Short Story | ‘The Orchard’ by Martin Hooijmans, Illustration by Lars de Ruyter
The tall oak basked in the warm glow of the late afternoon sun, the old man before it a child in its shadow. William always enjoyed this time of day. The warmth put some much needed ease into his old joints. The orchard was large, and he had a ways to go.
The oak was his son Matt’s, William’s first child. Planted on the day he was born, the tree still reflected how the man had been in life. Strong. Brave. Kind. A soldier up until the day he caught a bullet in a faraway war. He had been the first of William’s children to go, and the tree had shown it. The day Matt passed, all leaves had fallen, as if its very soul had been torn out of its bark. But unlike Matt, the tree had recovered, as if to show the world that a man like him is not that easily erased. William believed that his son’s spirit lived on in the oak.
Next was the rosewood, a beautiful tree that had no right to exist in this climate. Its stubbornness was akin to William’s daughter Gwen’s, its fragrance a tribute to her elegance. Gwen had been a struggler in her young years, marked by many as the beauty who lacked the brains. She always got what she wanted because of her looks, and nobody expected her to achieve greatness. It was something she would not stand for. She studied hard and astounded everyone by becoming a renowned trauma surgeon. It was a cruel twist of fate that it was a trauma that took her, in the simple shape of a speeding car. She died on impact. William was in the orchard at the time and saw the leaves fall.
William’s third child, Zoe, had had a willow for a tree. It was a small, sickly, misshapen thing that seemingly clung on to life. It wanted to live. Zoe had died young, still a child. Illness had marked her from the day she was born. The doctors had given her one week. She had stretched it to seven beautiful years, filled with countless smiles and priceless memories. But the day had come. The leaves had fallen.
When William lost his wife, that was it for him. He had nothing left but his memories, standing tall in the orchard. He spent his days wandering, wondering about times past. He spent his days in waiting.
He turned the final corner and smiled at what he saw. The dirt was covered with leaves, his tree completely bare. At the sight, a heavy pain rose in his chest, but it was welcomed. As William collapsed, there was a glisten in his eyes, a happiness.
He would see his family again.
Illustration by: Lars de Ruyter