That Silver Maple



(Ayer Chan)


The husband stormed out of the house, axe in hand, his wife crying behind him.

“Don’t do this!” she screamed, “Stop!”

He walked to the silver maple which stood in their yard. It was majestic, swaying in the gentle summer breeze. The husband walked into the shade of the tree. He brought the head of the axe out and swung it into the base of the maple. The wife stood behind him. Her head looked down and her auburn hair covered her eyes. Tears landed on the dirt.

“Why are you crying?” he asked, “You knew what you were doing, you knew what you were getting yourself into, sneaking around behind my back.”

“I’m sorry, that’s why I told you, I’m so sorry.” She looked up at him. Her face was red.

“‘Sorry’ isn’t enough, not for this.”

He lifted the axe up again and slammed it into the tree with a brutal chop which echoed off.

It was their silver maple tree. They had planted it together when they were just children. It was a childhood love, a first love. When they bought the seeds, the salesman had warned that silver maples never lasted long in the winds. They were too weak to stand up to those brutal gusts brought by the hurricanes that swept the coast every few years. The two of them had looked at one another when he said that and smiled and laughed. It was a childhood love. Somewhere in each of them there was the thought that it wouldn’t last.

Each chop was more brutal. Sap began to bleed down the tree and pool at the base.

“You disloyal bitch, how could you do this to me? I’ve given you everything you ever wanted. Clothes, shoes, jewelry, vacations, how could you?”

She stood behind him, silent. He continued to dig into the tree.

The seed took root in his backyard and sprouted. It sprouted up and grew quicker than anyone had imagined possible. It shot up into the air and out with branches, so that in only some few years the tree was a giant. Hurricanes came and went but the tree stood its ground. But though it did remain, its branches were always weak and when they swayed they made these awful sounds of pain. It was something that was barely alive, but that couldn’t die.

“You were the one that started this. You’re the one who put this axe in my hand.”

“It was only a kiss. It didn’t mean anything.”

“Only a kiss? Are you kidding me? Do you hear yourself?”

He now brought against the tree a round of viscous and violent chops, each one ending with a loud grunt. The husband gnashed his teeth. He swung and swung at the tree until his breathing grew heavy in the summer sun. The chops grew less and less frequent until he was panting under the half chopped maple. The wife walked up behind him and put her gentle hand on his thick shoulder. He turned to her and brought his hand up and pushed her and she stumbled backward with her arms flailing to grab onto to something that wasn’t there and she snagged her foot on a root and fell to the ground.

The roots had been the biggest surprise for them, for no matter how big the tree appeared above ground, its roots were triple the size below. They had grown in secrecy until one day she took a walk and found the yard to be infested with them. They had seemed to slither around the dirt, wrecking fences and waters lines. They destroyed everything, including her prized chrysanthemums. The chrysanthemums she had spent so long planting and caring for, making sure to trim them early so that they bloomed beautifully in the fall. She had gone to her garden one day, all dressed and ready to care for the little flowers, to find them dead, strangled by the roots.

The husband dropped the axe and stood there, under the tree. Sweat stained his white shirt and he wiped more from his brow. The wife stood and moved behind him. She grabbed the axe from the ground with her small, but strong hands. She raised the axe.

“I was wrong,” she said to him, but she didn’t look at him, “that kiss did mean something.”

The axe soared into the tree with a booming chop.

“It was filled with passion and adoration, actual feelings.”

The axe screeched through the air into the maple.

“You’ve given me clothes and jewelry and so much more, but you never gave me any feeling.”

The tree groaned beneath the axe’s blows.

“I was always just an object to you.”

The tree cried in agony as it lurched and bled.

“You’ve done nothing but strangle my life.”

Her final chop landed home deep in the tree. There came a death rattle from it. The husband looked upward, from beneath, and saw each and every leaf shine silver in the sunlight. And then it toppled, slamming into the ground with a shock. It was a clean landing, a beautiful landing. The wife dropped the axe and looked at her husband. She didn’t say a thing. She just looked at him. Her face was delicate and gentle, only her deep brown eyes showed her anger, and they burned with it, burned until there was nothing left to char. And then she walked off. She walked past the house and down the block and through the town and onward. She left behind her clothes and her jewelry and her house and her husband and, most importantly, she left that silver maple, dead.