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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Family · #1748291
It's not always easy to discover what's hidden in plain sight.
The Poet Tree

Sarah stood in front of the sink staring at her reflection in the kitchen window. I look like a ghost, she thought wryly. How appropriate! Since her father's death, she had felt like an apparition, just going through the motions of living.

The image faded as the sun diluted the darkness, revealing the first touches of spring staining the hills in uneven verdant streaks. As she watched the gloom dissipate, it revealed a familiar scene. How many times have I looked out this window? she wondered.

Good morning. She sent the thought out to the fields and hills that surrounded the small cottage. The solitary oak that sat on the hillock waved, acknowledging her greeting as the wind tumbled in its outstretched branches. The growing light seemed to paint each budding leaf a different hue, then, changing its mind, repainted each again.

"Well, old friend," she muttered out loud at the sight, "at least we've made it through another winter." A smile touched her lips. "People would think I'm crazy if they heard me talking to a tree, wouldn't they Ben?" she said to the grey-muzzled hound curled up in the corner. Her smile grew into a grin as she realized that she was talking to a dog. "On second thought, don't answer that," she laughed.

Her reverie broken, she freed the old coffee pot from the dish drainer, enjoying the familiar feel of the worn porcelain-clad metal, and began filling it with cold water. Soon, the quiet gave way to the hissing sound of the gas stove and the faint drumming of water beginning to boil.

Opening a cupboard to grab the coffee grounds, she saw a calendar hanging inside. The small squares that captured each day were filled with notes halfway across the page. She glanced at the month. "March." The word came as a shock. Looking closer, she saw that the writing ended abruptly on the seventeenth – the day before her father had passed away.

Her first thought was, Has it really been a month? She felt a wave of sadness and her eyes began to tear as, once more, she was reminded of her loss. Joshua Edward Johnson – J.J. to friends, but always Dad to her – had been more than her father; he had been her inspiration, her example of love without reservation, and most of all – her best friend. She remembered whenever she had been troubled, he always had an answer that would put the world right again – usually in some song he was writing, she grinned to herself.

A soft whine from Ben pulled her back. "I know, boy. I miss him too."

Returning to the calendar, she wondered, Why didn't I notice this before? Removing the calendar from the bent nail it was hanging from, she went to the stove, added the grounds to the water, and then sat at the Formica-topped table.

She turned the pages and was surprised to see that each day's square was filled with her father's familiar script. She flipped to March and began reading.

March 1st – The first shoots of green now can be seen.
March 2nd – The leaves rustling as the birds sing.
March 3rd – Hello old frien' good to see you again.

Sarah looked up. There was something familiar about the words. Sarah's brow furrowed as she reached for a memory that was tantalizingly near, but just out of reach.

She started to close the pages, but her eyes were drawn to the final entry. "Do I really want to know his last thoughts?" she whispered. She already knew the answer and her eyes slowly drank in his final words:

March 17th – There's no need to cry at every goodbye.

The words stuck in her throat and she felt her eyes begin to burn again. "Did he have some sort of a premonition?" she asked. It was a question without an answer.

The sound of water sizzling as it hit hot metal brought her back into the real world. She hurried to the stove where the coffee was overflowing, small dark droplets dancing across the burner and leaping to the floor.

"Oh damn," she muttered, wrapping a kitchen towel around the handle and removing the pot from the flame. From long practice, she flipped the lid open and set a piece of strainer wire in the opening. As it sank out of sight, pulling the loose grounds to the bottom, she picked a cup out of the drainer and paused.

In the burgeoning morning light, the old blue mug gleamed. Its radiance seemed to cover the small chip on the rim and the faded logo on its side. It was – had been, she corrected herself – her father's favorite and she could feel its warmth in her hand. It seemed like everywhere she turned she was reminded of loss. With a sigh, she poured herself a steaming cup and sat back down.

"What am I missing here?" she asked herself. Ben got up and came to her, laying his hoary head on her lap. Without thinking, she idly began stroking his head, her fingers scratching behind his ears. The soft rhythm brought back a memory of her father, sitting at the table and strumming out his latest song. Suddenly it hit her; the words on the calendar were words she had heard in his songs.

She closed her eyes and inhaled the rich fragrance of the coffee, her hands continuing to comfort Ben ... and went back in time.

It was fall. She sat at the table watching her father make coffee. As he stared out the window, he began humming.

"Is that something new you're writing?" she asked.

He laughed. "Nope – just a tune that the wind whispered to me. Now I'm waiting for the words."

She joined his laughter. "And I suppose that they will appear in the sky, written by the clouds?"

He turned and looked at her, his smile weaving in and out of shadow as windblown leaves cut patterns in the sunlight.

"No," he finally said. "The words come from me – but the inspiration comes from my muse."

"Your muse? You mean there's another woman in your life?" she chided him.

He just smiled and looked back out of the window. No matter how much she pestered him, he wouldn't speak further on it and, in time, it was forgotten.

Sarah opened her eyes to the dancing lights on the black surface of her cup. She took a tentative sip of the reassuring brew, finding it had cooled down enough to take a larger swallow. The rich, earthy taste and the pleasing rush of caffeine had the desired effect.

"I guess that's enough reliving the past for now," she said. "Time to get on with our day, Ben." She stood and picked up the calendar. Walking to the cupboard, she flipped the page to April. At least something will be in the present, she thought. A sharp bark from Ben made her stop and her eyes were drawn to the window.

There, on the hill, stood the oak, shining in the sun. Strong and silent in the distance, she became aware of how its solitary existence was part of something greater. It was not alone and it came to her: Neither am I! A scrap of memory surfaced – "I think that I shall never see ... " The opening lines of Joyce Kilmer's poem "Trees" came rushing back to her along with an understanding of what her father had meant.

With understanding came clarity of vision as she opened herself to the beauty of what she was seeing. She found that her feelings -- the love, the sadness, the joy of life -- were finding words.

She picked up a pen and, in the square that marked today, wrote: Today I discovered the Poet Tree. It was always right in front of me. Sarah smiled in satisfaction. She knew that like life, the words would go on ... and the music would follow.

An entry in "Show Off Your Best at the Sandbox [ASR]
Prompt: Inspirational, Parenting
Word Limit: 4,000
Word Count: 1,331

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