Family Trees – A Short Story Inspired By Grandmother Willow

So this week is a little different.

I’m all settled back in Ireland now, have been catching up with people, doing interviews for Disneyland, ending a relationship I thought would last forever…

…you know. The usual. 

Another thing that has been keeping me busy has been my new Creative Writing class, which I am lucky enough to have as one of my final modules for my English Literature degree! The following story was written for said class under the prompt ‘tree’, although a certain special tree popped into my head as a more personal inspiration ❤

I hope you enjoy!

ᵒOᵒ 

The howling entered the house before Ainsley did. Eoghan tensed on the couch, unsure what to do with the oncoming burst of female emotion, but Monica rose briskly to face the door, hands empty in preparation to hold her daughter.

“We broke up” Ainsley wept, slamming into her mother’s chest.

“I know, darling, I know.”

“I know you do” she gasped against her cardigan, “I was talking about it f-for weeks! I… I don’t know why I’m s-so… shocked…”

“Well of course you are, Ainsley! I don’t think I’ve ever had a break up that didn’t upset me, no matter who initiated it.” She separated the tangles the wind had bunched into her daughter’s hair, noticing Eoghan’s focus turn from the soccer game he was controlling to the rare insight into his mother’s dating life before their father.

“I… I don’t think I even s-said a proper goodbye” Ainsley told her, “He just… like… stared at me as I put my shoes back on, and I just… ran straight home, I…I couldn’t deal with it!”

“Stared at you? You mean he didn’t even…” But Monica’s indignant reaction ebbed slightly as she absorbed the meaning of Ainsley’s words. She unfolded her daughter from around her waist and titled her head towards the open door: “You mean you haven’t been to your tree yet?”

Ainsley, visibly unsure of what to do with her arms now that she had been removed from the embrace, looked up at her mother, eyes shining with fresh tears: “What?”

“Your tree,” Monica repeated, with as much firmness as she could muster, “While the emotions are raw.”

“Ah Mam” Eoghan interjected in brotherly protest.

“Are you serious?” Ainsley whimpered. Monica watched as the eyebrows on the puffy face in front of her curled upwards in desperation, communicating a longing for a mother’s comfort so rarely seen in comparison to the pre-teen years. She took Ainsley’s hand and pulled her towards the door: “Come on darling, it won’t take long, then you can tell me all about-”

Mam” Ainsley shook her hand from Monica’s grasp, “This is my first break-up… I can’t… I… I need…”

Exactly,” Monica pleaded, “You’ll never get a first time back, it’ll define you no matter what. How do expect an accurate representation if-”

Fuck accurate representation” Ainsley spat out, her hurt pride accelerating her sorrow towards fury.

“Now Ainsley” Monica said tentatively, “You know I’ve always felt similarly… but it’s my job to keep it going… it was so important to your father…”

“GREAT!!” Ainsley bellowed, pushing past her mother to mount the stairs, “Now rub that in my face to make me feel like the selfish bitch with her insignificant problem, unable to see this grrrrrand bigger picture.” Her words were tear-free now, tumbling out of her mouth and all around her in self-defence; “I can’t believe you’d pit Dad against me. Not the welcome I expected from my own mother I’ll tell ya that much. Looks like I’ll be keeping the day’s events to myself then, although I thank you for your generous offer of a chat with your ever-attentive shrubbery. Fuck. That.

The door slam punctuated her final word, and Monica sank into the couch, head in her hands, defeated.

***

“Ainsley” Monica murmured, with a soft knock, “I’ve been thinking. What if I show you…”

“I was just about to go,” came a growled reply from the bed covers, and sure enough Ainsley rose from beneath them, slid past her mother and down the stairs, without even a pause to step into shoes. Monica waited a moment, breathed a sigh of what she hoped was relief, and followed her daughter outside as discretely as possible.

Ainsley had positioned herself before the slim maple tree at the highest point of their sloping garden. Monica hung back just enough, unconsciously choosing the swelled trunk of the oak tree to lean against as she waited for her daughter to speak. She hoped Ainsley would turn and see that her mother was there for her, listening to her, and would be ready with open arms once again for all the advice or silent pettings she required…

“Ahm… hi tree.”

Monica almost laughed despite herself, but did not want an eruption such as that to be the reason her daughter turned to look at her.

“I broke up with Denis today,” Ainsley continued, “I…” – her voice cracked pitifully to a higher pitch- “I thought he’d put up… more of a fight…”

Monica relapsed right into her instinctive urge to protect her child, and she rushed forward to step in front of the delicate maple. A voice erupted from the oak to draw her back: “Spying on our daughter are we?”

Monica turned to examine the tree as her husband’s face leaned through its trunk, settling his features onto the bark in order to fix her with a playful grin; “I didn’t think you were the prying type. This is the equivalent to reading her diary you know.”

“She was going to tell me” Monica muttered, returning under the shade of the oak but tilting her head in her daughter’s direction.

“…I mean… I know I cry pretty easily, but couldn’t he have shed one tear? Even… like… glistened a bit-”

But the wooden face interrupted once again; “I could help you out if you just let her talk to me you know. I never knew Ainsley as a teenager-”

“Dara didn’t,” Monica corrected, “Dara never met Ainsley as a teenager. You are not Dara. Please, let’s not start on this again. I’m doing what he wanted and giving the kids a chance to test this whole thing out, but they are not seeing their father like this.”

Ha! You just called me their father!” the imprint of Dara teased, but softly as he could, knowing the subject was a delicate and confusing one for whom he considered to be his wife. She, however, had turned her attention back to the distant Ainsley.

“And now it’s like I can’t even remember the bad stuff, y’know? But I sure can remember every miniscule detail from that trip to London two months ago, or the first time I made him laugh, or vice versa, or when I met his family… oh God his family, they were in the sitting room when I went to run out, his mother hugged me and everything…”

“You’re doing the right thing you know” Dara’s flaking face insisted, “She usually just talks to it when she’s bored, right? This is real, it’ll encourage a strong connection which will persist when her time comes. She’ll last forever, passing down break up advice from generation to generation!”

“Mmm” came Monica’s sombre attempt to allow him his point, “I’m just worried for the ‘strong connection’ she’ll have with those in her present.”

The record of her husband’s features began to sink back into the trunk of the oak, unable to deal with her criticism of the ritual by which he had been created, and Monica was left alone to watch her daughter clutching the grass in front of her tree, heaving breaths through convulsive sobs. The unmistakable impression of Ainsley’s almond eyes and buttoned nose slowly disrupted the young tree’s otherwise smooth surface, warning its mother from afar that they were doing just fine on their own.

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