An oak tree stands, static and baked in the airless heat of August. From the top of the field, Daniel stares at it. His tears have dried on his cheeks, and he begins to walk slowly down the slope, drawn as always by the tall tree and the promise of whatever adventure there may be to be found.
The adventure is always the same, to climb up into the branches and sit, looking out into the Shropshire hills. To think a little and not to fall, that is his adventure.
He can still hear his mother’s voice ringing around the cottage. Daniel knows he is a bad boy. He knows it is wrong to climb the tree. But he will anyway.
He reaches the old table that has stood against the trunk of the tree since his first ascent some two years ago. He looks up through the leaves and squints at the sun, and then gives the table a shake, testing it as he always does before climbing. It has become less stable this year, but it will still take his weight and serve its purpose, to act as a step, as a base camp on the route to the summit. From there he can reach the low branches, and there will be a scuffle as his trainers scrape the bark and he pulls himself into the tree proper. He unbuttons his blue shirt, swings it over his shoulder, and begins to climb...
Now Daniel is sitting next to his mother in the waiting room. His legs swing to and fro, not quite reaching the floor, and he shivers because it is quite cold. He looks about for his blue shirt, sure somehow that they had bought it with them, but it is not to be seen. His mother stares ahead, ignoring him, and fiddles with the strap of her handbag, making it squeak. There is one other person waiting, an old lady who sits across from them, slumped in her chair, and apparently dozing. Daniel watches the slow descent of her chin as it moves down towards her chest, momentarily pausing with every slow breath. Her eyes are slits, maybe shut, maybe not.
The door opens suddenly making his mother start. She is frightened a lot these days, not herself, and he wishes he could make her better. She will be better soon though, she will see that he is really a good boy. That’s why they are here.
A smart young nurse with a clipboard enters and smiles.
“Mrs Chesterton? You can go in now. Dr Miller is waiting for you.”
His mother nods, but does not get up straight away; instead she takes two deep slow breaths and rolls her shoulders. Daniel thinks he sees the spark of tears in her eyes again and he wants to hug her, wants to make it right. The nurse waits patiently, still smiling, and as his mother slowly rises to her feet, Daniel makes the small jump to the floor and follows her across the room. As they pass the nurse he looks up at her. The smile has slipped away and she marks her clipboard with a pen.
We are ticked, Daniel thinks, and remembers school. A tick for a good picture. A tick for spelling. Now a tick for standing up when asked. No more ticks today though, he is naughty. A bad boy, and they are here to deal with that somehow.
It is just as cold in Dr Miller’s office, and it smells of flowers and medicine. His mother sits in the chair opposite the Doctor’s desk. She perches on the edge, even though the chair is comfy and made for sitting back. Daniel stands beside her and regards the doctor. He thinks that the doctor is a young man, but that his thick glasses make him look older.
“Mrs Chesterton. Please sit back and relax. I want to have a nice long chat about Daniel. I hope that you will be willing to talk to me today.”
His mother catches her breath and glances down to her side. Her lips move but no words come out. She slowly eases back into the chair.
“Can I call you Brenda? I’m Michael.”
“I..” Mother starts and falters. “Yes Doctor. But I told the others. I.. I can’t.. I don’t know what to say. “
She lifts her right hand and Daniel thinks for a minute she is going to take him and hug him. He wants that, but the hand drops back into her lap, lifeless. Dr Miller – Michael – Daniel reminds himself, nods and sits back.
“No one is going to try and force anything from you Brenda. The situation seems impossible for you now. But the most.........”
His words become a hum, and Daniel thinks about just one of them. ‘Situation’. He thinks he knows what a situation is. This situation has made his mother sad and his Dad angry. Daniel knows he is responsible but doesn’t know how to make it right. The doctor has finished speaking. Daniel didn’t hear what was said, but he is listening again now.
The doctor rests his chin on his fingertips.
“Can you tell me what you feel now about what Daniel did?”
“Oh God I went through all this mind crap with the social. What do want me to say? That I told him again and again not to go into the tree and he disobeyed me? That he was ..naughty for doing it?”
There. Daniel sighs and moves closer. She used the word. He was a naughty boy. What can he do to be good again? They’re so different with him now, Mom and Dad. He fears they don’t love him anymore.
Doctor shakes his head.
“I only want you to say what you want to. I’m not a social worker and my only concern is for you and your husband. Just think of some words for me. Words that express how you feel.”
“So this is therapy is it? Do you really think it will change the way I think about my son?”
Daniel doesn’t understand much of this now and wanders to the window. He has to tip toe to see over the sill, and expects at any time to be called back to his mother’s side. The panes are dusty and he rubs to make them clean, but he can’t. As he screws his eyes against the sun, a large cat eases from the foliage and shakes itself. It holds his gaze for a few seconds, its fur soft, its body relaxed but its stare brittle. Suddenly the fur rises and it arches its back, mouth open, giving a hiss he cannot hear. It dives back into the bushes and they settle to stillness in the sun.
His mother has called and he turns to answer, but she isn’t looking at him. She has in fact simply said his name aloud as a reaction to something the doctor has asked or said. He wants to be included now, wants some love. He wants them to ask him things. He looks from one to the other. His mother is shaking.
“Do I feel what about Daniel!?”
His mother leaps to her feet tipping the comfy chair backwards and Doctor Miller pushes his own chair back, startled. There is a set to his mother’s jaw that he has seen before. There is anger to come, anger and tears.
“Guilty?” she screams “Oh course I’m fucking guilty. I..I told him not to go, not to climb. I stuck my head in a cookery book but I could still hear him messing around in the next room.”
She places both hands on the doctor’s desk, and her voice lowers.
“Then I couldn’t hear him. I called and called. I went out to the garden and to the meadow. I was just in time, oh yeah. Just in time to see him fall and hear him land. That was it Doctor. The end of his life and the end of mine.”
Then the sobs come, short and shrill, as the doctor moves around the table and the door opens to admit the anxious nurse. His mother waves the doctor away.
“Two hours later. Just two hours and the ambulance had gone and all I had left of my son was a blue shirt. A blue fucking shirt...”
Daniel feels different now, he feels less….there. He knows they don’t want him in that room now, but he doesn’t feel at all bad about it. He knows where his shirt is now, it’s safe, it’s somewhere his mother has put it. Maybe he’ll go and look soon, but first he has to go somewhere else. He knows he has to go to the tall tree and sit for a while in its branches, even though he feels that the tree is somewhere else, and that he has a new adventure.
Although previously published, Chris Donaldson is now a recreational writer resident in the UK. Most of his short stories contain spiritual/supernatural elements, but these themes tend to drive the story rather than be its subject. He tries to draw inspiration from small events in the world around that he can develop into something entertaining, rather than profound.