Vorontsov district. I was driving down Kalinin Street, where the roadway and sidewalks were piled high with unceremoniously felled, god awful mangled trees gasping out their last breath. There they lay, yesterday’s giants, like soldiers fallen on the field of battle. The roar of chainsaws was deafening the whole neighborhood. Pulling up near the house where I was born and grew up, I saw a huge downed poplar being cut into logs by people who just didn’t care.
“What are you doing? Stop that!” I yelled, then chuckled at myself for going off like that and, calmly now, asked, “Can you sell me that piece?”
“You’re kidding, right? What’re you going to do with it? It’s no good for firewood, and you can’t build anything with it. We’re going to haul it out of town and dump it. You can have a whole tree if you want.”
“That’s great, thanks,” I said, and had them load the length I wanted into my car.
The guy with the saw and two young lads grabbed it and crammed it into the trunk. It was so huge, the lid wouldn’t close.
As I was starting the car, one of the two young men asked me, “Mister, really, what do you want that hunk of wood for?”
I answered, with sadness in my eyes, “That tree is a childhood friend, and nearly all of my childhood friends are no longer here, so it’s hard to let go.”
His look of surprise told me what he was thinking, poor guy. I bet he’s lost his marbles.
He might not have been wrong.
As my neighbors and I were unloading it, I felt moisture on my hand, and when I touched the heartwood, I could hear it beating. Or did I imagine that? When I was setting the log in a corner of the garden, two or three drops fell onto my foot. I knew those drops were tears of gratitude, and I began to sob, because I, too, like the tree, was being cut and sawn. I was tired, so tired, of being torn apart. Which of us, I wondered, would be the first to pass into the Great Beyond?
Then I heard a voice.
“Do you remember your thirteenth year, when you carved ‘She plus Givi’ into my breast? You can’t imagine how my heart ached when I realized that your lady love’s name would never be more than just a bitter memory on my trunk. You chose someone else altogether to make life’s journey with you. After that, whoever carved his name and the name of his beloved into me, I didn’t believe any of them. And the less I believed in the sacred, pure feelings of Adam’s kin, the more I leaned toward the acacia that stood on the other side of the street. God above, how lovely she was that unforgettable spring. Her intoxicating, ethereal blossoms made my head spin. I reached out to her with all my heart, with my every branch, and she responded in kind. Our branches intertwined, forming a green arch under which, with a joyful rattle, the merry red tramcar ran its route. People passing by would cry out in astonishment, oh, how beautiful! A walk like this is heaven-sent.”
“And so forty years flew by. But one snowy winter, the snow fell in love with me. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to come between us, the acacia and me. He dressed me in a fine, fluffy coat of the whitest snow, and tender snowflakes came swirling down, whispering words of love and admiration.”
“It was as if nature itself was playing along and helping him. The snow that fell one night was so heavy, it broke the acacia’s branches. Tightly interwoven as I was with her, I was going to break too, but the snow guessed it and slid off my branches to lie at my feet.”
“I was appalled. ‘What have you done?’ I cried. Now I belong to no one; neither to you nor to her.”
But before it melted, the dying snow replied, ‘From this moment on, you’re mine. Once I soak into your roots, I’ll live your life within you.’
“Surely I couldn’t have been in love with the snow! But with one look at the unhappy acacia and her broken branches, I understood, she knew I hadn’t kept faith with her. The last of the snow streamed in tears of shame from my eyes. And I heard her say, ‘I forgive you your treachery. I forgive.’
“The next spring, as I was growing lush and green, my acacia passed away. Orphaned and defenseless, her blackened branches drooped. A city landscaping crew came and started sawing off the first dry branch. I wondered where it would fall, but I waited in vain, for not one of the lopped branches fell my way. When my acacia’s trunk was cut down to its stump, they began sawing it into short lengths, the last of which began rolling towards me. It rolled almost to the middle of the street. It had almost no distance to go, when a tramcar that came speeding from Plekhanov Street ran it over and crushed it to splinters. Had she wanted to say goodbye, but the good Lord wouldn’t let her near her betrayer. And you, too, have paid, time and again, for your faithlessness!”
“Soon I began to wither, like the breast of a nursing mother whose milk has failed. And at last, agents of the human race came to dismember me. As they were hacking me limb from limb, I didn’t even groan. It was the price I owed for my treachery.”
I listened to the end, then flew into the house like a madman, returning with a knife in my hand, and into the wood that had been, to me, the living witness to a carefree youth, I carved this couplet:
Acacia + Poplar
She + I