Saturday 9 November 2013

The Tree by Kath Middleton

Image courtesy of Simon Howden /
Kath Middleton won second prize in October's short fiction contest with her haunting story of immortality, you can read the story in full below.

But before you do, if you'd like to discover new short stories or flash fiction then pop over to our Facebook group:!/groups/shortfictionreadersandwriters/

It's also a great place for writers to show off their short stories and flash fiction.

The Tree by Kath Middleton

This tree has come to symbolise my life.

I was nineteen years old and taking part in early experiments in electrical conductivity when something happened which made me different from others. I believe it occurred when one of our experiments went badly wrong. We were passing a powerful current through a cadaver and I caught the full blast in error. I was thrown across the laboratory and had my hair singed. I even lost consciousness for a time and spent two days in hospital recovering.

It was after this that I realised, very gradually, that physical changes which affected my fellows left me untouched. I didn't age. Oh, I don't mean I still look nineteen. I have filled out a little and my facial features have matured. That was all over a hundred and fifty years ago though. Unless someone cuts off my head, shoots me or runs me through with a blade, I will live on, potentially forever.

So many people think that it must be wonderful never to age - never to die. They don't know what they're talking about. Being immortal doesn't stop you from falling in love. Every woman I have ever loved has aged before my eyes, has become bent, grey and wrinkled. She has died of sickness or old age and I have lost her. It happens to many people once. It has happened to me several times, that I have buried the woman I love while appearing to the outside world as though I were her grandson.

When I lost Lilian, my first wife, I buried her and planted a seed above her withered body. The tree that grew there would be her remembrance. I go back every year and watch as it grows. It's in the prime of life but I have buried two other beloved women since its seed was sown. I now know that I will either live alone and desolate, or I will love women yet unborn and lose them too. It's not just the loss that hurts, it's watching helplessly as day by day she slips away from me. I am now aware that my memory tree has reached its own maturity and will begin to decline. I shall have to collect seeds from it and begin another tree.

Now my fifth wife is white-haired and looks like my grandmother. For the first time, with this wife, Ellen, I have a son. After a wonderful childhood I watched him grow, taught him much and now see him looking like my father. My life feels like a tragedy.

Today is the anniversary of Lilian's death and my first great grief. I stand under the canopy of my mourning tree and finger the seed in my pocket. Unless I take my own life, I will need another tree to commemorate my lost loves - and children.

I stoop, bury the seed in the damp earth and stand back.

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