This morning will be my last meeting with Arthur.
Arthur isn’t a man. I’ve had enough of them to last me a lifetime. Arthur is a tree. He’s a young, slender oak, and he lives in Victoria Park in Portsmouth.
I named him after King Arthur. I think I was searching for some sense of permanence when I first met him. Naming the tree after the legendary king gave me the stability I desperately needed right then. I knew the oak had hundreds of years of life ahead of him, if he was left alone to grow. That echoed my own life journey.
I’ve visited Arthur for six years now, in sun, rain, and snow. I’ve watched the change of the seasons mark the passing of my six miserable married years.
On the face of it, I have everything. A wealthy husband, a beautiful house with a sea view, and a very generous allowance. But what good is money when you’re dying inside?
There have been many times when I’ve felt like Arthur was my only friend. I read a lot of mind-body-spirit books, and all of them talk about the importance of contact with the natural world. They say that being in nature, and around trees, heals. I know that’s true.
On days when I felt like my heart was broken, hugging Arthur’s slender rough trunk, pouring out my troubles to him, sitting with my back against his bark and letting his canopy shade me while I watched clouds in the fountain, were the only things which kept me alive.
In summer I’d rise with my husband at dawn. After he left for his commute to London I’d set out on my walk to Victoria Park. I had the money to take the bus, the walk was some kind of penance. I was punishing myself for staying with my violent husband.
I’d arrive at Arthur as soon as the park opened, and sob into his bark. Sometimes, Arthur was the only being who didn’t judge me.
This morning I was alone as I walked through the park, down the familiar paths towards Arthur. It was just about light, and people would be getting ready for work – or commuting to their important jobs, like Stuart. I reached the tree and looked around, checking that there was no-one to see me talk to him. I wrapped my arms around his trunk.
‘I’m sorry, Arthur,’ I whispered. ‘I’m leaving you today. I’m going away with my sister. I’ve finally had enough of Stuart.’
The tree’s branches rustled in response. I knew I was imagining it, but all those books I’d borrowed from the Central Library told me that everything was energy, and that trees were conscious too. Just not in the same way as me. I was sure Arthur was aware of me somehow.
I looked up, checking the progress of autumn through his canopy. He was slow to come into leaf each year, but slower than the showier trees to lose his leaves too. Many people love the fire and blood, gold and crimson, of maples. Me, I preferred Arthur’s more muted palette. Arthur’s leaves didn’t turn all one colour. They became a slow-burning, multi-coloured tapestry of bronze, copper, and gold.
The crimson and gold I could get in my own garden, and the crimson reminded me too much of the blood which had poured from my nose when Stuart smashed it.
I hugged Arthur again. ‘Goodbye, Arthur,’ I whispered. ‘My sister’s taking me to safety today. I won’t see you again. I’ll miss you.’
A breath of wind touched my cheek, moving a strand of my hair to tickle it. Above me, the canopy rustled. It’s just a squirrel leaping through the branches, I told myself.
‘Goodbye,’ I said again, and planted a kiss on his rough bark. My eyes were full of tears. I walked away, past the fountain, and down the path towards the Guildhall.
I turned for one last look at Arthur in his autumn plumage. ‘I love you,’ I whispered. ‘You are why I’m still alive. I can’t thank you enough for that.’
A man walked towards me and I swung around, feeling self-conscious, and a little wary. But he ignored me, and I strode off towards the Guildhall, into my new, free life. The life which Arthur had given me the strength to claim.
Inspiration: What inspired me to write Fire and Blood was the knowledge that being in the natural world helps to heal us. I chose the oak as a symbol of longevity, as I wanted to give the message that the character in the story could weather the storms of her life too.
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