Throwback Thursday: Poison by Samantha Bryant
Editor's Note: Nature, compassion, and survival all intermingle in today's enchanting Throwback Thursday story by author, Samantha Bryant. Enjoy!
Why? Ana Bautista looked at the ancient hawthorn, heartbroken. The massive trunk had turned ashy and spongy. Why would anyone hurt this centuries-old tree? Ana knelt, resting her palm against the damage. Eyes closed, she exhaled, calling to the tree’s spirit. Sharp pain shot up her arm, but she maintained contact. Her breath caught, reliving the cutting, the poison shoved into the tender wood, the bitter curse. The tree couldn’t tell who would do such a thing. It could only share the pain. The newspaper called it vandalism, but this was no mindless destruction. Someone wanted this specific tree dead. She couldn’t explain that to the community garden committee, though. They expected more mundane explanations. Was it too late? Warmth ran up her arm. Ana grounded herself, resting her other palm against the earth, drawing energy and funneling it into the tree until, feeling woozy, she leaned her head against the trunk. Brushing the soil from her knees, Ana considered the area. From the window of a brick house across the road, a woman watched her. Ana noted the carefully tended garden in the otherwise neglected yard, identifying medicinal plants. Feverfew. Goldenseal. Saint John’s Wort. To an untrained eye, they seemed like any other spring flowers. With one last caress for the tree, Ana crossed the road. When she raised her hand to knock, the door creaked open. A voice called out, “You might as well come in.” In no hurry to make her intrusion complete, Ana paused inside the threshold, letting her eyes adjust to the dim. Surrounding a silver mirror spread a series of framed portraits of the same girl at different ages, the last one a memorial, death date last summer. “You want to talk about the tree.” Ana kept her surprise from flashing across her face. The woman clung to the shadows, an ill-defined collection of draping cloth. She might have been mistaken for a ghost. When she offered a mug, Ana accepted. “I do.” “Then, talk,” the woman said, inhaling the steam from her own mug. Ana got to the point. “Why curse the hawthorn?” The woman swirled her fingers at the air in front of her. “Why not? The tree was like the town--watching and doing nothing about the tragedy at its roots.” Ana blinked. Did she need to remind the woman that trees lacked the power to do otherwise? Instead, she raised her cup, automatically identifying the lavender, chamomile, and valerian root in the blend. The woman smacked her lips disapprovingly, then met Ana’s gaze, her expression penetrating and direct. “Can you save the tree?” “Maybe. I can counter the poison, but the curse…” The woman peered into Ana’s face. A whiff of honey and dark fruit wafted from the tall mug in her hands. It held more than tea. Bourbon maybe. Ana centered herself for defense, but tolerated the examination, assessing the other woman. Tall, and younger than Ana’s sixty years, with unkempt hair and clothes, bags under her eyes, and a yellow tint to her dusky skin. Despite her frumpy appearance, power emanated from her--vibrating between them, making itself known. Ana sensed no animosity, only deep sorrow and bitterness that had poisoned the woman as surely as she had poisoned the tree. A sympathetic ache blossomed in her breast. At last the woman’s mouth twisted into a half smile. “You aren’t what I expected. I’m Evanora.” “Ana.” The woman’s sweater slid off one shoulder and Ana wondered if she had been a larger woman before grief began to eat her from within. She imagined Evanora with a fuller face and more formidable figure and decided she had lost considerable weight in her mourning. Ana asked, “Can I get some of what you’re drinking?” Evanora smiled, dry lips stretching thin and pale across her teeth. “Do you want the tea, too?” “Not really.” That got a laugh, a husky almost-cough, rusty as an unoiled door hinge. Evanora took the untouched mug of tea and returned with a short, curved glass of beveled crystal, two fingers full of a warm, honey-brown liquid poured over tinkling ice cubes. Their fingers brushed in the passing of the drink and a vision shone in Ana’s mind: an empty bottle of pills, a girl sleeping beneath the hawthorn tree, never to wake. Directionless anger flailing uselessly. Ana shifted her gaze to Evanora’s, but the woman seemed unaware of what she had accidentally shared. Ana twisted the glass in her hand, and watched the bourbon slide slosh around the ice before raising the glass in a salute, and taking a long swallow. “Ready?” she asked. Evanora nodded and Ana popped a bourbon flavored ice cube into her mouth and deposited the glass on the porch wall. Lifting her gaze, she took in the waxing crescent moon, an auspicious sign for healing. When Evanora joined her, she slipped her elbow through the other woman’s. It was like holding the hollow bones of a bird, fragile and brittle. Taking a deep breath, she tugged Evanora toward the suffering hawthorn. “Let’s make this right.” Street lights illuminated the tree, but the long branches sheltered the women from view when they knelt. Ana placed both hands against the damaged trunk and felt an answering thrum of life from the wood. It wasn’t too late. Beside her, Evanora rested her back against the truck, tufts of her fluffy hair catching on the bark. She hummed a song Ana had never heard and yet recognized. A sad song. Branches sagged and a few leaves fell into Evanora’s lap. “I’m sorry,” she said, fingering the leaves on her skirt. “I take it back.” The earth shifted among the tree roots and rumbled gently as distant thunder. Still connected to the tree, Ana felt the sigh of relief as the curse slid free and swirled into nothingness. The tree again had the will to fight. It had survived much. With a little kindness, it would survive this, too. As would they all.
Samantha Bryant believes in unexplainable connections and second chances. She loves lonely beaches and sunlight through the leaves of trees. She lives in North Carolina, but left her heart in Alaska. She’s tougher than she looks. She is best known for her Menopausal Superhero series of novels. Story Graphic: Amanda Bergloff @AMANDABERGLOFF