“Essential” [Fiction]

[Dedicated to the workers who, like the characters in this story, have been taken for granted for so long. One day, I’ll stop writing tiny stories about sentient trees. But not on Earth Day. Not today.]

The silver maple wasn’t used to arguing. Gossiping, sure. Even when the news was bad, as it often was these days, the tree thirsted for the way the news slipped, sibilant, from one branch to the next. These were strange times, though, which was why an argument was shaking the leaves of every tree on both sides of the block.

We aren’t supposed to move, a fragile ash tree shivered.

Several other trees quaked in agreement, until an old oak with limbs as thick as thunder straightened some of its branches. Even when the house behind it had been nothing more than a dream that flowed from an architect’s pen, the oak had been there.

Neither are they, it said.

That was that.

Under the hum of the suburban night, each tree slowly worked its roots free from the ground. The silver maple shuddered. Here by the curb, it had soil. It had water. During the daytime, it had plenty of sunlight. It knew how lucky it was to have everything it needed.

Some trees had to walk farther than others. Not that driveway, a crabapple tree told its friend the cherry. Remember, the daughter started working in a hospital. The cherry tree bowed and laid the last of its spring-pink blossoms across the lawn before moving on.

The silver maple didn’t have to travel far. It lumbered up the driveway of the house behind it until it stood in the middle of the blacktop. There it lowered its trunk and let its roots spread around it like a skirt.

A skirt. The silver maple thought about the child asleep in the house, probably behind one of the windows across from its branches. She sometimes used to lean against the tree when she would come outside to play. The tree wore her initials on its bark. I moved so you don’t have to, it thought. I won’t move again until you’re safe.

The asphalt beneath it was cold and unyielding. The silver maple reminded itself that that was all right. Things were supposed to feel hard when what you were doing mattered.

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