In memory of my Dad…  A fallen wych elm on our plot is attracting attention.

It’s close enough to the fence for passing male dogs to pee on.

Passing male men would probably like to do the same but convention dictates that they can only eye it and ask questions.

What happened to your tree?’ asks one.

His female companion, who has walked on ahead, turns and sighs.

‘It fell down,’ I say, enjoying rewarding a dumb question with a dumb answer.

The man brightens, as if I’ve said something interesting. He is wearing a cloth hat that begs for corks. He continues to hover.

‘It blew down, actually,’ I offer.

Wrestling with impatience

The woman frowns. She is probably wrestling with impatience. ‘Why does he always have to TALK to people?’ she is thinking. ‘Has he forgotten it’s Sunday and Tesco’s shuts at four?’

But the man goes on gazing at the fallen tree. It exerts a hold on him. The woman stands rooted where she stopped. To drift back would be to condone his dawdling; to move on would be rude. Besides, her rationalisations are kicking in.  ‘I suppose it is HIS walk too. And his weekend off work. He’s got SOME right to do what he likes.’

I have to admit I’m on her side. If there were sides, that is. So I offer no further information. They might never get their pork chops and broccoli otherwise. Also, it’s chilly standing about and I’m busting to erect my pea and bean tower. But I stand there smiling, because what kind of surly cuss can’t stop for a word with a well meaning passer-by?

The three of us stand on, held in place by invisible force fields.

Then she glances at her watch and gives a little sigh. It’s a move I admire. She has made herself clear without stooping to harangue him in public.

A good bushman

The man nods, resigned, and steps away from the fence. Then he makes an extraordinary remark. ‘A good bushman, that’s what you need. He’d have that cut up into logs in no time.’

A vision of the Australian outback is conjured. Perhaps my sense of  corks wasn’t misplaced. Dad still hasn’t had an answer to his letter to the Council about the fallen tree. Perhaps they’ll send a bushman, who will whittle some of the thicker twigs into little wooden animals and carve a branch into a flute, teaching me to play a tune on it.

I realise that the couple have gone. For a few seconds, I miss them. I liked the unexpected window on the world that they opened. Then thoughts of the peas and beans of the future fill my consciousness, and I am back where I belong: in the security of my vegetable fantasy world.

The following day, someone does come from the Council. He snips a few leaves off the fallen elm then writes to Dad to say that the tree has been ‘made safe.’

Seems it’s up to us to shift the main bulk of the thing, to chop it up and take it to the local recycling centre. I break the news to Dad over the phone.

‘Fair enough,’ he says, much to my surprise as he has been struggling with his painful toe recently. Mr MS is also uncharacteristically on board with the project. The following weekend they form a two man chain gang, with Dad sawing and Mr MS carting logs to the camper van in the wheelbarrow.

I’m impressed. I feel disloyal for wishing for a bushman when as it turns out, two bushed men can do the job just as well.

Illustrations by Janis Goodman