Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come.
Margarita loved the country. She was a city girl herself, but after gang violence broke out near their apartment, Phil convinced her that they should move somewhere Jimmy could grow up without fear of stray gunshots. They found a lovely Victorian right on the border of nowhere, close enough to the city that Phil could get to work, but far enough out that Jimmy could run and play in peace.
The edge of the property opened into a field of lilies under the eaves of a stately forest. The woods were lovely when the leaves licked fires of yellow, red, and orange along the morning silver of the noble trunks; they fell in love with the sweet especial rural scene when first they pulled into the driveway. Jimmy dashed out of the car to explore the yard, only to fly back seconds later to tug his parents along with him. With the peculiar solemnity that silences little boys when first they are awed by beauty, he whispered to Margarita, “Mommy, is this the border of heaven?”
They bought the house the next day.
While most boys were fascinated by video games and sports, Jimmy was a woodland creature. He loved to explore the treasures of field and forest. He often came home with stories of the wonders he had unearthed that day.
Within the year, Jimmy’s tales began to focus around a favorite friend. Phil was a tad concerned when Jimmy mentioned how old and wise Michael was, but his fears were soon put to rest when Jimmy took him and Margarita to meet “Michael.” Margarita had seen the tree before, of course—who could miss it! A mighty oak with a calm grandeur and friendly low branches, the last to lose its leaves in a shower of scarlet. She could see the tree towering in stately splendor from her kitchen window. She got used to seeing Jimmy’s golden hair sparkling in the sun at the tree’s foot as he brandished the sword Phil carved for him out of one of the oak’s fallen branches.
While Margarita only knew of the tree, Jimmy knew the tree. He played in the shade of Michael’s verdant crown, and soon learned how he laughed on sunny days when the lazy wind tickled his outstretched limbs, how he smiled with a quiet pride in the chill of an azure autumn sky, and how he shivered with fear when the wind picked up before a storm. As the years passed, Jimmy came to understand how Michael sparkled in the springtime and grew drowsy in the summer’s heat, how his roots shivered in the cool of autumn, and how he stood vigil over the smaller trees all winter long.
A week before his eighth birthday, Jimmy found his way into Michael’s branches. He would spend hours leaping from limb to limb or napping in the crook between the third branch and the trunk. “Be careful,” Margarita would warn, “you could fall and hurt yourself.” But the boy would simply say, “But Mommy, he’s my friend; he would never hurt me.” She forbad him from playing by the tree when it was windy, lest a falling branch should injure him. Most other days that year, if Jimmy was late for dinner, Phil would find him safely asleep in the lower branches.
Phil and Margarita were on their morning run one summer’s day when they noticed a huge sign on the far side of the property. “Future Home of Shady Oaks: A Shawn Connolly Neighborhood!” An artist’s rendition showed rows of carbon-copied houses, carefully separated by white picket fences so the kids playing in the yards would be safe from each other. Each yard had a skillfully-rendered elm out front.
Jimmy learned of the development a few days later when he stumbled across a bulldozer in the woods. At first, like any nine-year-old, he was thrilled to see the big machinery. Then he learned of the valleys of ruin the beast left in its wake. The treads of the yellow monster mutilated trees and tore up the rich forest floor. Every evening, he came back to dinner with increased worry as the destruction advanced towards the border of his forest and his dear friend Michael.
“I’m worried about Jimmy.” She watched as their boy made his way across the field.
Phil looked up from putting the last dinner plate on the table. “He’ll be okay, Rita. It is only a tree. He’ll get over it.” Margarita watched as the sun set over Michael and the aspens. “I know, Phil. But Jimmy is so attached to it. I wonder if we could do anything to keep the tree standing.”
The porch door slammed. “Daddy, I can already see the monster through the trees. Michael’s scared.”
“Well you know what, Buddy? Mommy and I are going to call the builders tomorrow. We’ll try to save Michael, but you know, Jimmy, we might not be able to save him.”
“But we are going to try really hard, Honey,” Margarita continued as she went over to embrace Jimmy, “because you love Michael a lot and we love you even more.”
Margarita and Phil each breathed a sigh of relief as the little wrinkle of worry smoothed off of Jimmy’s brow. “I love you too, Mommy. I love you, Daddy. I really hope you can save Michael. I love him too.”
The day the gold star appeared in spray paint on Michael’s trunk, Jimmy came home sobbing.
As the steel beasts advanced towards the border of the forest, Margarita and Phil took turns calling Mr. John Connolly, trying to convince the developer to leave a buffer, or at least leave the tree their son had come to love. Despite their efforts, all they got was his son Shawn, the project manager, who informed them, “It’s only a tree, and it’s in the way.”
Phil and Margarita kept pushing, trying to talk to the developer himself. Meanwhile, Jimmy took to patrolling the forest around Michael, sword in hand, to defend his friend from all comers.
One fateful morning, the tree cutters arrived at Michael’s noble trunk. Margarita went out to try to reason with Shawn, who had come to check on progress that day. After standing in tears by his mother’s side for a few minutes, Jimmy disappeared inside. Margarita’s heart ached to see her little boy so distraught.
She was arguing with Shawn as the workmen started up their chainsaws; she did not notice Jimmy run out the back, his golden bowl of hair crowned with a tin pail and his fist wielding the wooden sword. No one saw this young knight dart across the field to meet his doom. It was his field, his woods, and he knew it well. He knew how to cross it unseen for his ambush.
As they cut through the first high branch, Jimmy arrived to defend Michael’s life. The last silver cord of bark snapped, and they let the limb fall. There was nothing they could have done, no way they could have seen him at the foot of the tree through the lower branches. The pail crumpled, the golden bowl broke, and Margarita echoed her son’s scream as the severed branch bled Jimmy’s blood.
After the inquest, Margarita and Phil moved back to the city. Neither one could deal with the accusing silence of their empty country cottage. They considered having another kid, but knew that no one could replace their Jimmy. Phil took to drinking, while Margarita sought solace in the familiar rites of her childhood church.
Something shifted inside of Shawn with the bloodcurdling final cry of that fallen branch. As long as he lived in that town, Shawn would stop as he drove by his final development, wondering about the meaning of the solitary oak with one limb missing from its crown and a whitewashed oaken sword stabbed into the earth at its feet.
Photo by Simon Wilkes