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The Tree House
By Calliope Njo
“Grandma, where are we going?” Megan, my little adventurer, came to visit me.
“Up over here.” I pointed to the largest tree we had.
When Ben was younger, I used to ask him about it. Typical Ben shrugged and told me it’s a tree.
It got to the point I wondered if the tree was only supposed to look like one. I only thought that because the thing could hold an entire business building and not bulge. It grew at least three feet every year since the day we married and never stopped. I assumed someone transported a sequoia tree when they weren’t supposed to.
When Ben died, I buried him between the bulging roots. I couldn’t prove it, but I could swear on the Bible that the tree moved so it covered his body. I had no idea until he died that he made a treehouse complete with windows and a door. Something needed to be done about it and I went outside to figure out what.
I patted it when we arrived. “You see, Megan. It’s a treehouse.”
“Wow. It’s ginormous.” Her eyes and mouth opened wide.
Leave it to a kid to find the perfect word. “Yeah. That’s one way to describe this thing.”
“Can we go inside? Can we? Can we?” She bounced with a big smile on her face.
“Well, if you stop impersonating a rabbit, we can go inside.”
She swung open the door and ran in. That girl didn’t need sugar. She had a natural energy store somewhere in her small body.
My boy always said, “She has two speeds. I’ll let you guess which ones.”
It didn’t take a scientist to figure what he meant, like father like daughter.
We went up twenty-four steps and into the main area. Megan ran everywhere. I didn’t want her to knock over anything so I grabbed her.
“What?” She looked down. “I’m sorry. I forgot.” She peeked up again. “It’s just so big.”
“Yes. I know. Remember though, running is for outside. Not inside no matter what kind of building it is. Understand?”
“Yes, ma’am.” She sat down on a cushion. “Grandma, how come there’s a cup on the windowsill?”
I didn’t notice until she pointed it out. It had a very old picture of me on it. If memory served me right, it was the day I bought a new dress. Nothing special nowadays, but back then it meant someone could afford something nice and new. A purple flower dress on a pale yellow background. I saved up for a long time to get those white shoes too.
“Grandma, I’ve been trying to get your attention forever.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I got lost in the picture. That was a brand-new dress. I don’t remember who took the picture though. That was a long time ago.”
Good question. “Long before you were born.” It had to be well after high school when that picture was taken.
“When are you going to give me this house?”
Did I hear that right? “Not everything goes to you, young lady.”
“But this will. I love it. I so want it. It’s gotta be mine. Just the so-perfect thing for me to have forever and ever.”
“We’ll see. How about if we go have some lunch?”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
I didn’t answer your question on purpose because I’m losing my patience. “It’s time for us to go.” Memory seemed to have left me when I looked at the cup in my hand and forgot it was there still. I put it back in its spot.
“Fine. I hate you.” Her arms straightened and she balled up her hands.
“Megan, I don’t know what’s gotten into you.”
When she pouted, she reminded me of her father when he couldn’t get his way. She sniffled too like he used to do.
I waited for her to stop. She hung her head then lifted it enough for me to see her eyes. Then she crossed her arms.
From somewhere this voice boomed. “Now.” It shook the entire tree.
Megan ran screaming all the way down the steps with me not far behind. “I don’t like to be yelled at. I’m telling.”
“I don’t know where that came from but that was not me.”
She and I looked at the tree as it moved its branches as if putting them where hips were supposed to be, then we stared at each other.
“Grandma. I’m sorry. I used to really, really like this tree now I’m not so sure.”
Right there with you. “How about some lunch, huh?”
“Kay. I’m cooking. I can make sandwiches.”
“Sounds good to me.”
She ran ahead and I couldn’t help but wonder where that voice came from. Would I be senile if I thought Ben said that? Trees don’t talk and that one did. There had to be a logical explanation for it.
I didn’t think I was gone that long but Megan had a full spread out with apples, baby carrots, potato chips, two plates with sandwiches on them, and two waters.
I smiled at her, hard not to do at times like these. “The ham and cheese sandwich was super. Thank you.”
She smiled back. “You’re welcome. Could I go outside and play? I promise I won’t go in that tree.”
“Stay around the house where I can see you. In the meanwhile, I’ll clean up a bit.”
“Kay. Thanks, Grandma.” Out she went.
After cleaning the kitchen, the floor in the front entry needed to be swept, so I did that while she played outside. I couldn’t help but wonder where that voice came from. No magic potion or hocus pocus involved.
Maybe somebody put those new-fangled devices around it as their idea of a joke. That had to be it. It could’ve been done while I went grocery shopping. Time for that nonsense to be put to rest.
Megan came in a couple of hours later. “Sorry, Grandma, but I went treasure hunting. Look what I found.” She held up a wooden box.
I never knew of its existence until then. I recognized the work. Ben must’ve made it. I turned it over and saw his initials. I flipped up the latch and… all those papers.
That box was stuffed full. All of them in his writing. I found the land deed which I thought was a copy. The one that was put into our safe was the one that came with it. At least so I thought.
This one listed the original owner as someone different. I didn’t quite remember the name but I knew it wasn’t Hershel Greensburrow. The land was given to Ben on the promise that the tree would stay where it stood. It would not be altered in any way, shape, or form. Must always be loved, and the last promise, never to remove any belongings that had been placed inside.
Well, that promise was broken because of the treehouse. I remembered him building it and the papers that went along with it.
After dinner that night, I put Megan to bed. I went back to the safe to take a look at the papers in it. The company he used may still be in business so I made a note to call them first thing.
Megan got picked up after breakfast. I would be a rotten grandmother if I said I was glad she was gone, but I needed the freedom to investigate all of this.
I called the company and they were indeed still in business. It took a few times, but they were able to tell me that the project wasn’t to build the treehouse but remove it. They had every big machine come and it wouldn’t budge. They made an agreement to quit and only pay for the time since the job wasn’t completed as ordered.
The rest of the papers were his notes. I didn’t read Latin so I had no idea what it said. I didn’t know he knew it either. The subject never came up.
I tried looking for the original owner, but with only a name and post office box, I couldn’t find him. It seems he lived in this town for a while and then vanished. He didn’t leave a forwarding address.
A lady up the street from me taught Latin a long time ago. Maybe over tea and cookies, she would help me figure it out. Somewhere in all of those notes, there had to be an answer.
I found her one morning as she walked by my house. Out of boredom, she took my papers and promised to return them. I didn’t know what else to do so I had to trust that she would.
Sure enough, that afternoon, she came back with both the original and her interpretation. She didn’t drink tea and hated cookies. She was happy to be able to do something as retirement wasn’t fun.
I took them to the dining room table and read them over. It didn’t appear that Ben wrote these notes but that man did. It seemed that tree embodied his soul. The papers listed his efforts to accomplish that task. In summary, he made a deal with the devil. Hershel Greensburrow couldn’t take being separated from his wife. He buried her remains on the property and wanted to be with her for all of eternity. He found a way to do that. Once done, it couldn’t be undone.
“Heavens, Ben. What did you do? Oh, dear.” I wanted the house, sure, the picture-perfect home. “But, oh Ben.” We owned a burial site.
Tears came into my eyes. They flowed down my cheeks. I wiped them away with my hand and willed them to stop. No sense crying over something that I wasn’t responsible for, or a part of.
I went outside and looked at that tree and those tears came again. Maybe if I left them alone they would stop. That was when the ground moved, like a heartbeat. The ground thumped under my feet.
I ran as fast as my old legs would carry me, grabbed my purse, and left. I didn’t want to have any part of that house. Chances were that Megan told my boy everything with a few laughs along the way. He would laugh even more so when I finished telling him everything. I needed to figure out a way to tell him without making me out to be some kind of loon.
The car had a mind of its own. We always came close but never pulling up to the driveway. I kept thinking we but there was only me. I made an effort to pull in and stop the car.
A deep breath exhale followed by a deep breath inhale. The next thing I knew someone shook my shoulder. “What?”
“Oh. Shawn.” I rubbed my face. “I… I’m not sure what to say.”
“Well, how about if you come inside. It’ll be easier now than later.” He pointed up. “It’s about to rain.”
I looked out the window, past Shawn, and at the dark grey clouds. “Oh. Right. OK.”
Once inside, I told him everything that happened. I half expected him to take me to a mental hospital, but no, he told me he would investigate after the rain.
That family portrait above the fireplace was done last year. I remembered that dress because it took a long while to find it. A maroon princess-style dress for her to wear for the portrait. She almost ripped it off after that so she could play outside.
The rain stopped at last. My son left me there so he could explore by himself. I only hoped the house would behave for him. I told him where to find the papers in case he wanted to look at them.
It didn’t take any time for him to return. “Well, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary so I’m going to tell you what I told Megan. You’re imagining things. Not a bad thing just remember to not let your imagination run wild.”
“It’s not. I know what I saw.” I stood up. “You see here. I’m old and grey, yes. However, I’m not some batty old lady looking for the spaceship to come back. Hmph.” I grabbed my purse and left the house.
When I got back, I looked around and didn’t notice any evidence he even investigated. All the papers were still there in the same spot. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. That was when realization struck. The logical thing to do in a strange situation is never to approach it with emotion. I did and I owed my boy an apology. He always used to love pies so a peach pie it will be.
I went back inside the tree and sat in the chair by that window. I looked at that cup and wished for time to wind backward. There were a lot of questions that Ben needed to answer.
Please visit Calliope on her blog: https://calliopenjosstories.home.blog/