window caked with dust, she caught her breath. It was not just one bird, but two. You never saw birds anymore. They weren’t supposed to be there. And they shouldn’t be happily singing about it. She hadn’t felt like singing in years… but now…
The tune she hummed was false and uncertain, but the birds twittered still and even turned to her to watch her through the window.
She took out the trees’ water then, along with some bread. She vaguely remembered her grandmother feeding the birds in her backyard crumbs. They sat by her feet and pecked at the bread as if it were manna from heaven. She crouched down to see them close-up and they didn’t fly away.
Near midday, she finally left the tree and the birds starting to build a nest in the branches from the dried twigs on the ground. She knew just what she wanted to give her new friends if they were planning on staying.
One of the tower’s rooms held crates and black plastic bags of clothes she had bought over the years and no longer wore. She found what she looked for when opening one of the bags in a corner of the room. Though the bag was dusty, the smell of lavender still lingered within. She pulled out one forgotten evening gown after another. Sequins, glitter, and satin caught the light and she piled them haphazardly around her, grinning at the bright colours and happy memories of dances and parties long ago.
She carried the armful of colours down the stairs to her bedroom and laid them out on the bed before searching for a pair of scissors that she knew she’d put somewhere. Outside, the bird song was louder now, the first twittering joined by other songs and trills.
Finally, she went into the kitchen she now rarely used thanks to all her meals being delivered. There, in one of the drawers she now designated the ‘junk drawer of never-ending stuff’, she found her scissors – and, forgotten at the bottom, some black-and-white seeds.
These, she picked up carefully and spread across her palm. There were only seven, but seven more that she’d not had before. She carried these along with the scissors back to her bedroom, daydreaming about what the seeds could be if they would germinate in her care.
By the next morning, she had many thin strips of colourful chiffon, satin, and other fabrics. Too excited to wait, she rushed outside with first light and hung the fabric strips from the oak tree’s branches. There was no wind to move them or rustle the leaves of the tree, but the birds soon came to inspect them and add some of the bright colours to their new nests.
She went ahead and ripped up more of the paving stones, piling them against the tower wall and planting the seven seeds in the soil a little way from the oak tree so that they would still get light.
Day after day she checked on them and, though she felt a little silly doing so, talked to them and even sang a few songs from her childhood.
One morning she rose to find seven little plants pushing through the soil and did a little happy dance.
The plants grew quickly, seemingly competing who could grow the fastest until they stood nearly as high as the oak tree and opened their huge yellow flowers, turning their faces towards the sun.
That same day, while she was tying some more fabric strips to the tree’s branches – simply because it looked so pretty – a face streaked with tears gazing through the hole in the wall caught her eye. She started, and then realised that it was one of the delivery men she’d seen a few times.
She went over to speak to him and realised that it was the first time in two weeks that she’d spoken to another person – or looked at her many feeds even though her phone was filled with photos of her little garden.
“It’s the most beautiful thing that I have seen in moths,” he sobbed and thanked her. “May I…” his voice trailed off for a moment, “bring my old mother to see? She did love trees so. And our tower is quite bare. She’s tried, but nothing would grow there, not even weeds.”
“Of course,” she said and, the next day, there were two faces at the hole in the wall.
The aged mother handed her a small paper packet before they left.
“Sweetpeas,” she said. “They’ve always been my favourite, but with nothing wanting to grow in our tower, I thought maybe you’d like to have them. And then we could come and see them when they flower?”
More and more people came by to stare at the tree in the hole through the wall. Here and there someone took a photo and walked away looking at it as if it was their most cherished possession.
It was midsummer when she saw the man and his mother again. She was in a wheelchair this time, but grinned when she saw the tall sweetpeas that had grown around a trellis made from old broomsticks and mop handles tied together with more strips of fabric.
Here and there more plants were growing in the courtyard as if by magic, turning the once empty stone place into a sliver of paradise.
The hole in the wall slowly grew bigger, though the wall seemed as sturdy as even to her. She saw faces every day now and got to learn names and stories of others’ lives. Some even left packets of old seeds when they left or during the night when the moon seemed to rest in the tree’s boughs and the stars glittered like Christmas baubles on its branches.
Rather than grow weary with the work, she seemed to thrive day by day, feeling more like herself every time she tended to the flowers or hugged her brightly decorated tree.
Then, one night while sitting beneath the giant oak tree and staring up at the sky, she saw the strangest thing. Where the sky had once only been black, a star – her old star – kindled to life once more and shone twice as bright as before.
She watched it through the night with tears burning her eyes and throat until it hung right above the oak tree and she thought she could stretch out her hand and touch it. She mused for a little while and then decided to call the new-old star “Hope”.
Hope kindled in the hearts of those who saw the garden as well and, soon, the stars started to shine once more. It took a while for any of the news outlets to pick up on it and, when they did, people rushed out of their towers into courtyards and streets to look at the swirling stars suddenly in the sky.
Some say it was the starlight and moonlight that did it – that let the towers crumble to dust. That it had something to do with the strange rains melting the mortar. Others say it was all the trees that were now being planted from the acorns of the giant oak. After all, roots don’t care much for walls or for keeping stone intact.
She didn’t much care what it was that broke down the walls. All she knew was that her favourite thing to do was to dance in the rain around the tree while the stars peeked through the moving clouds and seemed to hang on the tree’s branches like so many Christmas baubles.