The Talking Sycamore
Minus knew all the tales of talking trees, so he left his house to take a walk in the woods.
Minus found a passage through the heavy brush surrounding the perimeter of the forest. He stepped through and under the leafy canopy of the forest’s tall trees.
Minus wandered the cool forest floor, growing tired.
Then he heard, “How are you?”
Minus looked around. All he found was a sapling, the same height as himself.
“Are you a talking tree?” Minus asked it. “Like the ones of legend?”
“Yes. I am a sycamore,” the juvenile tree replied. “Won’t you stay awhile and talk with me. It is so very lonely here in the forest.”
Delighted, Minus sat on a bed of cool leaves beside the sapling, knowing just how rare talking trees are.
“My name is Minus,” he told the talking tree.
Then Minus went on talking for hours about all his likes, dislikes and interests. He told stories, especially of his youth and about his mother for hours and hours until dusk finally shone through the canopy of the forest’s bigger trees.
“Well, I suppose I should be leaving before it becomes dark,” Minus said to the sapling.
“Won’t you return tomorrow?” the sycamore asked. “It is so very lonely out here in the woods all alone.”
“Aren’t there birds and squirrels and insects and other creatures and other trees to keep you company?” Minus asked.
“Yes, but the animals tend to themselves and one another. And the other trees are so tall, they pay no mind to an upstart like me.”
“I am tired,” Minus said. “I am very little used to leaving my home. I’m afraid this trip will have exhausted me for days.”
Minus left, but the next day he returned. Just like the day before, he sat on the bed of leaves beside the sycamore and began telling it all about himself. He talked with enthusiasm about the size of his feet and hands and his liking of pickles. He spoke with great arousal about such things, as if few others had similar sizes of hands and feet or a taste for pickles. He spent the better part of an hour explaining what he’d done upon returning home the night before. He spent the better part of that hour musing about nothing.
The sycamore, grateful for some company and wishing to be polite, courteously listened. It didn’t scold Minus for being so myopic as to repeat most of the same stories and reflections about himself as the day before. Instead, it listened with a polite, feigned pleasure.
Minus sat on the bed of leaves and talked himself into exhaustion. Finally, it grew dark again. Minus said he would have to leave, but he’d return again tomorrow.
Just before parting, the sapling asked him, “Tell me, Minus. You speak at great length of your childhood, but you speak much less of your life now, as a man. Why is this?”
Minus preferred his companions to remain quiet and listen. He disliked this provocation out of him – this acknowledgement that, in his adulthood, there had been so little to Minus’ life worth talking about. All he wished to discuss and reveal about his present life were his simple pleasures of food, drink and entertainment. What he didn’t wish to consider was why his pleasures and observations were so meager and facile.
“I am a simple man with simple needs,” Minus replied. “Can’t we leave it at that? True, some may say I live a bland, lonely and solitary life, but, in my way of living, I harm no one. And there is honor in that . There is nobility in it. And it takes discipline and will and fortitude and sacrifices to live without the physical and emotional comforts most men need. So can’t we leave it at that?”
“Of course,” the sapling said. “The subject has been broached. And now the subject ends.”
“Thank you,” Minus said.
Minus returned the next day. And for weeks, as summer gave way to fall, he returned to the little sycamore to tell it all about himself.
Then, one day, the sapling asked, “You are my friend, Minus?”
“Certainly,” Minus said.
“Then you will check on me, always. For, as you know, a tree needs sunlight in order to be healthy and grow. But down here, under the canopy of all these taller trees – here in the shadows – I remain frail. I am small and my roots run shallow. I fear I will not last through the winter’s freeze to my shallow roots.”
“Hmmmm,” Minus replied.
“What is it?” the sapling asked.
“I do not like the cold. I planned on staying indoors beside the fire for most of the winter.”
“I have been a faithful, reliable friend, have I not?” the sycamore asked.
“Yes, you have,” Minus said.
“Then promise me, please.”
“I promise to do everything I can to care for you,” Minus said.
That night, the little tree awoke to Minus striking it with a hatchet.
“What are you doing?” the sapling asked.
“I have an idea,” Minus said.
“No. Please don’t do this,” the sycamore pleaded.
“I assure you,” Minus said, continuing to chop, “This will be the best for both of us. This way we can remain together through the winter and beyond.”
With a few more chops, the sapling fell. Then Minus dragged it through the forest to his home.
Inside his house, Minus propped the toppled sapling in a corner. He sat beside it and began to speak all about himself again. Like before, he spoke for hours and hours. But this time, there was no response – no reaction whatsoever – from his juvenile companion from the woods.
By the next day, all the leaves had fallen from the sapling. There was no question – it was dead.
So Minus drug it outside and threw it on the pile with all the limbs he would use for kindling come winter.
Minus went back inside and began to cry. He knew it would be another long winter with nobody and nothing to talk to as he sat by the fireplace.