“This is a new one, eh, Cooper?” Claude said, holding his beloved tree for support, as he took his time to let his weary body sit down. The tree swayed a little, letting a few loose leaves and detached flowers fall on his head.
“Yeah, yeah,” the seventy-one-year-old man wagged a bony finger at tall, old tree, “always the demanding one. Oh well, the things we do for our children…”
He gave a throaty laugh, as he slowly switched on his kindle, letting his shivering fingers slide along the slippery screen.
“Darn!” he swore under his breath, “Chose the wrong story, sorry. Lucky that you do not have this problem, eh?”
He smiled as he traced the edges of the page lightly. “You know,” he said in his throaty, yet gruff, voice, “I thought… I thought, that… that…”
Cooper bent a little, to block the rays of the sun from burning him, covering Claude with its warm and understanding comfort.
“You know, when my daughters married,” Claude strained his neck to look up at Cooper, “It was always my dream that one day, I would be sitting right there on the porch, with my wife and children, sipping some nice rose tea, while my grandchildren played in the garden here…”
“I guess… she did not like that dream…” Claude tried to smile, though a frown was forming on his face, “She did not like the… dream… so she left me… forever…”
The tree swayed a little, a few leaves slowly falling, as it formed a small crown on his head.
“Well, I felt that at least I had three beautiful daughters, you know…” he said, a tear trickling down his cheek, “who would be there for me… after all, they were all that I had left… All that I had left… and they never came back…”
“I waited for the phone to ring and hear their comforting voices. I checked the mailbox every day, hoping that there would be a letter addressed to daddy. I hoped every single day that, the front door would open and my grandchildren would come barging in and knock me over in a tight embrace… you know… but.”
Cooper stood still, neither swaying nor shedding any leaves. It understood Claude’s feelings itself. When Claude was a young boy who had just moved into the house, the tree was dying. But, Claude being a plant lover, decided to take it upon himself to restore Cooper, a name which he fondly called him by. He watered him, nurtured him and spoke to him just like it was one of his own. Soon, as Cooper regained his strength, they became best friends. Claude would often read to Cooper, to satisfy his own literary cravings, and Cooper would enjoy Claude’s quirky performance while reading. Even though Claude grew up and started a family, he never forgot his oldest friend.
“I never had many friends in my life. I had only my family, but they do not consider me to be theirs…” he choked, “Out of… everyone… only you are…”
A few of the branches swayed, letting the leaves brush off his head. “Sorry, Cooper,” he said, wiping his tears, “I must have bored you with my sob story, but I could not help it. I’ll simply go ahead with the Princess and the Pea, then!”
He smiled and read the story to it. To a mere passer-by, Cooper was a still tree, not moving at all, but Claude definitely felt his beloved tree embrace him to empathize with his pain and understanding. He read, he expressed, he laughed, he embodied all of the characters. And he knew, that the only one who cared enough to enjoy it as much as he did, was the tree who made his life better.
People who had known him all his life had thought that he was a crazy guy, talking to a tree who would not speak back to him. Some of them even laughed and ridiculed him, and he knew that some of them were none other than his own daughters. But, he bore it all and let it be. Everybody else had disappointed him, but his old friend would never let him down.
Claude chuckled after he had uttered the last word of the story, “Well, reading about a princess uncomfortable of a pea reminds me of my youngest one. Too delicate to handle anything! She was, what do these kids call nowadays? Ah, a-”
But, Cooper never got to know what she was, because the ring of the telephone could be heard from a distance. Claude widened his eyes and looked up at Cooper.
“Did you hear that?!” he smiled, his eyes twinkling in excitement, “Did you hear that?! I have never heard that, in like… years…”
“I have to see what it is all about,” Claude promised Cooper, “I will be back very soon to tell you what it is all about!”
Claude rushed in, leaving Cooper alone. The ringing stopped, maybe because Claude managed to answer the phone. Hopefully. Cooper never liked his master to be sad.
Cooper waited. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, half an hour, one hour. Maybe, one of his daughters had called, and he was too busy on the phone, which was understandable. But then, one hour turned to two, three, four, five, six…
The sun had begun to set, which was usually the time that Claude would come out to have a cup of tea under its shade, as they would enjoy the warm glow of the sunset. As the sun began to slowly sink beyond the horizon, Cooper’s attention began to shift to the house. The lights within the house were put off, leaving the interior pitch black. Cooper started to ruffles its leaves in worry. Why did Claude not come out of his home? What had happened to him? Never in his life, ever since he was a six-year-old boy, did he ever miss an evening sitting next to it and reading a story or talking about his feelings. But today, it seemed like nobody was even in his house. Cooper began to worry.
Night had fallen. Dinner time had passed. The lights on the street kept shutting off slowly, the darkness slowly spreading. And yet, Claude did not even come to wish a good night. Cooper began to get worried and swayed more than usual, hoping that Claude would remember and come to the window. When the old tree stopped shaking, it began to hear the sound coming from the house.
The sound of sobbing.
Cooper bent one of its arms towards a window, trying to rattle a glass, but unfortunately, could not even reach the window. It stood, rooted to the ground in worry. It wanted to comfort its caretaker, and yet it could not. It listened in sadness, hoping for once that it could move and be with its caretaker and companion. It listened, till the break of dawn.
It listened, till the birds began to chirp. It listened, till the street began to wake up. It listened until the warm rays of the morning sun began to brighten everything up. It listened, till a white jeep drove up the street and stopped in front of the house. It listened, as two men in white came up till the door and rang the doorbell. It listened when its caretaker opened the door and quietly walked between them, his head hung down the entire time. It listened, as they opened the door for Claude to get in. It listened, till Claude turned to look at Cooper.
His eyes were red and puffy, bloodshot from crying a lot. His cheeks had reddened and he looked defeated. He gave Cooper one little nod, as the attendant nudged him to enter the jeep. He sat in the jeep, looking along at his best companion as the white jeep drove away.
Cooper had no idea that, it was the last time that he would see him in a very, very long time.
Days passed, then weeks, then months, and Cooper still waited to hear the sweet voice of his loving caretaker, narrating his simple stories and laughing at the same time. Autumn passed, then Winter came along, then Spring, then Summer, and yet Cooper waited. People passed it, some even stopping to stare at the house longingly, sighing. While some of them stared at Cooper like he was an exhibit, none of them came ahead to even touch the tree. Cooper began to feel alone in its wait…
Even though it was summer, its leaves had begun to fall. For a tree accustomed to immense love, it was snatched away from it too fast and it could not understand why. Its caretaker’s departure began to take a toll on its health. The leaves began to dry up faster on summer afternoons, and the bark began to harden and flake out, the dead bit falling to the floor. It stopped swaying excepts when the winds compelled it to. Its life force began to fade away.
Maybe the little things were not evident, but the big things were. People on the street began to notice the tree dying. But, instead of understanding the reason behind it, they were blinded by the threat that it was posing. And they had decided to do what every human who wanted to ‘prevent a disaster’ would do.
One day, the couple living across the road had brought a man in plaid overalls to come and give Cooper a once-over.
“We need to cut it down as soon as possible!” the worried man commented, “before it disrupts the neighbourhood.”
“Ever since the old man was taken to the old aged home,” the woman continued, “the house seems even emptier and the tree is drying out. If it stays any longer, it is bound to snap and fall down. Prevention is better than cure, right?”
“What about the old man?” the man in plaid overalls asked, “have you taken his permission?”
“Oh, as far as I know, he is in no position to even answer a question like that!” the woman shrugged and threw her hand in the air, “And his kids could not even care much about that. They would be only too happy to get rid of this whole lumber!”
“I think we should wait for the old man,” he said, “I would like to ask his kid about what he thinks.”
“Sure!” the man across the road said, “I will send you their numbers so you can call them.”
The man in plaid overalls gave a simple nod and walked away. The man sighed as he looked at the tree, “This is why I hate kids, honey. They stay with you and are concerned about you, as long as they need you. Once they are done, they will make sure to walk away as soon as they can and leave you alone. And once you are old and they want your house, they send you to the old aged home, while they find a way to grab whatever you have left.”
The woman shook her head and walked away, followed by the man. Cooper felt hurt, more leaves falling on the dried grass on the near barren ground beneath it. Claude was taken to the old aged home and he was left alone. It was left to die. Its one true friend, who was always there to make its life worth existing, was never coming back. There would be no more laughter, no more stories, no more jokes, no more warmth, no more love…
There would be nothing, no more.
Cooper tried to thrive, tried to survive because it still had faith that Claude would come back and everything would be okay. But, it did not realize that, in thriving, it was killing itself faster and its life force burning out…
….till the news had arrived on the street.
Claude had passed away.
Cooper began to lean, giving up on whatever was left of its existence. The only life that meant everything to it had given up on life itself.
The very next day, Cooper, the now leaning tree saw a few cars lined up in front of the house, followed by a hearse. The three daughters, along with their families, got off the car and began to make their way towards it. Men with shovels followed and they began to dig the earth out of the very spot, where Claude would sit and spend his days brightening up both their days with his love.
Once a big hole was dug, the coffin bearers lowered the black coffin down in the hole, as the people around looked sorrowfully. The daughters shed tears, but Cooper knew better.
The funeral was over. Everyone paid their respects and parted ways. All that was left was a tombstone built on the memories of a lifetime, of a soul starting as an innocent boy trying to save a tree to a man who made the most of what little he had. And what he did, was all that Cooper could ask for.
It could feel the absence of his caretaker and yet, he was present in some way. But, after all, that it had been through, it was not enough. They both had spent a beautiful life, which had ended in suffering. And, since the old man breathed his last, Cooper’s day was not far off.
A week later, the leaves had fallen off, the bark had dried, the roots gave up.
It was time.
The woodcutter came and sawed the old tree off, clean to the bottom, with only the stump of the beloved tree left to protect the grave of its companion. The tree that had once stood tall to add beauty to the little cottage, was now nothing but a minuscule reminder that nothing lasts forever.
Claude has passed away and Cooper gave up his life to meet his best friend on the other side. But, Cooper did not realize what it had actually done.
When the leaves had fallen, the tiny seeds accompanied them, making its way to the soil, when the grave was dug up and covered. These tiny seeds made their way down to the withering body of the old man. Some could make it, while some could not. And ironically, one out of the many fallen began to rise. It rose, right from the old man, to the surface of the soil, breaking its way up beyond the surface, paving a way to new life. And as the tree blossomed, the tiny roots wrapped gently around the fragile frame of the man, coming together for a new beginning, a new adventure, a new existence…
And somewhere, in a beautiful place beyond our world, Claude sat at the foot of Cooper’s trunk, happily watching the birth of their legacy. Because, in the end, they were finally at peace.
In the end, all that matters is to not live forever but to create something that will…