MEMORY TREE • by Anastasia Jill

Isla paints her nails, one finger at a time, each a vibrant petal of pink, coral, or peach. It’s a contrast to her skin, the color of a dull stem. Her veins, blue surface roots sprouting on her arms, pallid and brittle, save for the acrylic.

She uses her mother’s polish. She couldn’t choose one color, so she used them all; Endless blue, Lemon Fizz, Copa-banana. She sits on the ground near the old laurel oak tree. It sags with age, has a mossy epidermis with brittle feet and knotty palms. Sagging with an arborists’ wisdom, the tree is dying before her eyes.

Isla knows, eventually, it has to come down.

She runs out of fingers, and moves to her toes; Minty Gumdrop, Exotic Cranberry, Shriveled Rose. Toothless boughs hang overhead, balding enough to let in the hot rays. Isla’s skin will burn, turn red and pucker, and shed into a new epidermis. This tree will not be as lucky.

The tree’s days are numbered.

Her nails still wet, she feels sprigs hanging upside down from the branches like ornery mustaches. Slick hues follow her touch, decaying green taking on new rainbow stripes. Isla knows this is futile as the beauty treatments on her mother. She could make her up with eyeshadow and blush, and Elizabeth Arden lipstick would bring the pink back to mottled lips, but she was still dying.

At the funeral, her teeth were red.

The mortician knew nothing of cosmetics.

Isla was no doctor, but she at least understood beauty. That much, her mother taught her. Long gone were the days of painted faces, twin visages and flattery.

“Are you two sisters?”

“Ha!” Mother would chirp. “Oh, I wish.”

Even now, she recollects mother’s glow fondly.

Do trees have memories? If so, this one remembers climbing, woodpecker licks and blue jay nests. Gathering leaves and picking switches to make a dirty earthen brew with mud and rainwater. It would recall squirrel sex and ripe dog urine, but most of all, mother in her rocking chair at days end, reading fashion magazines as the sun set behind the trunk.

The tree, like her mother, got dementia over time. It forgot to photosynthesize the daytime glow overhead while it starved. It grew restless at nighttime, got involved with the local owls and raccoons, other nocturnal beasts that fueled its confusion, anxiety, and aggression.

In the early days, mother would join them at three in the morning, wandering the streets and knocking on doors.

“I don’t know where I am,” she would say. “Can you help? Who are you?”

By the time of hospice, she didn’t know Isla at all. “Who are you?” she would ask, an echolalia like a gust in the poor girl’s ears. She would sit by the hospital bed, painting her mother’s nails Metamucil orange, trying to bring daylight into the dim room. She died with those orange nails, a hand sitting on her hollowed chest.

The tree, still like mother, is marbled and piebald. It has many arms, too many twig-like fingers to paint in one day, maybe ever. Swollen and crisp, bloated with rot and dripping with arthritis, the tree will fall on her roof, if she’s not careful. But she doesn’t feel compelled to cut it down. This tree is a lone island, a mistle-toe clad statue of putrefaction in the yard’s foliage.

She finishes her last toe. A paunch of Shady Moss settles in the cuticle, before sprouting onto her pinky toe and the chalky foot just beyond.


One day, the tree is removed. She plants a second sapling in place of a proper grave. At the trunk, she plants some flowers, the same pink as her neon nails. Dirt climbs under those nails she so meticulously painted.

The dirt and the mess, it’s okay, she decides…

Soil is constant as memory; a mark of creation and survival.

Her old tree is dead, but this sapling, a breath of life, is brown and bold, freshly carved from Adam’s rib. Its tiny leaves, little babes with waxy limbs stumbling over wind. This tree will learn to grow, curl and dance like ribbons in the breeze.

Someday, it’ll die, but Isla knows that today, it survives.

Anastasia Jill (they/them) is a queer writer living in Central Florida. They have been nominated for Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, and several other honors. Their work has been featured or is upcoming with, Sundog Lit, Flash Fiction Online, Contemporary Verse 2, Broken Pencil, and more.

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