My (winning!) entry for the Alan Garner Writing Competition 2016

Daphne

The house seems to rattle and shake like a wreck collapsing, as I slam the heavy oak door with fuming force. ‘Like my childhood’, I think miserably, as I fling myself into a corner, cracks in the timber rough against my wet cheek. Mum says teenagers always do argue with their parents.

Well, today is my thirteenth birthday. I always thought it would be a happy day, full of hopes and plans and triumph and the beginning of the road to adulthood. But it’s not a beginning. It is an end. An end to daisy-chains and imagination and sunlight.

Idle in my misery, I run my fingers along the beam, feeling the rough dents, slashes, in the wood. I come to a knot-hole, and without any reason, push my fingers in. They will not fit, and I force them on, with a savage delight in forcing anything.

Then I notice the texture under my fingers has changed to a crumbling smoothness. Through the hot blur of tears, the edges of a roll of paper. I pull – a soft but definite ripping sound – trying again more gently, I bring it out.

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To a certain tree: ‘neath whose protection l have lived,

And will live still, ‘spite change which fortune now

Hath brought. No sad change, so I at last

Perceive; and with that perception, write me this.

Me, Tis’ – or ‘twas, at each year’s birth,

Hath watched you day by day, in hopes, oft fulfilled, that I

The quickest bud might see unfurl into

A leaf of shape well known, possessed of childhood’s glow.

Me ’twas who, each year ending, loitered round

Your splendid trunk, to lean my cheek against

Your deep-ridged bark, and see the latest leaf,

E’n as, like sunned-stain-glass, it flickered high,

As glowing embers of a sleeping fire; staying,

That I might catch it as it fluttered down

On the unsettled air, to treasure away.

 

Those noble branches bared at last against

The steel-hard heavens, set forth their form more bold

All un-adorned, but for the meshing twig’s dark lace.

Dark, save when frost, lent splendour by

Some chilly sunbeam piercing cold’s indifference,

Or snow the sharpness of your reaching arms

Does soften.

You have been my shelter, my friend,

And will be still, when you are felled to build

My father’s house; my shelter that will keep

Me dry and cool, just as in life. But let

Me not say “life” as though ’tis past; your life

Lies not in greenest leaves, nor yet in reaching roots,

But in the many hands that sometime touched

You, loved you; will touch and love you still,

Though your timbers grow old and wind-silvered.  

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My last tear has fallen faintly upon the paper, which I now push back into the safety of its hiding place. It’s the tree’s. The house’s. I, Daphne, lay my hand upon the beam in salute; we share the same fate. I wipe my eyes, and go to make up with Mum.

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