By Maryetta Ackenbom
Andy leaned back in his comfortable lawn chair. “Do you remember?” He turned to Sue, sitting beside him. “We were only 15, but already deeply in love. We would wander through that little woods in the park…”
She stretched and reached for his hand. “Yes, my love, of course I remember. We would get lost in the little woods, happily lost, and we’d find a place to sit, and…”
“And we’d kiss. First kisses for both of us.”
The sound of water from the small waterfall Andy had built in their back yard echoed the long-ago kisses they shared.
“Andy,” she said, “How did we lose so much time before we joined our hands and our hearts and our bodies in marriage?”
“We were only fifteen, Sue, and our parents tried to keep us apart. And not only because we were only fifteen.”
“Those were glorious days, walking in the woods, but then there were the bad, lonely days when they forced us to separate.”
“They tried, didn’t they? And for a while they succeeded.”
“Oh, Andy, I remember the day you carved a heart with our initials together in the sweet old elm tree. ‘AM loves SR.’ I was so thrilled.”
“Then that brat of a sister of yours found the tree and our love initials.”
“And my folks grounded me for a month. You were released from detention after two weeks. Now I call that sex discrimination.”
“But after two weeks I could at least pass by your house and see you through your bedroom window.”
“And I would wave at you and throw kisses. But they wouldn’t let us date for another whole year.”
“And the first thing we did when we were allowed to see each other again was to go to the elm tree and run our fingers over the carving.”
“The sap had already hardened in the tree’s bark. That’s when we knew for sure our love would last.”
“Then you moved away. I was so sad.” She sighed. “Every day I’d go to the elm tree and trace the heart, and then our initials.”
“And then you’d write me the most beautiful letters.”
“Until my mom found out.”
“Why would they keep us from writing, Sue? You were just perfecting your poetry, right?”
“And you perfected your artistry, which you began by carving up the poor tree.”
They both sighed and closed their eyes.
Some time later, they pulled themselves out of the lawn chairs and walked slowly through the green spring grass into the house, leaning on each other.
Together they fixed their usual light supper, tea and crackers, and maybe a piece of fruit. Together they sat at their small kitchen table.
“How long was it before we saw each other again, Sue?”
“Don’t you remember? It was a couple of years, and you made some money delivering papers and used it to come see me.”
“Oh yes, and you weren’t home. I almost cried, a big seventeen-year-old baby. Then I guessed where you might be.”
“And you found me, seated under the old elm tree.”
“I was so surprised to see how the heart outline and the initials had widened. But we kissed. And kissed some more.”
“Yes, we did.” She smiled at him. “I came almost every day to the tree, and I noticed the carving growing larger. And my heart grew with love as I remembered our kisses.” She raised her eyebrows.
“Do you want to see the evening news?”
“No, dear, I want to kiss you again.”
“We have never stopped kissing. Our parents accepted that we were not going to part, and they let us enroll in the same college.”
“Sue, do remember learning anything in college?”
“Mostly, I remember strolling around the campus, our arms around each other. Our friends used to call us the Siamese twins.”
“I think the old elm tree put a spell on us. I never thought about any other girl. Oh, I admit I liked looking at some of them…”
Sue drew back and lightly punched his shoulder. “Do you want me to confess to my countless affairs?”
“I know you were in love with Rock Hudson.”
“Ahem. Weren’t you?”
“That didn’t get either of us very far, did it?”
They chuckled, drew each other up from their kitchen chairs, and settled again on the living room couch. The green and white print on the couch matched a couple of armchairs, and green drapes were pulled aside to let in the darkening evening. In front of them a coffee table, carved from natural wood and covered with a thickness of plate glass, shone from frequent dusting.
Sue smoothed her hand over the glass, tracing the symbols below it. “I’m so glad we could get this, Andy. It’s a symbol for us.”
“How many times…” He put his hand over hers on the glass. “How many times did we go back to the elm tree? Every time, it was like getting married again.”
“And when we got married, in the old Methodist church, we went to visit the tree before we even went to the reception. And whenever we visited the tree after that, we noticed that the carving seemed a little wider, more distinct.”
“Sue, we’ve traveled all over, and we’ve lived in different places, but we’ve always come back to our old home town and the elm tree heart. I’m so glad we retired here.”
“We had to come back, Andy. When my brother wrote us that they were cutting down the woods where our elm tree grew, we had to come back and save it.”
“And we sure fought with that construction company. I wonder if anyone has ever loved a tree like we loved the elm tree.”
“And we only gave up when they showed us the old tree was dying, anyway. I cried so hard!”
“But Sue, we didn’t give up. We won! They made us the offer, and we accepted, reluctantly, but we knew there was no alternative.”
“We watched them cut down the tree, and I cried all the time. I think you did, too.”
Andy put his arm around her shoulder. “I admit it. But then the company representatives took us to their workshop, where we saw their people carve down into the heartwood of the elm tree, and they sanded it and varnished it…”
“And ever since then we’ve had the tree with its heart in front of us, always reminding us of our young love.”
Sue ran her hand over the glass again, over the outline of the carving, now after so many years much smoother and wider than ever. Andy rested his hand over hers.
About the Author:
Maryetta Ackenbom has published several short stories online, and has just published her second novel, “Hope Abides,” available on amazon.com. She lives and writes in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, a warm city with warm, welcoming people.