Gravel Gardens

They were complaining and it made sense, because who asks children to plant trees in the middle of January anyway? So they were out there with scarves up to their rose cheeks and hands shaking as they tried to wield small shovels and the whole time I’m thinking about how all the trees will die.

And then, they did. All these little sprouts withered away and the thing about sprouts is that they don’t have grand deaths. The do not crumble to the ground or pronounce death with each graying strip of bark—they just die. So we had twenty or so tree sprouts that faded away and slipped beneath the snow without us knowing they would perform a disappearing act before we saw the ground again.

When the ground showed its face again, all the sprouts were gone. All but one anyway. This kid, Julie, had insisted on planting her sprout in the gravel lot and it was cold and Henry was having another nosebleed so I said why not. But the thing is, you can’t really plant in a gravel lot so there were all these rocks in the way and she had to ask for my help and it ended up taking twice as long. So she and I hunched over this tiny tree that shouldn’t even be called a tree yet and pressed numb fingers into hard gravel until the sprout was sturdy there.

And that’s the one that lived. All the other kids were furious, of course. Julie had never smiled so big. It was still pretty cold out though, so I was sure it wouldn’t last. But Julie tried her best. She took off her own scarf and wrapped it around the sprout during recess and said it was the plant’s now. I didn’t have the heart to tell her some kids had stolen it once we went back inside so I just kept buying scarves and re-wrapping them around a tiny tree I was certain would die.

Then Julie started talking to it. Whispering, actually. Other kids would make fun and point fingers, even kick bits of gravel at her. She just looked up with this face like she was a soldier in war no one knew was happening. Then she’d jerk up the corners of her mouth and keep on whispering.

Then, all of the sudden, it was spring and I began to accept that there would be a tree in a gravel lot. We were supposed to get more trees, too. But, of course, we didn’t. Late shipment is what they said and I wasn’t looking forward to twenty more trees dying next January.

Mostly because the kids were so mean about it, you know. I don’t know why it became so important to them but seeing Julie’s tree grow was just torture. And, if even possible, a bunch of six-year-old’s began hating a tree.

In the end, it wasn’t weather that killed it. It started reaching up and the spring sunlight welcomed it. It was a strong little tree. But Kevin, with his freckled face and pudgy hands, ripped it from the lot. And we all just kind of watched as he held it in front of Julie’s face with the roots all sprawled out and connected to nothing. And I know I said that sprouts don’t have grand deaths, but Julie made it an occasion. She cried out and her voice was so raw. She left a scarf where the tree used to be and whispered to the spot one more time. I don’t know what she said, but she looked resolved when she walked away.

Someone took the scarf the moment she left.

-Lu Terlikowski


  1. Very well crafted, Lu. You build tension softly to an unexpected denouement and – most classically – follow on with aftershocks. The scarf-scarfing theme was handled beautifully. I had thought on those whom I have encountered here at WP I might recommend for your perusal: “Yassy” at Yaskahn66; Michael E. Talbot; Bruce Jewett (my personal favorite haikuist but who also flings a mean short story and other verse as well; Phoebe Chi at PuppyDoc (though an internist, not a vet; and so many more…and I am sure, Lu, my next listing of those whom I’d commend to another will include you. Again. Thanks for the “fix.” I’m at my favorite drug-delivery house in Sanford, Florida: the North Branch of the county library system.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Now, I am frightened! As I had surmised, Hurricane Irma left most of its laundry littering along Southwest Florida’s coast and, of course, The Keys, and by the time it touched Central Florida it was much tamer though so many found powerlessness – I was without but 25 hours because I live on a power-trunk line that feeds electricity to a middle school and both police and fire headquarters and kiddie-prison and the other two institutions get feed their ‘lectrics first I just glommed on. Was without nightlight but that one long eve after 9 p.m. and the following night as well, but I still had quadruple-features showing on the inner eyelid multi-plex the second night and I spent the unpowered day eating from three books al fresco with modest breaks to eat ginger flowers and tending the oak- and other tree-and shrub-litter on their merry ways to the curbside there to sit for about six weeks I figure before pickup, thereby obviating the need to mow. And, so I ask: how can this be bad? I will trek out Monday or so to help my brother and his bride restore the grounds of their manse in Geneva – sort of like Mount Dora’s Eastern Accomplice, both are high points in a place rarely attaining heights past 150-feet. I still have some more touch-base typing to do, Lu, so I will sign off and hope to be back tomorrow with my notebooksworth of scatterings and time to take in the sights along the WP way. Thanks for kind words even if I feel so undeserved of them. You are – and more and moreso as you season – your best critic and supporter. You don’t have to “share” your “truths” but you do have to face them if so you choose and I for six or nine and so glad you do. Your writing sparkles and amazes me.


  2. Reblogged this on richwrapper and commented:
    Lu Terlikowski, Again, has crafted a masterful story: sold and told simply with twists and turns enow. Her “exercise” in simple language and detail, in her own words in the commentary section, augurs well for our coming enjoys from this talented and hard-working young writer.


  3. Reblogged this on cirque de la nuit and commented:
    Lu Terlikowski’s “Gravel Gardens” rocked my heart today. The simplicity of it, the building of tension and the heart rendering ending, all centered around a little tree. Lovely and poignant. I like to think of it as a survival story…


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