The Wrong Tree by Emma-Marie Smith

[TW: This flash deals with sensitive issues.]

This was how I buried him: beneath the roots of the wrong tree, in soil he was never meant to sleep in. Small enough to cradle in my palm, wrapped in tissue paper. I opened the package in the hallway, crouched on the back of my heels. It didn’t look like the picture I had seen online. And just as in my life and in my heart, I didn’t get what was advertised.

Andrew stood over me, hand rubbing his jaw with a rough hand. He was a man used to being in control, but even he could not seed a woman’s body the way he planted bulbs in the garden. A foetus needs more than just light and water to grow, everyone knows that. Though what it needs, I still don’t know. I thought I had given it everything.

That’s a jade plant, he said. Not a peace lily.

I carried on unwrapping the pot, peeling the long strips of Sellotape from the base, not daring to look up at him.

They sent us the wrong plant, he said.

What does it matter?

A jade plant is for luck. He paused, began pacing the hallway. He looked at me as if accusing me of something and said: We have no luck.

Andrew was right, but I could not keep the box in the freezer any longer, next the half-squashed boxes of ice lollies and frozen peas. I needed to put him to rest. No plant would have been good enough, anyway, for my son. I wanted to bury him under an apple tree because I had silently named him ‘Appleseed’ when I found out about him, after I took the test. That was how big he was then, the size of an apple seed. But of course they grow don’t they? They grow and grow and grow until they stop. Until they peel away and drop out of you like falling fruit.

Apple trees are hard to look after, Andrew had said, and we wouldn’t see fruit for years. You can shorten their growing time with special rootstocks to reduce the tree’s size, but that didn’t feel right somehow, to engineer life to my own purpose. To interfere with nature. Nor could I stand the thought of my child out in the cold. I wanted him in the house where I could see him. Where I could water his soil and rub the dust from his leaves. Where I could care for him, as any mother would.

I dug my hands in, careful not to disrupt the roots, and found an opening in the black earth, damp as an autumn morning. Andrew opened the box with the gold embossed footprints. Yellow for a boy or a girl; the doctor couldn’t actually confirm either way. What do all the colours mean anyway? Do boys really like blue, and girls pink? It’s gender stereotyping, brainwashing, false advertising. We all know that. But still, I would have liked to have known for myself, whether my child liked pink or blue or green or every colour of the rainbow, perhaps changing his favourite day by day.

Andrew passed me the body and I wished, in that moment, for him to be gone. For it to be me and the child only. A private moment, as it would have been in the old days, before men were allowed in the birthing room and babies born with their eyes closed were whisked away before anybody could get too upset.

My hands were black with soil, the tissue paper holding my baby as white as milk. Pink or blue, green or yellow. I suppose we’ll never know.


Emma-Marie is a Creative Writing MA student living in Bath. In 2018, she won the Emerge Creative Writing Prize for her short story, The Window Doll, and has been shortlisted for the Zealous Creative Writing prize and the Mid-Somerset Creative Writing Festival short fiction competition. She writes predominantly about women’s issues. | @emmamariewriter