The flowering cherry tree outside Sarpana’s room in the pebble-dashed house in Wimbledon was a mistake. A dwarf ‘Pink Perfection’ tree that grew too big until its canopy shaded the front garden and its branches almost stretched to her window. The music of the wind in the leaves blew her to sleep most nights, as she lay awake counting her mistakes.
The eldest child is the leader, everyone knows that. The middle child is neglected and the youngest is spoilt by everyone. But what happens when the eldest is tone deaf and the middle child is a boy who’s born singing? When the eldest daughter has arms skinnier than the green shoots of over-shadowed crocuses, and the youngest daughter’s cri-du-chat means she only listens to people who can lift her over their heads?
No one ever asked anything of Sarpana but she felt silent expectation pool in the base of her neck. It wouldn’t rub away. She gave up going to the library to take Tarla to the park, and winced every time she ate dandelions. She stopped playing chess after school to take Jinesh shopping, and shrank every time he came home with pockets full of stolen CD’s. The only thing she knew for sure was sometimes the breeze sighing through cracked bark sounded like secret comfort. She whispered back in gasps in the dark and listened for changes in the code.
The cherry tree replied the day of the Great Storm. The wind intensified all day, swirled over the porch and ripped through the lavender. The tap-tap-tap on the window came at exactly midnight on her digital clock. Sarpana moved forward, pressed her face on the cool glass, blinked into the gloom. The heavy branch crashed through the top of the window and spiked through her pillow. She slept on the floor as if stunned.
It split itself in half with the effort of communication, limbs still pointing. A hybrid, twisted thing. Crocuses grew back under the dead part, Tarla hugged the half that still flowered every morning. It never gave fruit again. The crowds who gathered to stare at the wreckage and point at the miracle girl made her mother bite her lip and her father rub the base of his neck. Sarpana pleaded for the tree every evening, but her passionate gasps dispersed like seeds sucked from a dandelion head.
They chopped it down the day she left home. The tap-tap-tap of the suitcase on the pavement told her not to go back.
Anita Goveas is British-Asian, based in London, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. Her stories are published and forthcoming in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, The Word Factory website, Dodging the Rain, Rigorous, Pocket Change, Haverthorn and Riggwelter Press. She tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer.