Once, on holiday in St Tropez while wandering the back streets we came across a square planted at intervals with mature London plane trees. More than a century old, with trunks which look like the varicosed legs of old women.
The majority of them had empty spaces inside and I entertained the child who accompanied me with stories of very bad French men who were imprisoned within. In actuality these trees had been wounded over the years and all those wounds had let in disease, and that’s why most of the trees were partially or entirely hollow.
We talked about what heinous crimes the men had committed and how they must have felt trapped inside, fitting perfectly, not able to move a muscle. Held in stasis, listening to the comings and goings of humanity, the startling tring of bells on dusty old black ‘sit up and begs ‘, the chugging spittle of mopeds, and the gallic, old man grumblings and dink and thud of jack and ball. Locals playing Petanque under the planes in the Place des Lices, little knowing the secret they kept.
Named after jousting grounds where fair damsels waved their scraps of cotton and lace and sighed over the beefcake of yore, this square in Saint-Tropez on a bright sunny day was lovely we said, but was holding a dark secret with its dozens of trees hiding their black human hearts.
We believed there were prisoners.
Twenty years has passed. The child has a child of her own and they have a life of their own.
I have always loved trees. I hug them openly and am not ashamed. I hugged one near where my grandmothers ashes were sprinkled. Their circumferences were roughly the same and it felt like I was hugging her.
Now away from St Tropez and by myself, I am regarding another plane tree standing among thousands of its peers lining the Canal du Midi. Nearly 200 years old, in its middle youth Platanus was solid and tight. Fit, thrusting and hittable. Now it has a disease caused by fungus brought to Europe by US soldiers in World War II. It is dying.
I can’t hear it speak. It has no voice, but I imagine it grimacing and shrinking over time, as slowly and surely Saprophytes with an unrelenting, collective hunger eat away at it’s insides.
I feel rather than see the dead heartwood annihilated by fungi and insects and tiny ‘isms and ‘eriums. Outer bark growing blackish, inconspicuous, long narrow cankers.
A living death.
A lot less solid now, among those trees, in drill lines, along the banks. Almost dead where it stands.
But it does still stand.
I really fucking know how it feels!
Amazingly, with it’s innards gone the buds still open, the leaves still flourish and lend heavily to the canopy, but is it just me or does the foliage hang lower now? Is it less luxuriant? Does it seem dusty and is it a greyer green this year? Does it look like it needs a bloody good meal and someone to love it?
It makes me sad if all these things are true.
A famous man on the television said there was something to be done about that. He said that nutrients created by the rotting of dead beasts boost the sunlight and rain combination, tripling it's potency and momentarily this uplifts me.
I too feel dusty and grey this year – I too have a condition that is ravenous, insulting and murderous and eats away at my wellbeing. So much so that I am weary, and close to yielding.
I have a dream, so real it calls to my heart when I’m awake and stays, thrumming on the edge of my consciousness reminding me it was there. In this dream I have died but I am flying, fast, beside my own human trunk, transported to some otherwise inaccessible spot deep in a rain forest 'and with a rope they dangled her, head first, dead weight, precariously and then…'
I am dying and I am oh so alone.
When a space is confined within a tube of living bark it creates a hollow. In some cases a vertical and actual pokey hole. Somewhere, there is my tree. It will be the perfect fit. It has been waiting for me and so it just seems sensible and romantic that when I die, I am dropped to rot in humidity within its comfortable hollow.
Lesley Hawkins has written bits and bobs over the years and attended various creative writing courses/groups since 2010. She has most recently written a play about Kendal Mint Cake which was performed in Kendal Yarns festival of New Writers in June/July 2016.