Nails hammered into the trunk let him climb to the tree’s big branches. He edged out and hung his legs over, swinging them in the air. The sun was on his face. Then he pressed his palms down into the branch, feeling the tension, lifting himself up and pushing out, out, into the sky. He braced his legs, locked his knees, and then he hit. The earth was soft but the jolt was huge, a giant tremor up through his bones, and an impact that forced his thighs into his hips, breaking his pelvis as he crumpled on the ground.
Can you see it? asked James. Corrina was squinting into the May sunlight.
It was somewhere over there but I can’t make it out exactly.
But the cottage was around here?
Here? Somewhere over there, near the horizon, past the trees, where it’s all blue with the distance and haze.
We could drive around the lake, James suggested, placing an arm round her shoulder. She shook her head:
We’d get lost. I just can’t remember. I can’t remember the room even. Or him. What he really did. I was so young. We drove off. I promised to forget. It’s just…
She had never noticed the small tree with the red leaves just around the corner – couldn’t say whether the leaves were red all year or only turned so in autumn. It was only the kids playing on their scooters one morning that drew her attention. Then she forgot about it again. The following day it was stormy as she headed to the shops. Rocked by gusts of wind, the tree was hurling its leaves to the ground in showers. An hour later its branches were bare, the pavement crimson. Things fall down, she reminded herself, even as you look elsewhere.
It is here. Which means it is too late. Who knows whether we could have resisted it? Ten cases of the disease are already local to us. It is in the hedgerows and the woodlands, brought by visitors, carried on the wind. The infection spreads, stains appear, the flesh wilts and limbs crack and split. The scientists have isolated diseased samples in labs. The government says eradicating it could cost tens of millions of pounds. In austerity, it sends a shiver. But these are our ash trees and the ecosystems they support are our lives. They must live. Or else?
The sun is out and a flurry of cars pass the end of the road, windows open. Mr and Mrs Bluebird are hopping through the velvet branches of the staghorn tree and there is laughter in the little park. At the corner, a man with his shirt sleeves rolled up arranges a drink with a colleague, speaking into his mobile phone with a voice that is bright and certain. I hear the clip clop of high heel shoes and the sound of a hosepipe from next door’s patio. There is not a solitary cloud in the sky.
The Prime Minister…