Creative Nonfiction

 

SAPLING

It was the first precious thing that was ever mine. 

            My grandfather often brought me peaches from the market. Plump, soft, and pale, they were the size of two of my fists. The sight of the fruit held the magic of giving me an invisible hunger—even if I was full, my tongue immediately yearned to taste its sweet flesh.

            Every so often, on a particularly languid afternoon, my grandfather and I went down to the park to enjoy the peaches. This park, a small spill of green behind the city, was tightly woven into my earliest memories. There was a small man-made forest where I used to pick wildflowers. Calluses on my palms from the monkey bars and Band-Aids on my knees from the wood chips were badges for the hours I’d spent on the playground. My grandfather had pushed my bike, free of training wheels, down the hill; I still remember bouncing forward roughly, laughing into the wind, and gripping those purple rubber handles for dear life. But the tennis court was where my favorite memories were. 

            On the way to the park, I walked the white path (the cement sidewalk), and my grandfather carried me over the black path (the asphalt roads). When we got there, we sat on the green benches in the court—him on the bench and me in his lap, my Crocs dangling above his legs. He took out a metal spoon and a peach, warmed by black fabric of the drawstring bag. My grandfather used the spoon to break the skin of the peach and scoop out a well-sized chunk of fruit, white in the middle and pink at the bottom. I eagerly bit down on the fruit, and a flower of sweetness blossomed between my teeth. As I ate, the bright afternoon sun dried the sticky fruit juice on my coral dress. When there was too little left of the peach for the spoon, I cleaned the pit in my mouth with strings of fruit still stuck in my milk-white baby teeth, cheeks swollen as I chewed happily.

            It was on one of those afternoons when I asked where peaches came from. When my grandfather told me that they grew on large green trees like apples and oranges, I asked him if I could grow my own peach tree. I was overjoyed when he agreed. I had never had anything of “my own” before. The next day, my grandfather brought one of the pits to the park, and we went down to the man-made forest to dig a small hole. I popped the pit inside, covered it up, and stuck a spoon into the dirt nearby to mark its location like a treasure flag. 

            I visited the park every week since the day I planted the pit. I grew impatient when one, two, and then three months passed, and nothing had sprouted. Perhaps the pit could not grow. Perhaps it had been plowed over by small animals. 

            But then, one day, I saw a soft green leaf, half the length of my small thumb, peaking out shyly from a nest of dirt next to my metal spoon. The elation I felt was sweeter than any fruit. The hours I’d poured into staring at the dirt, thinking I saw something there only to realize I was imagining it, suddenly felt worth it. I reached out, my hands brushing tenderly against the single leaf, terrified I might hurt it. 

            It takes two years for a peach tree to start bearing fruit. Two years seemed impossibly infinite for a five-year-old, but, in that moment, I was determined to see my sprout grow up. 

            As the weeks passed, I watched my peach sprout grow into a little sapling. On particularly dry days, I brought my sapling water in a water bottle meant for me. On evenings before storms, I put a plastic food container over the sapling to protect it from the wind. 

            Sometimes, I came to simply gaze at it, fascinated by how something was there where nothing was before. I laid on my belly on the warm sidewalk all afternoon and stared at the little leaves swaying side to side in the light breeze, wondering if I would see more of the plant slowly appear if I had a magnifying glass. These afternoons were made of clotted summer heat that swathed me like an infant and wispy grey clouds which knotted into interesting shapes in the blue sky above the city. Hours would drip away like honey; the small space between my sampling and I was unfelt time on the very short thread of my life. 

            Spring expired, burning into summer, which then seeped into fall. At five years old, each new season was still a novelty, bringing new and exciting growth to my sapling. 

            Then, one day, when I came to bring water after a particularly dry week, everything was different. From afar, I could hear the sharp droning of large machines. When I came close, there was nothing left of the man-made forest. In its place was fresh brown dirt and yellow barricade tape that warned of construction. 

            “Ah, too bad,” my grandfather said at the sight. “But it would’ve been cut down eventually. The university nearby prunes the area every season.”

            In my grandfather’s age, he had seen a lot of small things live and die. But not me—still warm with innocence from the womb at five years old, my sapling was my first love and loss. I felt a strange vinegary resentment that my grandfather had let me plant my hope with that peach pit knowing it would never grow to become a tree.

            “Don’t be sad, it’s just a plant,” my grandfather said, “Nature doesn’t obey anyone, it lives and dies as it wishes.” 

            But my sapling hadn’t died of drought, and the only animal that had cut it down was the steel beast at the corner of the scene. Construction workers dressed in neon orange buzzed around the beast like flies, carrying large grey slabs of cement. They were building something, maybe an office or a hospital. 

            The sun slowly warmed away the clouds, and light fell on the patch of dirt those delicate leaves had once sprouted from. As I stared at this patch of dirt, my sorrow began to fade. The idea that those leaves were crushed and buried somewhere underneath was an odd comfort. Perhaps my precious sapling was not quite gone; it had just returned to the ground, becoming a permanent part of the park I had grown up in.  

            As my grandfather and I walked home, a chill wind followed us, reminding me that it was late fall, and peaches were off the market now. Maybe next spring. 

 

Author Bio:

Nora Sun is a Chinese-American writer currently living in Chicago. She loves language, iliac crests, and brevity's talent for breeding mystery.


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