THE LITTLE TREE

Only 4m² was that trodden on park on Tactile Avenue. After years of use the grass had died in places, leaving dirt patches to become muddy when it rained. The boys of the apartment building street all attempted to play games in the confined area that were meant for fields and far larger parks.

A neighbouring woman often saw the boys play across the street and sighed as she peered out the window on that particular dreary day. She longed her own children and at the age of 39 her clock was winding down. Her time was running out and she had never been close to getting what she wanted.

The woman wandered back to her apartment door and compulsively double-checked the locks. It was a rather impulsive habit and a rather annoying and repetitive action.

Her feet drew her back to the window, her eyes gazing down at the now empty area as the boys played out on the street. She would have also liked a garden, or even a pet. Such things were not available in an apartment such as hers. Even relationships were not available for a woman as lonely and single as herself.

The woman, in a sudden burst of enthusiasm and inspiration, took a bus to the nearest nursery. She did have to walk a bit but didn't mind. Her wallet lightened slightly but her hands carried the weight of a little oak tree on her way home.

Once again she repeated the ritual of opening the door, shuffling inside, placing her plant on the dining table that she hardly ever sat at and going back to securely lock the door only to go back several times to check.

The following days she left her tree near the window to benefit in the sunlight through the open window; she watered it and kept it company as she stared intently out the window. The plant gave her something to do as she awaited her redundancy payment. It wasn't the most terrible thing not going to work but it left her no schedule or plan for the week. Finding another job was going to be a hard task.

On the last of the three consecutive days that she sat there she watched the boys play baseball. The younger of the boys went first, missing all throws until the last of them hit a ball up in the air. It flew with amazing precision and hit the woman's window. She jumped but didn't move her gaze from the children. All stared up, rather confused that such a woman would be watching them. The oldest boy, roughly twelve invited the woman down with a gesture of his hand. She replied with a smile and a slight nod.

In a rush of shoes on feet and feet down stairs, she went down the stairs of her apartment building. The woman wandered outside to face the children she had watched day after day, week after week, without ever interrupting their game, until now. The boy whom invited her pressed himself through the others, who remained together in a group, and guided her to the small 4m² park so she may sit down on the comfortable but scarce grass. During the rest of the day she sat there, without a word and without any other cautious glances towards her, as they had become welcoming smiles.

Once the game was done, the boy stayed behind to come talk to the woman. She leaned back, gazing at the stars that were slowly appearing in the sky that grew darker, as he said his name was Jacob, that he was twelve years old and that his parents always bugged him to do his homework. They sat there for a while, both gazing up in silent awe, until the boy got up quickly, saying that he had to leave. He hugged the woman tightly, expressing happily how good of a listener she was, then left to run down the street. She was left to get up, gazing back at the park with a sudden idea, and wander up to her apartment alone, but in the first time in a long while, with a smile.

The next morning she was found in the park, dirt strewn across the grass and a new hole dug in the middle. Her clothes were covered in the dirt of her hard labour of digging through the almost clay-like soil and her hair was drawn back tightly into a plait. Jacob was one of the first there. When he came to see her there was a rather bemused expression upon his face but, noticing the little oak tree, he insisted that he help her plant the tree into the damp hole in the middle of the park.

Days passed and since the woman planted the tree more people used the park. Often she would see mothers and their infants upon the grass that gradually grew back to many a surprised face. When the area was clear, children would chase one another around the tree and make it apart of the game. In those days the woman searched the newspapers, circling in red pen the jobs she was interested in and kept flipping through all the ones she had collected to find more. She checked out the businesses on their websites and applied for a few jobs online via the suburb's library computers but doubted that she would even be considered for any of the vacant positions. She didn't have a resume as she wasn't sure how to write one and her apartment lacked a computer so applications were helpful in her job search.

Weeks later, she was still unemployed. She did receive emails in response that only expressed that she was not suitable for the job or they had found a more qualified applicant. The woman had suspected this and wasn't too upset. She took to gazing thoughtfully out the window. The children weren't there that day, despite the sunshine. On the street were trucks filled with materials so they blocked the street traffic and her view of her little oak tree. They hadn't been there the day before and she hadn't heard them turning up in the morning.

Hurrying out the door of apartment, she wore her purple slippers, a white towel robe, a pink T-shirt and a pair of green shorts that went no farther than the middle of her thighs. She didn't care about how she looked, what people thought or about her hair that was a mess, barely held back by her hair tie. As she ran through the complex, a few people mumbled for quiet and others merely slept through the sound of her heavy steps on the stairs.

She came out to the streets, walking with a hastened pace through the measly gaps between the trucks until she saw the park. The woman nearly fell to her knees for what she saw stabbed in deep and caused her let out a soft whimper; the park's grass was ripped her, her tree was gone and the construction people were already laying the concrete.

Taken aback by the loss of what had been the closest thing to a garden for her, she retreated back up to her apartment without much more than the march of her feet and blinking of her eyes. The woman opened the door, shuffled inside and leant her back against the door as she locked it like she had many times before. This time she didn't check again, instead she slid down to the floor. No tears escaped from the lids of her eyes that had shut tightly to present her to their dark lining. Her hands covered her ears, touching them gingerly with her delicate fingers, and she cowered there for a time she did not take track of.

The midday came, sunlight streaming through the open windows of her apartment, curtains were drawn aside. She awoke from her slumber in the same position, although she was now upon the floor. The woman pushed herself up to lean against the door again; her mind gave her a quick update of what happened the day before. Her hand stroked through her hair, pulling the strands on her face away, and removed the hair tie she had put in her hair earlier in the morning. As she sat there miserable, her hair slowly falling to her shoulders bit by bit, she felt movement outside her door then a knock upon it that quickly got her upon her feet.

Confused, she opened the door to find only the door of the apartment across the hall facing her. The woman stepped out into the hall, gazing left then right and checking once again. No one was there and she shrugged thinking that it was merely a prank. She took a step back and her bare heel protruding from her right slipper nudged against something hard, rock-like, something she had missed and overlooked. The thoughts sunk in for a few moments until she finally turned around.

Her hand quickly covered her hand so she wouldn't scream. The object that she had hit had surprised her; her eyes stared wide at it in disbelief. In front of her, on her doorstep, was a terracotta pot. It was slightly cracked and probably a bit heavy but it was what was in it that she payed attention to. A few tears did form in her eyes as she peered down at the little tree, her little oak tree. Her hands went to the rim of the pot, picking it up, her hand no longer able to stop her mouth from gaping in sheer astonishment. She smiled as she brought it into her apartment, locking the door on the way, placing it by the window, and not going back to check if the door was locked.

The woman peered out on the street, now vacant of the trucks, to see Jacob. Jacob was playing with his friends and admiring their handprints in the now dry cement base of the structure that was yet to be built there. Jacob gazed up to see her at the window, to see her smile down at him accepting that she may never have children. Jacob gazed up at the woman unaware that she wanted children, unaware that she was unemployed, unaware that she was lonely and unaware that she was deaf.