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- 2nd Memoir

2021 'SHORT TAKES'   PROSE COMPETITION

CATEGORY B - Memoir
Second Prize


Wishing by Christine Hill

Not far from where I live, down by the creek, is a wishing tree. I found it one cold, rainy day while walking the dogs. Well, they walk me really. They force me out of bed and into the fresh feel of early morning to face the thoughts of the day. While my mind wanders, they run, noses to the ground, sniffing out their favourite scent, rolling in it when they find that special one, and making it their own, like women at the perfume counter.
It was the kookaburras that made me stop. There were two of them, puffed out chests and sharp eyes, standing side by side on a low branch, looking at me and laughing, loud and strong. What have I done? I wondered. When I was a little girl, growing up on the farm, my uncle told me that kookaburras laugh at you when you do something silly, like forget to tighten the girth strap on your saddle or try to climb through a barbed wire fence. My uncle was full of cautionary tales. I thought laughing at the misfortunes of others was mean, even if you are a bird, so my uncle’s explanation was filed away under ‘Things that don’t feel right’. Over time, that file became so full it eventually exploded. While it was hard to forgive some of the adults who ruled my childhood, I could forgive the kookaburras. Now, I love their laugh; it makes me smile, although I still stop to look and wonder. That’s when I saw the tree.
It was down in the gully, almost opposite the old willow whose soft, gently hanging foliage and climbable branches allowed endless possibilities for small children and their imaginations. Close to a shallow and stone-filled section of the creek, it made for perfect, cool picnics and play over the hot summers. I remember one year someone had painstakingly woven a small, green-leafed rock-a bye-baby hammock to swing between the boughs. Even the sensible adults among us felt like we were in a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then one day, amid a flurry of ideology and re-vegetation, the willow was deemed ‘non-indigenous to the area’. It was soon uprooted and removed. I wondered at the time – and often since – if that is what the Wurundjeri people, the traditional owners of this land, would like to do to us. And would the kookaburras laugh?
At first, I thought the tree was covered in rubbish, bits of plastic fluttering from its branches like tiny birds, but as I approached, I saw the neat lettering in white paint on its trunk: ‘Wishing Tree’. Now I must tell you that this was a very ordinary-looking tree – a small eucalypt, and not a very pretty one. Nevertheless, like Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree, it appeared to have special powers. Tied with string to the lower branches were weather-worn scraps of once-white paper carrying hand-written requests.
Baby please was inscribed in black on quilted toilet paper. I really hope for a play station said another, on paper ripped from a school exercise book. Securely attached luggage labels asked for Health and Happiness and World Peace, while a leaf of plain paper with spindly writing simply wanted somewhere to live.
Looking closer I found appeals for forgiveness, to see a loved-one again, to pass exams, to save the world, to go to heaven.
I imagined a central wish-assessment bureau – a place where wishes are weighed and measured, checked for faults and merits, given a score card, and placed in bottomless baskets of hopes and dreams. As they float back to earth, some dissolve or are discarded and replaced by others. Despite the evaluation process, the chance of fulfilment is completely random. Like God.
This made me think of childhood prayers and how, if you really wanted something, you would go to church and pray. If you were an adult and desperate, you might improve your chances by putting money down to light a candle. While I gave up going to church many years ago – about the time the mind-file exploded – I have been amazed to see shopping become the new religion. Do we truly think consuming stuff can fill the void, ease the pain of our existence? The tree’s wishers may be misguided romantics, but it seems to me that the living tree, unlike the mall or the online shopping cart, connects us all to something real, something that might just be able to hold our faith and hope. Even love.
I was in another country when I heard that my uncle had died. Only then could I forgive. I entered the nearest church and lit a candle. The kookaburras would have laughed.


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