A turning point

by Lewis

If you follow the narrow road out of town, up past the bridge there is a beautiful old oak tree that arches over a sharp corner in the lane. The road is slick and wet with fallen leaves in the autumn. The thick branches stretch out like crooked arms waiting patiently to ensnare the oncoming vehicles. It should have fallen over years ago. But it will not fall.

Sian hates the early starts, lonelily waking in the dark, never really awake until she gets to work and has a coffee. She sprints out of the house, through the rain to the car. She turns the key but the engine splutters. It will not start at first. Now she is running late, as always.

It has taken Jake all night but he is finally packed. The last of his things rammed tight. Laura will be back in an hour and she does not want to see him still there. He is so sad and tired but he feels for the first time, in a long time, like he is free. He starts his car and heads out into the rain.

The Oak’s crooked back seems impossibly heavy in the relentless October wind. In the distance a car begins to brake as it approaches the corner. It is inevitable. The tyres slip unstoppably across the slick pool of leaves. The car dances and spins like a leaf before settling into the trees’ waiting embrace. The sound rocks through the earth, but no-one hears it.

A few minutes later the splutter of another engine approaching. The car pulls to a stop as it nears the wreckage. The first mangled vehicle is just beginning to burn. The Oak now seems to shrink into the shadows as the flames climb out and climb higher.

Sian opens her car door and runs towards the vehicle. In amongst the havoc, she sees a broken body lying across the seat. Urgently she pulls and heaves, racing the flames. All the while the branches whip around her, reluctant to release its embrace.

The body lies in the lane now. Sian bent over pressing down again and again. She is a nurse. She knows she can help. If only she had got here earlier she thinks. Now she is exhausted. Her compressions are firm and regular. But the heart will not beat.

The tree is burning now. The new dawn light choked by the smoke. The tree croaks and cries as the flames stroke its ancient skin.

Sian’s clothes are soaked. Jake lies in the thick slick mass of wet leaves. Sian’s hands are filthy. But she doesn't notice. The ambulance will be here soon she thinks. She tries not to look at his face. The soft slope of his brow. A gentle smile resting on his handsome face. She decided she would of liked him. She will like him.

She thinks she hears a siren. Maybe. But with a look she realises it is the Oak that screams. The heat and the rain create a dischord of chaos from the very heart of the arched tree. And slowly but inexorably it begins to fall.

As the earth trembles from the impact, she doesn't feel the flicker of movement. Sian turns away and cries into her aching and bloodied hands. Too late she thinks. As always.

But then a hand brushes against her leg and she turns in shock to see Jake’s smile turn to a grimace. Sian has never been so happy to see someone frown. She doesn't know it but she arrived exactly on time.