Last Night in the Forest, or the Dendrochronology of Dying

It sounded like the wind at first, like that little hush before a storm. The windows were open and the cabin breathed with it, gulped for air for a few, final moments.

Then it wasn’t a wind at all.

The trees breathed years onto my sweat-soaked skin, they spoke decades. The forest was alive with days, weeks, months and all of them whispered into the cabin like ghosts in the night air. One, a great oak, talked of an afternoon spent watching my hands as they collected up mushrooms, as they slipped in their circles and left tribute for the little spirits there.

An elm, tall and old as the ceaseless sea beyond, remembered to me a boy with five freckles on his cheek and a rip in his shirtsleeves. It told, in its weathered ring of a voice, of the day that we met beneath its branches and whispered secrets to each other behind muddied hands. Of when we kissed and laughed and how I watered its bark with my tears when he left me, when winter placed its frosty hands on the forest.

A soft voice carried from the cliff-face, just up the path from the cabin; a little sapling lilted sea shanties whose words I cast off the coast not so very long ago. Its mother, it said, had gifted me the thick cane I used to walk, its sibling the wooden soles of my clogs. It described the soft of my palm as I patted it for that last time. Goodbye, my friend. Goodnight.

The cabin shook with their voices. The trees, who had been silent for so long, composed among them a eulogy. I felt the damp of it on my cheeks.

As I rasped, a birch cooed a lullaby into my clearing. A little song it learned from me and I learned from my mother, her mother, her mother’s mother. It leafed the lyrics to the night air and my mouth moved in tandem though no sound could leave my lips now. They were rough and worn as splintered wood, throat dry as a drought.

The gypsophilia beneath my window sighed a story of a spring its roots remembered: when I pressed my mouth to the earth and prayed and whispered and begged the ground to give me a single bud, just one. When I pressed my knuckles to my belly and kneaded the flesh like fresh earth, when I raked at it, when I screamed. It apologised, then, and I could almost feel the petal-soft kiss of baby’s breath upon my cheeks.

It was drawing close, the last knot on my trunk. That last chiseled notch of my years. My hand felt heavy like holding and the elder, whose branches sheltered the cabin against years of wind and salt and rain and sand, murmured close in my ear. It hummed a tune so quiet I could barely hear.

But I felt it heavy in my chest, their breath and mine one final time.

Listen to this story as narrated by Joseph Lindoe

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