I am very late for my story with Tex this week.
Our prompt was – the olive tree.
Here’s my story –
The sunset in the groves was rusted orange. That’s where Corey told her. Alice was holding his hand, marvelling at the knotted trunks of the olive trees that looked as if they had faces and limbs forming in their gnarled contours and he just blurted it out.
‘I’m dying,’ he said.
Alice went into free fall. At least that’s how it felt. She saw that her feet were still there on the rich Tuscan soil but she wanted to grab onto something to prevent herself from falling forward and down.
At first she thought Corey was joking, not that it was right to joke about such things, but surely he wasn’t serious. Yet as he explained about the cancer and how it was inoperable and that soon he wouldn’t know who she was or even who he was, it began to sink in.
She couldn’t talk. She had grown mute with shock and a little bit of anger. Why had he brought her all the way to Italy to tell her this, this horrible thing? Why couldn’t he tell her at home where she had her friends and her mum to turn to for solace? Had he thought that by telling her here she wouldn’t grow hysterical with grief?
She was angry too because people just didn’t go to Italy for no reason. It was one of the most romantic places in the world, for God’s sake. She had thought, no, she had believed Corey was going to propose to her in the little villa by the olive groves. She had even searched through his suitcase for the ring because she couldn’t wait, she was just so keen and excited.
There was no ring. And soon there would be no Corey.
‘I thought it would be easier,’ he said. ‘Here, where the evening air hangs like sheets, gauzy and mellow. I thought it would be the perfect place for us to begin to say goodbye.’
After Corey had gone to sleep Alice got up and sat in the thick of the olive grove. It was dense as a cave. Some night creatures scurried, overripe olives dropped like tiny eggs. Alice, who only believed in things like love and kindness, got to her knees and prayed. ‘Don’t take him from me,’ she said. ‘Please don’t.’
Maria, who made the most beautiful lemon and almond cake, and looked like Monica Bellucci, told her that some of the olive trees were over a thousand years old. That they knew things people could never hope to. She gave Alice a tiny slip of paper as worn as ancient parchment and told her to make a request of the spirits of the trees. Let him live, she wrote, folding the paper into one of the grooves in the creased branches. Let him live.
Corey and Alice stayed in the villa by the olive groves for three months. Sometimes the morning air was so wet it was as white as the mozzarella Maria put in her salads. Sometimes tendrils of sunlight fell through the branches, forming a lattice on the ground, making Alice believe the trees would grant her wish – Let him live.
Corey died on the day Maria was teaching Alice to make conchiglie – tiny little shells of pasta filled with ricotta. Alice couldn’t get the shape right, her usually nimble fingers were clumsy. The smell of freshly pressed olive oil was overpowering in the airless kitchen. Alice couldn’t concentrate. When she heard Corey was dead she knocked over a bottle of the green oil. It spilled, melted glass on the terracotta floor, fluid as silence.
Corey wanted his ashes spread in the olive grove. Alice saw him everywhere afterwards. The trees had turned his ashes back to life. She couldn’t stand it.
She went home. She sat for weeks with her mum and cried. She saw months pass. A year. She woke not knowing what day it was.
A parcel came from Italy wrapped solidly in brown paper. It smelled of earth and birdsong. It smelled of lemon and almond cake.
It was a tree. The tiniest one. Searching frail and vulnerable for the sun. Alice felt hope surge.
She planted it in the biggest pot she could find. She was worried the cold would get it. Or the wind. But it grew, reaching, ever reaching to the sky. She grew less fearful, proud of its supple strength, attaching the note that had come with it to its strongest branch.
He lives still, it said.
And Alice knew it was true.
*Texasblu’s story is here.