At the Cherry Tree¹

Posted on September 23, 2004 by Jenna

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1 based on an apocryphal story about George Washington.

There is a young boy. His name is George. He is empty.

He is empty, and from that emptiness is born a fairy, and her name is Lilimund. Through the white and cutting summers of his youth she is with him.

“Is this the way things are?” George says.

He is looking at a dog, lolling on the ground, its stomach thin, its body ripped by a bear until it died. There are insects living in the dog.

“It is one way,” says Lilimund.

“The b’ar was very strong,” says George.

In town, there is a store, and it sometimes sells liquor, but not to George. So he sends Lilimund to fetch him some. She is quick and she is subtle. She brings a bottle to George. He drinks.

“You’re very beautiful,” he says, to Lilimund.

There are cherry trees behind his house. He goes to them, still with liquor on his breath, and there he sees the dryad. She is curled and straight: her body upright, but her hair wound round her in gentle curls and knots. It forms bark, and leaves, and flowers. It gives her more branches than her outthrust arms. Her teeth are wooden.

“George,” she says. It is a minimal acknowledgment. She does not give much time to George.

“Dance for me,” he says. It is rude, but he is a child, and he is drunk.

“There is sun,” says the dryad. “There is soil. Leave me in peace, child. I am content.”

“Dance,” insists George.

“You are nothing,” she says.

“I’m more than you.”

So George goes to the shed, and he finds an axe, and he takes it out. And he cuts the dryad down, hacking once, twice, thrice, and finally seven times, and she only stares at him through it all.

“You had no right,” she says.

And George looks down at her, as the blood ebbs from her roots, and suddenly he’s scared.

“I did,” he says.

“I will not hear a lying tongue,” the dryad says, “as my life fades.”

“You’re my father’s tree,” says George. “So I can do what I want. And besides, God doesn’t like your kind.”

The dryad says, softly, “You will know sorrow if you should lie again.”

Her eyes close.

“It’s okay, George,” says Lilimund. She lights on his shoulder. “It’s … well, it’s not okay, but it’s done.”

“It wasn’t my fault!” he bursts out.

Lilimund is silent.


There is a chill in him. The fairy falls, gently, off his shoulder, her body limp, her heart pierced through by wooden thorn, and splinters seal her eyes.

“George?” It’s his father’s voice. He’s walked into the field. “George, what happened?”

It is an inconceivable loss.

“George?” says his father. “Why are you crying? What happened to my tree?”

He searches for the words, and for the strength.