A tall, thin crabapple tree against a blue sky with a shorter tree and a thick line of forest in the background.

The day Lila finds out about the crabapple tree, her mom has to get the scarf out and tie her hands. That hasn’t happened in a while. But Dad is going to cut the tree down, Lila’s own.

Normal kids’ moms don’t have to truss them up. Lila doesn’t know many other kids–she’s never gone to school, Dad’s always figured it’s not safe, and anyway the farm is way out here alone–but she does know she has never been normal. Her first memory is of the too-tight knitted slippers Dad shoved onto her baby feet. She worked one off, threw it as hard as she could… and the slipper shattered on the floor. Glass, Dad yelled. He pinned Lila’s wrists together behind her back, and Mom, crying, wrapped the scarf around them and tied it. Lila remembers shouting and squirming until her throat and wrists ached. She remembers, too, how the slipper turned so cool and smooth in her hand, and how the shards of it glittered.

That’s why, when Mom tells her about the tree, the scarf is already out. “I’m sorry, baby. Dad says you’ve got to wear it awhile.” Lila doesn’t argue with Mom when she cries. She holds her hands behind her back, wrists touching, and lets Mom wrap them tight.

Dad comes in that night, brown with cornfield dust. “Canker in the tree,” he tells Lila. She’s been wearing the scarf for hours now. Couldn’t help Mom batter the chicken for supper; drank juice through a straw when she got hungry so Mom wouldn’t have to feed her. “Summer storms’ll be here soon,” Dad says, scrubbing his face at the sink. His hands are hard, seamed with scratches from cornhusks and raspberry thorns. “One more good wind…” He says that’s why he’s going to cut her tree down tomorrow. Lila is nine, no baby anymore, and she doesn’t believe his reasons. He doesn’t like her or Mom to love things. 

At suppertime, he puts a spoon into Lila’s still-bound right hand. It stays metal, so he tells Mom she can take the scarf off. “She’s safe now.” Lila rubs her wrists and rolls her shoulders. Dad says, “Maybe she’s finally learning to be good.”

She isn’t. Not the way he means.

That night, after the house goes dark, she sneaks out of bed. Down the hall past her parents’ room. (Dad is knocked out asleep, but five out of ten Mom is staring at the ceiling, wondering again what’s going to happen to her daughter, who’s like nobody else.) Out the back door, shutting the screen without a sound. Past the silent barn, where the tractor and Dad’s truck hunch in the dark, and across the yard to the fence. On the far side, the cornfields rustle. On this side, her crabapple tree reaches up for the sky.

Lila reaches too. Not up, but down, into the safe place inside herself where she’s learned to pour her anger. She breathes deep. The hot bright wave has waited all day for her. She feels it rise into her chest, into her shoulders, ready to skim down her arms and out through her fingertips.

She places both palms on the tree trunk. The wave rushes out and down. The bark’s texture changes: now it’s cool and smooth under Lila’s hands. The magic spreads out and away, into the heartwood, into the branches and each and every leaf. Lila closes her eyes. Her tree of glass will be stronger than wood and harder than ice. No axe will cut it now.

Climbing is tricky on the newly slippery branches. After what she’s done, she’s tired, too. But when morning comes, she’s sitting in her favorite crook high up, leaning against the trunk. The leaves ring like chimes in the breeze. All around her, light falls glittering green.

Down below, she can make out her parents’ faces. Dad’s is blank and empty, but Mom is smiling, like the sunrise itself.


Photo by Jim Champion, used and adapted under CC.