Storytime: How to Get Their Attention.

November 14th, 2012

Heaven knows why what Marjorie did came as such a shock to her family. She’d given them plenty of warning for it.
Why, that very morning, as her husband stalked the house in a full-blown mantrum, she’d told him so, cautioned him carefully. As he pointedly exchanged one-to-four word responses to any of her inquiries, deliberately ignoring anything that indicated how thoroughly wrong he’d been in their discussion, she sighed and said: “I swear, one of these days you lot are going to drive me to go out and live in the woods.”
But her husband was busy picking up small objects and putting them down unnecessarily firmly in the same place, and so he did not pay her any attention.
Later in the afternoon, her two children were fighting. Somebody had taken somebody else’s piece of plastic, and then they’d broken it, and now whose fault was it because if SOMEBODY hadn’t been grabbing their arm they wouldn’t have dropped it and why won’t you spank them mom huh why won’t you spank them WHY DON’T YOU BELIEVE IN CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IN THIS SPECIFIC SITUATION HUH MOM?
Marjorie was trying to compose an email to a client and had been stuck on sentence three for the past half-hour. She shook her head and once again tried to remember what an adjective was, tried to imagine a concept that existed outside the ingrown skull of a seven-year-old. “Christ,” she said, “if you guys don/t pipe down soon, I’m just going to go and live in the honest-to-goodness woods. I’ve got a spot picked out and everything, really and truly.”
But her children were both under the age of ten and therefore unable to hear anything but themselves, and so they didn’t pay her any heed.
Finally came dinner, which Marjorie’s husband had prepared by picking up many ingredients and firmly slapping them together without looking at anyone or any of the labels. Consequently, it was mysterious, and possibly contained pasta, and for some reason Marjorie’s favourite mug was being used as a container for the tomato sauce, and it made the children complain almost as bitterly as they snipped at one another. Almost.
“Quit pushing me.”
“YOU’RE pushing me.”
“Am not.”
“Are so, ‘cause you’re still mad that you broke the toy.”
“YOU broke the toy.”
“Did not.”
“Did too.”
And so on ad nauseum.
“Pass the tomato sauce, please,” said Marjorie to her husband. He picked up her favourite mug and placed it in front of her, wordlessly and excessively firmly. She sighed.
“This tastes gross,” complained the older child.
“Eww,” agreed the younger child.
“I thought of it first.”
Marjorie’s husband poured himself a glass of water and drank it with a needless amount of force. She counted to ten inside her head, wondered why her mother had always told her to do that, and said: “You know, this is pretty good.”
The children bickered. Her husband grunted.
“Tomaatooooo sauce,” said her youngest child.
“What do you say?” asked Marjorie automatically.
“Tomato sauce NOW,” repeated her child.
“Tomato sauce now or else?”
“Also no.”
Marjorie’s husband picked up her favourite mug and passed it with excessive force, causing it to crack and split in half.
“IT WASN’T MY FAULT,” proclaimed her children simultaneously.
Marjorie counted to eleven, got up from her chair, and walked downstairs, where she retrieved her shovel and left her clothes. She was halfway up the hill in the backyard and making for the treeline before they noticed she was gone.

“Where you going mooommm hey where are you going what are you doing mom,” asked her oldest child, all in one breath and immediately running out of it.
“I told you all, and warned you properly,” said Marjorie. “I’m going to go live in the woods. There’s no use arguing, my mind’s made up. You can all go and be obnoxious by yourselves.”
“But moooooooooooommmm,” managed her youngest child before succumbing to near-anoxia.
“Be reasonable, honey,” said her husband. “You’ll freeze to death or starve or get eaten by coyotes or something.”
“No,” said Marjorie, halting at a likely spot on a pretty hillside. “That’s not going to be a problem. I’m going to be a tree. And you can all just go straight back home, see if I care.” And she shoveled a small pit open and stood in it.
“This isn’t very normal,” said the husband.
“Don’t care. Bug off now.”
So they bugged off and Marjorie stood in one place and focused on thinking about roots.

A short, burly-hurly man (more hurly than burly) came up the hill the next day, with some glasses. “Hello,’ he said. “I’m a psychologist. Are you the lady who thinks she’s a tree?”
“I AM a tree,” said Marjorie. “Look, you can see the bark.” And she showed him her arm.
“Oh, how fascinating – tactile delusions. That’s very interesting. My word. What is it, pine?”
“Oh, how very interesting. Tell me about your mother.”
“Ask her yourself and she’ll tell you. That’s a bit personal, isn’t it?”
The man frowned. “Uh, I suppose so. Gosh I’m sorry. Right, uhm, what about your father?”
“Same thing.”
“Oh dear. Oh dear. I don’t suppose this is all something about repressed urges? Maybe, uh….sexual? Something about incest I guess – it’s a bit gross.”
“No. Not even remotely. That was mostly just Freud.”
“He was a bit strange then?”
“Yes. You’re not really a psychologist, are you?”
He sagged. “No. Not really. But I read a book once, and I’m a friend of one of your husband’s friends, so…”
“You can tell my husband that I’m perfectly fine, and you can tell your friend that this is none of his beeswax. At all. If I want beeswax there’s a perfectly good hive just up the hill in a friendly pine. Now clear off, and if I were you I’d take my advice and read something written in the last century.”
He cleared off. Marjorie composed herself and focused on needles.

The next day an extremely short woman came up the hill and prodded Marjorie with her finger. “Larch,” she said sourly. “Larch. I didn’t raise a daughter of mine to be a larch of all things. Sakes alive, Margie, couldn’t you have at least been a nice redwood or something?”
“Hi, mom,” said Marjorie. “They phoned you in, didn’t they?”
“I mean, they’re pretty at least,” continued her mother, blissfully ignoring the question and thereby confirming the answer. “You could’ve consulted me on this.”
“We’re too far north and too dry for redwoods, mom. I’d fall over. Besides, they’re too big. I wouldn’t feel comfortable.”
“Oh, and other trees are so much smaller, I expect? Typical nit-picking. Just typical. And you didn’t even tell me – oh what a MOOD you’re in this week.”
“Mom, they were driving me completely nuts. It was this or kill them all and burn the house down.”
“Oh really?”
“Yes, really.”
“Well serves ‘em right then. Mind if I smoke?”
“Yes. I’ve got needles now and you’ll get them all sooty.”
“Right.” Marjorie’s mother lit up her cigarette after three minutes fumbling with the lighter and muttering, then had a nice hourlong chat with Marjorie about how her boyfriend was a nuisance sometimes and had she heard about what Julie did? (She hadn’t) It was half-past midnight before she left, leaving Marjorie just enough time to comb the tar off her needles and doze off.

She woke up to the sound of a polite cough and the sight of her neighbour, Tammy, holding an axe.
“You’d better have a better explanation for this than I think you’re going to,” she told her.
“Well… I was thinking that maybe if I just get your legs free you’ll go home, and I do all the forestry work so-”
“They talked you into this, didn’t they?”
“Maybe,” said Tammy. “Look, you really shouldn’t be doing this. Trust me, people make lousy trees.”
“Well I’m staying put and I’m doing all right so far. I’ve got needles and bark and a good spot with enough sun and water to keep me going all year round for years. No reason to move at all and a lot less stress than down there. All my neighbours may be green and trying to passive-aggressively kill me through competition but at least they’re quiet.”
“Oh fine,” said Tammy, with an exasperated sigh. “Well, if that’s the way it’s going to be, we need a Christmas tree this year and-”
“We wouldn’t use the axe I mean we could just leave you up here and put some tinsel on-“
“But you’re in a great spot, I mean the lights would be visible for-“
“No. Go away, you’re in MY light.”
Tammy sighed again. “Fine. Be that way. Don’t listen to the experts.” She left Marjorie alone, giving her enough time to practice her twigsprouting before the day was done.

Three days went by.
They go fast when you’re sleepwalking, and they go faster when you’re busy adjusting your sap levels for the winter and bracing your roots for frost and getting those needles arrayed just right. Rest is for the deciduous.

And on the evening of day three, up the hill came the family, two small and one big.
“Hey mooom,” said her youngest child. “Are you gonna come back inside yeeet?”
“No,” she said. “It’s nice up here and the air’s clean and tasty. And I’m busy.”
“But it’s coold,” complained her oldest child. “And there’s bugs.”
“The bugs are DEAD,” said her youngest child.
“Not all the bugs.”
“Yeah they are.”
“Nu-uh, I saw a bug on the way here.”
“Liar liar.”
“Shush,” said her husband. “Look, honey, do you think you could come back inside? It’s going to start snowing soon.”
“I’ll be fine,” said Marjorie. “I’m not really as temperature-sensitive as I used to be. Really. None of you are even wearing your jackets.”
“We were in a hurry,” he mumbled.
“I’m sure.”
“Give her the present give her the present come ON what are we waiting for give her the present go on go go go OOOoooON!” chanted her children.
Marjorie’s husband put a little box on the ground – he had to, because Marjorie couldn’t and wouldn’t move her branches – and opened it.
Inside was Marjorie’s favourite mug. It had been glued back together with that painstaking lack of care and patience that was unmistakably childish. It had also been repainted with somewhat more detail.
“It’s very nice,” said Marjorie, with the practiced ease of half-a-decade of Mother’s Day behind her. “Very, very nice. Did you spend a lot of time on it?”
“Ten minutes,” said her oldest child proudly.
“And I did all the work,” said her youngest child.
Her oldest child opened its mouth and had it immediately covered by her husband. “We made some dinner for you.”
Marjorie considered this. “I don’t really eat anymore.”
“It’s fish and chips.”
Marjorie considered this a bit longer and more carefully. “Well, maybe just a little. Pass me that shovel.”
It took an hour to dig up her roots and rebury them properly so she’d be able to fetch them again in the morning. It took six minutes to find a way to fit her inside (through the patio door – the screens needed to come out anyways). And it took seven tries before it was determined that yes, Marjorie didn’t really eat anymore, even if she tried fairly hard.
But the mug was very pretty, and water seemed to taste better inside it. And the walking had worn the children out, so Marjorie got to talk to her husband a bit that night and that was nice.

So she re-rooted herself on the back lawn – but never too deeply – and they raised the ceiling a little bit, and altogether that worked just fine.

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