Wednesday 17 December 2014

Day 17: Save The Bum Tree by Athol Henry

Locals called the tree the Bum Tree, and it had been cut down just weeks after the picture was taken to allow wider shoulders along the road to make it safer for drivers. Coral studied the newspaper story. It was a picture of her dangling from the tree much like a teddy bear hanging from a roadside cross. The article quoted Coral as saying she wanted to change things, make a difference, and save the environment. “It may only be a eucalypt, a single gum tree, but it is a living thing just the same and deserves respect, and respect for the animals that live in it.” Coral didn’t mention the Irish joke, or why the tree made her laugh. She found a pair of scissors and cut the picture out.
     Postal Courier decals were stuck to her van, probably part of the paint-work by now she guessed. Coral didn’t think she could afford to renew the van’s registration. She was out of work, and with bugger-all prospects on the horizon. She could sell a few things to raise money, things such as the climbing spurs; after all, she won’t need them again. Her tree climbing adventures were over, gone along with the tree.  There was also the gnome sat beside her front door—monstrous thing—scare burglars if they came to the house.
“No one would be crazy enough to buy a four-foot tall garden gnome…except me,” she chortled. She put the newspaper clipping under a Humphrey B. Bear magnet on the fridge door.
 Coral reached for a Tupperware container and heard foil packets rattle at the back of the shelf. She pulled them down, two packs of oxycodone hydrochloride, five milligrams each. She’d almost forgotten they were there. Doctor Drysdale had prescribed them when the pain in her foot was not responding to non-narcotic analgesics. She didn’t take them—suffered the pain—just put the pills away.
“Put them away for a rainy day,” Coral declared to a dazzling square of sunlight on the linoleum floor. “A day like today,” she added bitterly. She pressed her fingernails under the lip of the container.
Coral had worked at the depot alongside men, tough, quick to anger men. When they argued and fought over space in the shed, Coral worked outside. On those days when rain flooded the loading area, Coral threw plastic tarpaulins over her van and worked on. In winter when her back ached from carrying boxes of wine, and car tyres, she kept it to herself. She could lift as much as any of them.
When Drysdale told her tests for cancer came back positive, she refused to believe it. She vowed to keep it to herself—ignore it and pretend it never happened. But Coral couldn’t hide her illness for long. She caught the sneaking glances, the head shaking. She imagined they felt for her, felt she was a goner that is.
“Good on yer, Coral,” some of the men would call out as she walked through the shed on her way to the office. She told them if any offered to help she would knock their block off. In the end, though, she took their help. They were hard but good blokes. When the cancer had gone and she broke her foot, she was tired of the routine, the side effects of one medicine piled onto another. She twisted the foil-sealed packets about her fingers.  

About the author:
Athol Henry lives beside the Pumicestone Passage  in south east Queensland, Australia. He has had several stories published in various anthologies of short stories.

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