by Amber Wixtrom

Sapling I had been afraid then, when I saw some of the Great Ones struck down in the storm. They had been split stark by streaks of white fire, splintered into the dark, down on the earth, but devoid of roots. I feared when I saw their severed trunks, shredded brown points cutting shards through their once-strong coils. Their roots still clung, but they now had no mouths with which to breathe, no green shining eyes to draw in the filtered light. But n’ai pas peur, Arbre-ami told me. Even when struck down – if they could not rise again, if the insects began to burrow and bulge within their broken skin before their roots could spread again, if the fungi would spread their cream tendrils across their folded hands, and close their new-wakened lids before they had another chance to Begin – the trees, she told me, they would still not die. Living and becoming again could never be denied to any tree. We were forever.

“But what happens to them?” I asked. I had been still a young shrub then, after all. She laughed. “Vers monde,” she said. “Toward the world. However things grow, we go toward the world.”

But where was that? Up, where all trees tried to reach; where they lifted branch in joy for the fine wisps of air to catch their twigs; where the tips of their hands met the palpable haze of the clouds; where they’d sometimes detain a bird as it paused, half-way to paradise? Or down, deep in the earth where our roots stretched deep; where the cool of the ground soaked through our limbs and breathed into our bark, from where all strength sprung and all newness delved? We wanted both. We desired to extend as far into both as we could into earth and sky, clasping each in embrace. Our roots delved downward and our leaves winged upward. Connected, we thrived. When that was severed, what did we become?

I wondered if it was sideways, as Douxleur had whispered to me once in a voice blithe and blown, wisped as the long tangled twigs of her dress. I’d asked her, after I could get no answer from the others. I forgot they’d called her unnatural, the terms tossed around under connected shadows, as the birds took their afternoon rest and murmured almost too softly to hear. “Grafted,” they’d said. “She’s not where she’s from. She was taken, replanted. She won’t grow here.”

And it was true. She had been a little strange when we first met. She tossed the wingtips of a green moth to me on a light breeze, smiling through the beginnings of what looked like long grass. They fluttered against one of my twigs. “You’re very straight,” she’d breathed to me, in swirls sounding almost like water. “You’re teasing tall.”

“Hm?” I’d sent her a small susurration, floating in questions. I had tried very hard to grow as straight as I could, after feeling the back-wind off Grandecorce. It had come strong, a strong cool breath spoken in confidence and blown against me so crisply it almost blew me to the side. I had to cling in to the ground, curling the tips of my roots to stay upright. I’d felt his power then. I wanted to feel the same, that current through my stretched hands and small rooted toes. I’d tried to extend faster that next month, to push myself as tall as I could in all the times I felt myself growing. But Douxleur confused me. I sent the question again and felt her leaves shift with laughter. “Silly small one,” she whispered. “You’re supposed to grow sideways. That way there’s more of the world.”

And she did in the years after that, as we traded birds and shook at squirrels, scaring the ones who scampered between. Her grafted limb grew firm and twined, only a slight pink against her bark, now grown smoky grey. Her grass-leaves arced, tilting downward, as her branches bent towards the sky and the ground again, a half-loop of sheltering shade. Her voice, like the stream, always laughed. She grew sideways, and I let myself curve a little. I wasn’t sure how much more I felt of the world – but I was happy to try.

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