Wednesday 16 May 2012

'Damson Tree' by Cathy Lennon

When we first bought this house, one April, we watched with delight in the weeks that followed as the fruit trees in our back garden blossomed foaming white. At summer’s end the tallest, a damson, dangled blue-tinged fruit from every twig. With ladders and buckets we harvested them. In the steaming, shabby kitchen I hummed along to a contented tune of bubbling jam pans. I gathered jars and pots to warm and fill. I labelled them proudly, kept some, gave more away. That tree was showing us the joy of putting down roots, blessing the fruitfulness of our new life together.One bright Sunday morning, two Septembers later, visitors arrived to find our house still sleeping with curtains drawn. Unhurried, murmuring peacefully, they wandered into the waiting garden. Tempted by those overladen boughs they filled carrier bags to bursting with plump, bittersweet fruit and left them by the back door as they tiptoed away. All the while, across town, I sweated and swayed, moaned and panted, bore down and cried out and gave them a first grandchild. 
Four days later I came home to cellophaned bouquets that remained unarranged. I sat transfixed by the back door, bedazzled in an Indian summer sun and gazed, awestruck, at my damson daughter, sleeping furled like a bud. By my side two purple-weeping bags oozed, ignored.
Seasons passed with all their changes. Like me the damson bloomed and cropped again. From time to time as I paused wearily at the sink, letting a tap run, loud chaos about me, I stared blankly at that tree, standing loyally there in my neglected garden. We exchanged grim nods of silent solidarity.
Across the garden, in another September, drifted giggles and shrieks as my two lean-limbed fairies stretched and jumped to reach those dusky fruits. Squabbling over the stepladder, they filled their little pails. If I was feeling energetic, I squeezed out a Sunday crumble or two. It seemed a shame to waste them. The girls preferred picking them to eating them though. More often than not, the dark pulp languished, in lumpen, unappealing bags at the bottom of the freezer drawer, was pressed on visitors to take away.
Andrew wanted to cut the tree down. It’s too big and it’s in the wrong place, he said. He’s right. While we were out, he felled it. I didn’t want to watch. 
There’s a pond where it used to be. Nobody really liked damson jam anyway. In middle age our crumble days are kept to a minimum, for fear of calorific consequences. The girls are going too, out into the world where they should be. One day I hope they’ll find their own damson tree. Now and again, from a corner of my eye, I catch the remembered ghost of mine. From the gleaming, empty kitchen I stare out through the window. It flickers there. I feel again that overwhelming rush of love and pride, the fear, the joy, the awe of that September damson time.

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