In every Life there is a Sea

This story is pure fiction, but it is inspired by an old Norse myth.

In every life there is a sea, if not without, then within, roaring serenely and pulling quiet into chaos, until there is a pause, and you can hear sea urchins singing like porcupines, and then when you are far out in the darkness, you will come to believe that the truth is in the sting, yet the poison…the poison is in the almost invisible threads straying after slow-moving ships with too beautiful eyes…

In the distance, the little islands outside Brandywine Bay are shining emeralds strung on an invisible garland against a soft blue horizon, irresistibly glamorous in its overlapping of white sails and wedding-caked sea fairies, whooping deliciously against red – and black painted prows, adorning exotic names like “Estrella Del Mare” and “Blackbeard’s Pipedream”. Little blue-black dolphins skip across the surface, their metallic fins gleam glossily as they pierce through the paler surface, shining like octavian stars bobbing in the summer sun. The air is thick and hot, laced with salt and flowers and fermenting mangoes, stealing across from the islands and bridging the gap between coasts.

“You are going too fast,” says Cohen, “slow down, you are scaring the fish away!” I am tempted to go even faster, I can’t stand the sight of fish wriggling and kicking and fighting for their lives with a huge hook in their mouth. But I slow down, just to please Cohen. I do a lot just to please Cohen. He is two years older than me and gorgeous, too gorgeous to be stuck in a small dinghy with me on a hot summer day. But our mothers have been friends forever, so he is just that, stuck with me, the girl with muddy gypsy eyes and the lanky body of an overgrown ten year old boy. “There, I’ve got one!” A tiny fish gleam silver and green just below the surface, Cohen reels it in a bit too fast and it slips the hook and skits away into the deep. “Damn fish!” complains Cohen, but I release a deep content sigh. “What’s with you?” Cohen glares at me, “you’re acting weird. Don’t you want me to catch any fish?” I lower my eyes and bite my lip nervously, “sure,” I stammer, but I can’t quite look into those marvelous blue eyes of his. I just sit there, staring at my brown sandals, acting like a typical girl. Cohen snorts and throws the hook back into the sea. “Lucky for you this bloody pond is full of fish,” he says and laughs, thinking perhaps I didn’t get the double meaning, but I did. I silently curse myself for being in love with such a jerk. That is the truth though, me, awkward nerdy Lucy is in love with the Norse god that is Cohen Leery. I have a whole drawer full of poetry to prove it. Oh, yeah, you heard me right: poetry. Another proof of my hopeless nerdiness.

Something is pulling on the line again, and Cohen tightens his grip on the fishing rod and starts reeling in the line. He is sweating in the midday heat, and all I can do is stare. “A little help, please,” he hands the rod over to me, and I obediently hold on to it while he battles the line. It is something big, something heavy. Oh no! Shit. But suddenly the line goes slack and still. “Damn it!” swears Cohen, “that was a big one!” He lights a cigarette and lets go of the line, I jump as the rod almost slips out of my hand when the hook at the end of the line again plunges into the deep blue. Cohen laughs. He studies me behind clouds of smoke as I struggle to get the right grip on the fishing rod. I haven’t held a fishing rod since I was a little girl, but even then I couldn’t look at the death sentenced fish. It was my father who had to pull the victims out of the ocean and hit them on the head with a rock. I always stayed in the background. “Do you want me to show you?” he asks and flares a smug grin. I shake my head and position my hands on the rod. But the line has gone slack again, and I can catch my breath.

Cohen smokes while we both gaze into the liquid blue. The sea is a cool shade of turquoise, the sun has started its descent, and glazed skinny threads ripple across the surface. Rays of light tunnel towards a cluster of corals, barely visible behind the tell-tale scattered shadow of our dinghy, a handful of bright apricot and pink tentacles swirl meditatively in the light, a seductive dance to lure its prey into a beautiful, but deadly trap. Cohen finishes his cigarette in one last long drag and plucks the fishing rod out of my hand. “It seems you are bad luck,” he says and gives me a pat on the back. His hand is warm against my soft skin, and it leaves a burning mark inflaming my entire body. I quickly look down, not wanting him to see the redness voyaging across my face.

We are drifting further from the shore as the wind is shifting and increasing its pace. But Cohen still wants me to take us even further out. “Use the oars,” he demands, “the motor will only scare away the fish.” I dip the oars into the surface and turn the boat out towards the deep. I know I am not supposed to go this far out, there are sharks, tiger sharks and even great whites. The inflatable dinghy seems pathetic as it steadily makes its way to the ocean, away from the bay. The corals disappear from sight, and under us; there is only inky black silence. “Wait,” Cohen reaches for the line, it makes small dips against his hand, “I think I’ve got something.” I lift the oars and let the dinghy bob quietly on the small waves. It really is a fish this time, a tiny white and red one with beady silver eyes. Cohen laughs and holds it up against my face. I cringe. The tiny fish is gaping, the oxygen slowly choking it, and it wriggles its tail desperately, as though it could get back into the sea by pretending it is already there. “Please,” I whisper, “can you at least give it a merciful death?” Cohen looks at me and chuckles, “I didn’t know you were such a softy, Lu.” I shrug and lift my head to look at him. But apparently my discomfort has no effect on him. “Nope, this little guy is perfect bait if I am to catch us a proper dinner.” He throws the hook back into the sea with the tiny fish still on. I can’t take my eyes off it as it plunges, with the hook still in its mouth, as fast as it can into the sea, desperate to get as far away from us as possible. I feel like crying.

Cohen lights another cigarette, but keeps his left hand on the fishing rod. He squints his eyes as he pulls the nicotine into his lungs. I look away. “Shit! Shit! Shit!” Cohen drops the cigarette and grabs the rod with both hands; something is pulling the line, something big. I can see his biceps and arm veins bulging as the pliant fishing rod bends so much that it almost curls in on itself. Cohen is struggling, fighting whatever is down there with all his strength. He breaks into a sweat, but the fish only pulls harder. I start to panic. “Cohen, “I beg, “let it go, it’s too big.” “No way in hell!” Cohen’s voice has an edge to it. I can see that his black pupils are dilated, and he has a wild look in his eyes. He laughs and swears as he fights the giant fish. Cohen is strong, stronger than I had imagined, all the muscles in his body are tensing and popping out, and I can’t stop staring at him. But this is a dangerous game. And when it comes to crossing the sea, the sea always wins, all islanders know that. But Cohen is not ready to let this one go. “Cohen, please,” I touch his arm, he is only wearing a t-shirt and I have to put my hand on his hot sweaty naked skin. Cohen shrugs it off. I look into the deep, trying to follow the line as far down as I can, and there, in that black infinite pool I see an even blacker shadow rising up towards us. I scream. But Cohen doesn’t even register my scream. He is fixed on the battle, like a warrior fighting his own destiny. He is starting to scare me.

“Cohen! Cohen!” I scream into his ear, but he doesn’t even flinch. I try to wrestle the rod out of his grip, but it is useless, he doesn’t even stir. I stare back into the water, the shadow is bigger than our boat, it surrounds us on all sides, and that is when I know, it must be a great white, there is nothing else as big as this in these waters. And just as the revelation hits me I can clearly see a fin, and aren’t those white things teeth? “Cohen!” I plead “It’s a shark! It will tear us to bits! Cohen we’re gonna die! Let go! Please!” But Cohen doesn’t hear me. I have no idea where his strength is coming from, the shark must be more than fifteen feet long, how can any human battle something like that? Then suddenly it is over, or I think it is over. The fishing rod stretches out again and for a second it looks like the tension on the line is gone, but I am wrong, so wrong. The dinghy starts moving, so fast that I fall over. Cohen stands at the bow holding on to the rod pulling us further and further to sea.

I can no longer tell where the shadow underneath us starts and where it is ending, it all seems like one big black blur pulling us away from home, from everything that is safe. I start screaming again, but there is no sound coming out of my mouth, I have lost my voice. Cohen is laughing now. “Is that all you’ve got you old bastard!” he shouts into the sea. Behind me, the islands are disappearing, and I realize that if I don’t do anything now we will both be dragged so far away from the shore there will be no turning back, we will die, either by the teeth of this shark or we will drown. I need to cut the line, but how? I don’t have a knife or anything sharp. Oh, yes, but I do! I’ve got my teeth. I hurl myself at Cohen, gnawing the salty, almost invisible line through my teeth. I am desperate, so desperate I almost forget to breathe. Spit and tears trail across my chin, all salty. There is too much salt! Cohen tries to fight me, but even he cannot fight two opponents at the same time; his hands are locked around the fishing rod. Then finally I hear a sharp snap and the boat jolts to a stop, we are free. The black shadow disappears instantly and Cohen blinks as if coming out of a trance. His hands are bleeding. He sits down, panting. I don’t say anything. I can’t, I can’t even look at him. He stares at his bleeding hands then out into the sea. The tide is still pulling us outwards so I quickly start the outboard motor and turn the dinghy back towards land. I speed up as much as I can, forgetting about the dangerous reefs and the underwater rocks. I just stare through my tears at the growing islands, willing the boat to go faster, faster. When we finally reach shore Cohen says nothing, he just sits there. I tether the dinghy to our pier, not bothering about pulling up the outboard, and run, away from Cohen, up to the house, crying harder and harder. Some of the tears fall into my mouth and I am surprised by the absence of salt. I leave Cohen there. I really leave him.

The wind has settled for the night. And quiet seems to slip in with the darkness, only the melancholy sound of tree frogs makes up the soundtrack of the night. Cohen has pulled the dinghy up on the beach and tied it to a swaying palm tree, or maybe it wasn’t Cohen at all. There is a glassy jellyfish stranded on the beach, it is covered in a pattern of red eyes. I want to toss it back into the sea, but it has a train of poisonous threads, all entangled, around its body. “I’m sorry,” I say, even though I know it can’t understand me. The flamboyant tree shakes its head at me. With the silver-streaked onyx sea to my left and the garland of haint blue island houses to my right, I walk through lanes, scattered with magenta bougainvillea, towards home. In the corner of my eye I can see a tall darkly handsome boy standing by one of the many cliffs on the island, staring forlornly towards the blue-black horizon, his bloody hands are open, reaching out, as to a lover lost and drowned at sea.

East of the Sun, and West of the Moon

The old Norse people believed there was a fine balance between chaos and harmony, and that sometimes chaos had to erupt in order to bring about change and reclaim a new harmony. In such chaotic times, the “Jotne” (the giants) and the gods would fight, some gods would expire, but new heroes would arise, and those heroes would bring about the new harmony. The ultimate chaos was called “Ragnarok”. This was the time when the snake that kept the world in place would die, and all borders would fall.

I think we all go through such battles in our lives, be it an interior battle within ourselves, where chaos threatens to bring down our old beliefs and habits, or an exterior battle; chaos and unrest in the world, when humanity itself is plunged into chaos, and have to find new ways of life to cope with the disrupting changes, and to eventually restore harmony again.

Where the Wild things are

This story story is pure fiction, but it is inspired by Norse Mythology and True Events.

Aren’t we all born with a longing for all that is wild, and organic and authentic? We are shaped like seeds spinning around in darkness. Without mountains, without soil, the endlessness will last, until one day when we knock on the shell and tear it apart, step outside and ask: Who am I? Who is the land? Who is the sea? And then, when no one listens, we shape ourselves into rocks and sand, leaving only our heads to rest on the broken shell.

When you stand in “The hundred-acre-Forest”, lovingly named after the forest in A.A Milne’s books, you will see nothing but mountains, even though Rooster’s Cove is just nearby, hidden behind a canopy of tall evergreens. The forest is always dark, with small tunnels of sunlight piercing through the tall forms of ash and oak, leaving pale light-shadows on the zigzagging paths. Soft white-pink Hedge-Parsley and bright purple Alpine Catchfly huddle together in clusters along the rocky pathways. You will have to be careful where you walk, for ant mounds are built close to the paths, and the red and black ants use the discarded pine needles, scattered everywhere on the paths, as insulation when they construct their homes. If you are up for a climb, there is steep hike you can follow that will lead you to the Lodge Pond. The Pond is unapproachable, fences of heather and snake grass and rushes hide the swamp-like banks of the pond, so that you will never know when the land ends and the water starts. The pond is populated by Daddy Longlegs whirling around the tall purple Lady’s Gloves and the weeping small shrubs, popularly called Fairy Spools, and Water Striders standing quietly on the pond’s surface waiting for a child to come along and call it Jesus Bugs. If you come at night you will hear the pygmy owls hooting from their woodsy homes, often stolen form inattentive Spotted woodpeckers. If you stay to early dawn you will meet the skittish roe deer probably already shying away from you, long gone when the birds starts twittering. My favorites were always the friendly white wagtail and the curious yellow-breasted great tit. Their song is full of spring and sun, echoing in the thick forest, much like I imagined fairy music to be like. This was the landscape of my childhood, until one day, when it all changed.

In an open clearing in the forest, just before the landscape slide into a bog, there is an Apple tree, an unusually tall apple tree. In the midst of all things wild and free and unattended, there is something so domestic and human-like, something that makes even businessmen in blue suits and politicians in pencil-skirts and thin-framed glasses smile. Because in every childhood there is an apple tree. In mine, that apple tree was wild. I didn’t want to name the tree, because a little bit of the wildness goes away when you name something, but if I had I would have named it Liv, which in our language means life, for my tree bore the juiciest apples I had ever tasted.

The afternoon sun is squinting through the trees, lowering her hot feet into a chuckling stream, she sighs with pleasure, and the sigh plummets through the forest, and when I hear it, it sounds like a whisper. Something the leaves would say, perhaps. The rocks have all dried up and it is easy to walk dry-footed through the forest. The apple tree has sported a cluster of red apples today and I reach for one and bite into it to quench my thirst. A brown bushy-tailed squirrel peeks out from the round glass-less window in the Bird House my father made last year. I know this squirrel well, he is always running from the roots of the tree to the crown, making funny noises and wagging his tail. He moved in to the Bird House earlier this year. I put my hand on the trunk of the apple tree, running it slowly against the smooth bark. It’s only then that I discover it, the mark on the tree. It is an ugly paint-bruise smeared on with neon red paint. I look around, thinking perhaps it is a joke, but many more trees surrounding the clearing have been marked in the same way. What is this? The paint and the gaudy color look unnatural in this beautiful landscape of lilac starflowers, wintergreens, and magenta Willow Herbs. I put the half-eaten apple in my pocket and head home.

“Mom, why are there paint-mark on the trees?” I ask my mother when she returns from her office job. She sighs and looks at me, “They’re building a hospital, sweetie, the paint marks the trees they have to get rid of to make room for the hospital.” I shrink from her gaze and shudder in horror. “What do you mean get rid of? Like chop down? “My mother nods. “But that’s…that’s murder!” My mother shakes her head at me and sighs. “No, Sweetie, people are more important than trees. They’re building a hospital, a place to heal and cure sick people. Surely you must understand that that is more important than trees?” “But why can’t they build it somewhere else? Why here, in our forest?” My mother sits down and sips her cup of tea, I can see how tired she is, but I can’t help it, I just can’t hold back my anger. “There is nowhere else, honey. All the available land has already been turned into roads and houses; your own school was once a marsh! This is the way of life, Ira, people come first, and we need places to live and work and learn.” I know that that is the way we are supposed to think, the rational way of thinking, but the thought of losing the trees, the apple tree, makes me shake all over, as though it was me who had just been given a death sentence. “Can we not talk about this now?” My mother closes her eyes and leans back in her chair. I know how busy she is, how much she needs her rest, so I nod my head obediently and leave her there to have her rest. But I can’t just sit there and not do anything to prevent this from happening, I need to do something. So I call my friend Bean for assistance.

“It’s awful, Ira, but what can we do?” says Bean when I show him the painted trees in the forest. “Well,” I say, “we can start by scrubbing off this bloody paint!” Bean doesn’t look convinced, but he is a good friend, and nods in agreement. “Fine, I’ll get the water and brushes.” Bean disappears back through the trees, and I am left alone, standing hopelessly forlorn under the Apple Tree. I lean in to the tree and put my cheek against the rough bark. “What should I do?” I whisper, and feel the sting of tears in my eyes. There is no reply. Twenty minutes later Bean is back with two buckets of water and two brushes. We split up and start scrubbing the paint. I scrub and scrub until my hands are red and blistered, but to no use, the industrial paint doesn’t even budge. The neon sheen only seems to burn brighter as the ruby light of the setting sun send gem-like showers through the clippings in the canopy. “Oh, it’s hopeless!” I scream desperately. “Can’t those stupid people just eat apples like me? Haven’t they heard of “an apple a day keeps the doctor away? I have been eating apples every day of my life and I have never had to go to a doctor!” I start sobbing and Bean comes over and puts his arm around my shoulder. I turn around and lean into his body, crying wet tears on his blue knitted sweater. We stand like that until I have managed to calm down. Then suddenly the light disappears, and a faint drizzle waters the forest before us. “Come on,” says Bean, “let’s go home.” The last thing I hear before the sky opens up, and thunder rolls angrily across the black clouds, is the bushy squirrel hurrying into the bird house.

That night Google informs me that the clearing of the forest will start in two days. Two days. I doubt I will get any sleep. But I do. When my mother wakes me up for school the next morning, I feel sick, my whole body is aching and my forehead is hot. My mother sighs and tells me to stay home. I have never been home sick from school before. The house feels empty and too big, and I start thinking about all the trees that had to die for this house, my home, to be built. It makes me sadder than I already am so I decide to go out despite my fever. The forest is always beautiful after the rain. Cobwebs look like diamond jewelry with the droplets of rain garlanding the almost invisible spider’s nets, and the white anemones have refused to tie their bonnets and let hair be hair in the freshness of the day. Green leaves are covered in puddles of frog’s spit, and centipedes and black rhinoceros beetles have been left to roam free as the ants have all run for cover. The apple tree has borne even more fruits, red and yellow juicy gems droop from almost all of its branches. The ripest ones are higher up, and I decide to climb up to try to get them. I am quite good at climbing trees, but no matter how high I climb I just can’t seem to get to the top. Exhausted I sit down on a thick branch and let my eyes wander through the landscape below. From here I can even see my school, it is recess and the kids are running around or sitting in clusters talking among themselves. It all seems so small, so insignificant and pointless from here. Like groups of ants just marching back and forth on autopilot because some queen has told them to. I start laughing. What a stupid life. Just as I am about to climb down I spot a pale ribbon of a rainbow forming in the sky above me. At first the colors are faded and pale, but little by little they grow in strength until they make a perfect arch blazing vividly in the wet sun. It makes me think of a bridge to faraway places.

“We need some sort of plan,” I insist when Bean comes to see me after school. “Well,” he says, “we can always write a mail to the forest department.” “And you really that think that is gonna help?” I can hear the terrible sarcastic tone in my own voice, but I can’t help it. When has any department ever listened to a bunch of kids? “We can at least give it a try,” suggests Bean. I shrug. “Fine.” We, or rather Bean, compose a rather B.S mail about the apple tree being a rear and endangered species. Bean grins when he hits send. “I am sure it will help.” “Oh, you’re sure are you?” I stare at him moodily. He shrugs. “We can at least hope it will.” “Or maybe…” I say and smile, “We can chain ourselves to a tree when they come with the chainsaws. I mean, I’ve seen it in films, they can’t hurt us, so they can’t chop down the trees.” Bean looks at me, I can see uncertainty in his eyes, “I hope you’re just kidding, Ira, that stuff is dangerous.” “Sure,” I say, just to make him stop worrying. But I am not. Kidding, I mean.

The construction workers are supposed to come in the morning, at least according to Google, so I fake illness again, and stay home from school. I’ve found some iron chains in the garage and I pack them into a bag I toss over my shoulder. The forest is quiet, as though it knows that something horrible is about to happen. The leaves are trembling, but soundlessly and eerily, there is no bird chatter or pecks from woodpeckers, it’s just quiet. It is one of those days when we say that there is no weather at all. No sun, no rain, no wind, no nothing, just a gray mass of quiet non-being. The air is heavy and wet. And the gray veil of the nothingness has wrapped the forest in something that reminds me of a fever. The forest feels sick. I have a difficult time climbing the apple tree; the branches are wet and slippery and covered in moss. I have never seen moss on this tree before. I climb as high as the tree will let me, and perch down on a branch scouting the terrain for the executioners. I have tied the chains loosely around my body. I really had no idea it was so hard to tie chains. I hear them before I see them. They are loud, talking, laughing, walking with heavy careless steps. Not bothering much about ants or beetles or anemones. They walk without looking where they walk. When I spot them I see only their bright orange overalls, the work clothes provided for them by the government. And then it all starts. I close my eyes and lean against the trunk of my dear apple tree. I can’t look, I can’t witness the dying of the ancient trees. A quote from the Bible crosses my mind. Forgive them father, for they do not know what they are doing. But they do, they do know what they are doing. The sound of chainsaws resonates through the forest, and I can feel how the trees tremble, how they lean as far away from the sound and the murderers as they can. It is their day of sorrow, their day of loss. And then the chainsaw is right under me, and the apple tree starts to shake violently. They can’t see me, is all I can think. They don’t know that I am here. I am going to die. And somehow that is okay. I accept it. This is a good death. Just then I hear a voice: “Heeeey, stop!! Stop it! There is a girl in the tree! Stop!” It sounds like Bean. But just as I am about to open my eyes to look, I fall.

I’ve heard that people say that everything goes black when they lose consciousness. That is not true, at least not for me. I see colors. I see a glass bridge arched like a rainbow sporting a palette of violet, indigo, emerald, and pink. It is beautiful. And on that bridge there is a squirrel, a bushy brown one. It looks like he is waiting for me. His beady black eyes are fixed on mine, but just as I am about to reach out and follow him, I wake up. I am in a colorless, too bright room, and on a chair next to me sits my mother. “Oh, honey, thank god, you are okay!” exclaims my mother and hugs me fiercely. I back away from her hug, feeling pains and bruises all over my body. “Sorry,” she apologizes and lets go of me. “I’m…I’m thirsty,” I manage to say, and it is true, I am parched! “Baldur, will you please fetch my daughter a glass of water?” Bean frowns at the sound of his given name, but says nothing; he just gets up and leaves me alone with my mother. “What…what is Bean doing here?” I ask my mother. My mother clasps her palms together, and I can see in her eyes that she has been crying. “Baldur,” she almost sobs, “is a hero! He…he rescued you. I don’t know how he knew, but somehow he did, and…and he got there just in time…he caught you, Ira, as you fell, he…he caught you! Don’t ask me how, he is just a boy, but he did. He caught you.” Tears are running along my mother’s high beautiful cheekbones, and she sniffs unladylike. “And what about the trees, mom, are they okay?” My mother stiffens and that is all the answer I need. “The apple tree…?” I stammer. “Is safe!” says Bean as he enters the room and hands me the glass of water. “But how?” I insist. “Well, it worked, the mail worked. The forest department came just in time and they declared the tree to be protected due to its rarity. They’ve uprooted it, and the guy I spoke to said that they will re-plant it in the botanical garden in the city.” Bean grins, and I smile back, even though I don’t feel like smiling. Somehow, thinking about the majestic never-ending apple tree trapped inside a city is not very comforting. But I can’t show that to Bean, he has done so much for me.

I’m released from the hospital the next day with only a couple of bruises and sore muscles, thanks to Bean. “I want to see it,” I say to Bean. We are sitting on the couch in my living room watching Shark Week on National Geographic. “See what?” asks Bean distractedly. “Ground Zero,” I reply sarcastically, “The place of the great massacre.” “Ira,” protests Bean, “I don’t think that is such a good idea…” “Well, luckily you are not in charge of me, so let’s go.” I switch off the TV and get up. Bean sighs, but he doesn’t object. “Fine.”

The clearing really looks like a Ground Zero, the soil has been upturned and whisked into mud, the corpses of beautiful tall trees lie scattered everywhere, white naked and bruised stumps gape into the air, filthy with decay and rot. There are no birds in sight, no ant mounds, no Daddy Longlegs buzzing by, there is just emptiness, space being readied for something else. Where the apple tree once stood there is only a deep black hole now, it is so deep that I cannot see the end of it. “Hey, look,” I say and run over to the edge of the hole. Bean runs after me. “Watch it!” he calls out and grabs my green cardigan. But I am not about to fall into that hole. “Look, Bean,” I say, “It’s the bird house.” I lift the battered bird house up from the ground. It is heavy, too heavy. “Something is in there.” My voice comes out thin and weak. “Ira,” warns Bean, “don’t, just don’t.” But I do. I break open the floor board and catch the dead squirrel as he falls through the opening and into my hands. His little bushy brown body is lifeless. “I want to bury him,” I say, my voice barely audible now. “Yeah okay, where?” Even Bean sounds disturbed by the dead squirrel. “In the garden, next to the apple tree.” Bean nods.

We wrap the squirrel in a plastic bag and take the bus downtown. The botanic garden has an entrance fee. Go figure. I refuse to pay, and when Bean mentions the head of the forest department by first name, the security lady reluctantly lets us in. As soon as I am inside, it is as though I know where I am supposed to go. Perfectly graveled lanes meander through beds of roses, tulips and peonies, flowers that don’t belong here in our cold climate. They look sad; their heads are drooping towards the stony ground. At first I don’t recognize the apple tree. It has been planted next to a lilac tree. But the lilac tree is much taller than the apple tree. How could that be? I couldn’t even climb to the top of the apple tree in the clearing. There are no fruits on the tree. The leaves have turned orangey brown and are barely hanging on to the thin branches. I start crying. Bean tries to comfort me, but I turn away from him. “What did they do to you?” I ask as I approach the tree. What did they do to you? I dig a hole in the ground with my bare hands, Bean offers to help, but I decline. I remove the plastic from the squirrel’s body and bury him there, in the hole next to the apple tree. I am wondering if maybe I should have left him in the forest, but somehow this feels right. He belongs with the tree. Bean and I stay silent all the way home, both of us lost in our own thoughts, or at least I am.

A week later they start building the hospital. All the neighbors complain about the noise from the construction site. Even my mother. The banging goes on for hours and hours, even into the night, and my mother can’t sleep. Neither can I, but that is for entirely different reasons. A year after, the hospital has its opening ceremony. I am off to college that autumn; Bean and I are attending the same college, and plan to get an apartment together. I won’t miss home. I never saw the apple tree again. But Bean tells me it is still there, but it never bears any fruit anymore. It looks forlorn, he says, out of place, like a majestic lion in a zoo hand-fed by keepers. I always hated the zoo.

There was once upon a time a tree, so big you almost thought it would take you to the heavens if you managed to climb to the top, but the tree was cunning, it wouldn’t let anyone reach that far. On the tree’s branches there were fruits, apples shining like gold, and it was said that if you just took one bite you would keep young and healthy forever. In that tree lived a squirrel, and it was the only one who could find its way to the top of the tree, and perhaps even further. The squirrel ran from the crown to the root of the tree many times a day, and some people claimed that it bore messages from the gods. But people stopped believing in those gods, and the squirrel, with its constant comings and goings, irritated them, they had become deaf to its speech, so they killed it, and moved the tree to a park where it would be safe. In place of the tree was a hospital ,said to cure almost all illnesses. And the apples…the apples of life became something of a myth, laughed at by intellectuals in learning institutions. Magic apples and talking squirrels were stuff of fairy tales. Something to make the kids sleep at night. And so, that world was lost, the world where the wild things are, and the human beings moved back into their broken shells, and called it freedom. For me, the world where the wild things are, became my lost childhood, but I still hope, one day, that we will look back, and say: Let’s set the tree of life free.