Short Story: The Memory Tree

      All Janet wanted was for her father to remember who she was. Ten years she had spent searching for what could cure her father’s dementia. It was a tip from her friend, Monica, that led her to Shung Chi Chen’s ‘Mystical Wonders’ store. There she stood, waiting, breathing in the aromas of burning incense, while she admired a rather exotic plant that sat on one of the uniquely crafted wooden shelves. Was this another waste of time?

        ‘The cure you seek,’ said a voice from the other end of the shop.

         Janet followed the voice towards the ancient-looking, Chinese salesman, presenting her with a rather unusual plant.

           ‘All this way for a tree?’   

          ‘This is not any tree,’ proceeded the salesman, ‘This is a memory tree.’

         ‘A memory tree. Great! Another farcical goose chase.’        

        ‘A tree that has grown in soil so rare. Collected from high up in the mountains of the Himalayas and purified by the natural waters that carry rare minerals from the rocks.’

        Now Janet knew why the man had a permanent smile of hope. Obviously, he had breathed in too much of the potent incense that circulated the store.

        ‘It looks like a Bonzi Tree with overdeveloped leaves.’

        ‘The golden soil represents the dust of the gods. The water that hydrated the roots are tears from angels, and the minerals of the rocks, the fragments of memory. Rocks are known to display memory over thousands of years. Displayed by erosion, decay, and destruction. They tell of a journey in time.’

           Janet studied the peculiar plant closely. It even was shaped in the figure of a mountain. She smelled the paper-thin leaves. A sudden rush of a fresh sea breeze invigorated her nostrils, and a sense of euphoria thrilled her body.

          ‘How does it work?’

          ‘The one whose memory you seek must place their fingers in the soil. The leaves will flourish with a golden glow when touched by one with a functional mind, however, one with a fractured mind, the leaves will be broken and brittle and remain green.’

           ‘How does it repair their memories?’

           ‘A tear of the person will ignite the tree, carrying with it the seeds of memory from their past. Like invisible tape, the leaves reconnect and regenerate their memory.’

         ‘And this has worked before?’

         ‘Oh yes, many times.’

         ‘You have proof of this?’

          ‘Why, yes. This store, all you see, is blessed with the magic of this rare natural wonder.’

        Janet observed the vast creations of plants, rocks, and medicinal products that trapped her within the claustrophobic wooden isles of the store. Wonder embraced her as she listened to the songs of birds trapped inside glass jars, smelled the exotic scent of pink waters, and touched the coarse veins of the golden leaves.

         Her mind went blank, her body numb, and all sound had disappeared. The touch of the course leaf had transported her to a different place. Images from ancient times exploded into her mind. People embraced the riches of nature. Its rivers, streams, trees, earth. A gentle breeze calmed them while their skin glowed as they were cleansed in nature’s wonders.

       Her eyes popped open.

        ‘What happened to me?’

        ‘You experienced an ancient memory. One this plant has stored for many years.’

       ‘I feel alive. Like all my troubles were lifted from my mind.’

       ‘Please, take the tree. Heal your troubles. Restore what you seek most.’

        Janet paid the man with the loose change from her pocket and bounced out of the store.

          Janet entered a small, dark, lifeless room. Sun had not kissed the walls in many years, and a scent of mothballs had become a permanent fragrance of the furniture spread amongst the space within the four walls.

          Janet’s legs shook, and her arms felt weak as she approached a motionless man who sat in an old 1920s-style lounge chair. She carefully sat on the arm of the chair and kissed the man on the forehead.

          ‘Father. I have brought you a gift.’

          She waited a moment for an old, high-pitched voice to greet her. Her father’s eyes gradually deflected to the right where Janet sat. They were blank, emotionless, unrecognising.

          ‘Who are you?’

          ‘It’s me, Janet, your daughter.’

         ‘Daughter? What is that?’ The pain hit Janet instantly. The words were sharper than any dagger that could be plunged into her heart. She fought hard to prevent a tear from rolling down her cheek.

          ‘I have a gift for you,’ she said as she placed the plant on his lap.

           ‘A gift?’

           ‘Place your hands on the golden soil.’

           ‘Hands?’

           The wrinkled frown on her father’s face pained her as she watched him attempt to make sense of what she was saying. She gently picked up his hand and placed it in the soil. Instantly the tree began to evolve. Leaves fractured and broke, floating towards the base of the plant. As they touched the surface, the broken fragments crumpled up, fading like a memory from a mind.

           The tree had behaved as the Chinese salesman had predicted. However, she had not expected all but one leaf to remain. Its golden glow, a shining beacon amongst the wilted sorrow around it.

          ‘This must be your most treasured memory,’ smiled Janet.

           Remembering the sensation from the shop, she placed her finger on the leaf. She blanked out again. This time she was transported to a dance floor. A familiar tune rang through the speakers as the vision searched the room for someone. A girl, one she recognised instantly. It was her. Through the eyes of her father, she approached her younger self. In unison, their arms moved to the steps of ‘The Birdie Dance’. Whenever they heard the song, they rushed onto the dance floor. Even when she was older.  It was their little thing they shared.

          Janet’s eyes closed, tears flowing down her cheeks as she embraced the memory, her father’s memory.

          Something caressing her forearm awoke her from the trance. Familiar eyes stared back at her. A smile long forgotten greeted her. An overwhelming flow of emotion hit Janet; her expression illuminated by a bright, golden glow. The Memory Tree no longer looked lifeless and dull. It was changing. The leaves that crumpled and evaporated into the soil had reappeared, reconnecting to their source by a magical invisible tape. Janet shifted her gaze to the eyes of her father that were overwhelmed with tears.

          ‘My daughter,’ he said with a smile.

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