Short Stories

The tree

There was once in a barren country a prodigious tree. On the plain alone she could see between the fields of withered wheat and the vastness of the blue sky. No one knew how old he was. It was said to be as old as Earth.

The barren women came to beg her to make them fertile, the men came, in secret, to seek from her answers to questions they dared not ask, and the wolves spoke to her on moonless nights. But no one had ever tasted its fruits.

Nevertheless, they were magnificent fruits, so bright and golden that the larger branches looked like two arms stretched to the sky, full of foliage… So they attracted the hands and mouths of the naive children! Only they dared to desire them. But it was then that they were taught the strange and ancient truth…

Half of those fruits were poisoned, although all, good and bad, looked the same. Of the two branches stretched from the huge trunk, one brought death while the other conferred life! But it was not known which branch it nourished and which branch it killed. And so they all looked at the tree, but no one dared to touch it.

This is only when a hot summer came, followed by a dry autumn and a glacial winter. Snow and wind destroyed the barns and the roofs of the corrals. Spring frosts burned the first shoots and famine spread throughout the region. Only the tree remained undisturbed on the plain. No fruit had rotted. Despite the cold weather, the fruits were as many as the stars in the sky. Seeing the lone tree, miraculously protected from the storms, people approached it, uncertain and apprehensive.

They questioned the foliage but got no answer. They then realized that they had to choose between the risk of falling inanimate if they tasted those golden wonders that shone through the leaves and the certainty of starving if they did not taste them.

In the midst of endless and confusing discussions, a man whose son was about to die dared to move forward determinedly. He stopped in front of the right branch, picked a fruit, closed his eyes, cracked it, and stood, breathing… happiness!

Everyone then elbowed and stuffed themselves, delighted with the healthy fruits of the right-hand branch that, once picked, soon grew back into the whispering greenery. They all rejoiced with joy, partying for eight days, laughing at the fear they had felt for so long.

From then on they knew where the tree’s unhealthy fruits were: on the left branch. First they fixed him with a defiant look, then experienced a grudge of hatred. They had almost starved to death because of their fear.

They quickly considered him as useless as dangerous. A distracted child might well take one of those wicked fruits, which were in no way distinguished from the good. So they decided to cut that branch to trunk level, which they did with a kind of vengeful joy.

The next day all the good fruits on the right branch were fallen, rotting in the dust. Amputated from its poisoned half, the tree was now reduced to mere shriveled foliage. The trunk had blackened. The birds had abandoned her. The tree had died. Henri Gougaud L’arbre d’amour et de sagesse Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1992 (Translation and adaptation)

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