'The Old Pine Tree' by Thomas Morgan

My mum’s boyfriend sat me and my sister down at the kitchen table. He told us that he was going to propose to our mum while they were on holiday in New York. I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the news because I didn’t want him to marry my mum. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with him, but at the end of the day, he isn’t my dad. And he never will be.
       Me and Dad had always talked about cutting down the old pine tree in the back garden. He needed me to be old enough to help him without getting in the way and being a burden. But by the time I reached that age, he became ill, and the plan to cut down the tree fell by the wayside.
       We did have some good times with that pine tree. I remember having what can only be described as an epic pine cone battle with my dad when he was still well enough to be at home. And I remember playing with that tree the first time my parents left me in charge of my sister. We went outside and peeled away thick layers of bark, exposing the sticky tree sap that was hidden like treasure underneath.
       I can still feel it on my hands.
       But that pine tree had also caused a few problems. My sister was playing out in the garden a while back when she decided to climb up the tree. She got about halfway up when she lost her footing and fell. She broke three bones in her wrist. That’s when I decided that it was time to get rid of it.
       I waited until my mum and her boyfriend were on holiday in New York. My dad never really had any tools of his own, so I borrowed a chainsaw from my neighbour Ian. Dad and Ian were friends, so he didn’t mind lending me the equipment that I needed; he trusted me completely. He even offered to help me cut it down, but I declined.
       I knew that it was something I had to do on my own.
       I cut into the tree at a slight angle, creating a triangular-shaped wedge on the left-hand side of the tree trunk. Then I moved over to the other side of the tree and used the chainsaw to cut a straight line across the right-hand side of the tree trunk, leaving a small gap between the triangular wedge and my second cut. Then I gave the tree a gentle nudge and let gravity do the rest of the work for me.
       Once the tree was on the ground, I removed the branches, taking extra care to avoid causing any unnecessary damage to the chainsaw or the surrounding turf. I put the branches into one of those wood shredding machines. It cost me a lot of money to hire that machine, but my God, it was worth it. There was something strangely satisfying about watching those branches being shattered to pieces in front of my eyes. I felt like I had great power – like a god or a young king.
       When the branches had been disposed of, I got to work on the tree trunk. I made six even cuts about eighty percent of the way into the trunk. Then I turned the trunk around to finish the cuts. I made sure that I cut the tree trunk into manageable-sized pieces so that they would fit in the boot of my car.
       I decided to keep a small chunk of wood from the tree. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but I thought it could be used for something.
       All that was left was the stump. I looked online at the best way to remove a tree stump from the ground. One method suggested drilling holes into the top of the stump and then filling them with vegetable oil. After leaving the oil to set overnight, the method suggested setting the stump on fire. But that would’ve taken far too long, and I didn’t have time for all the hassle that went along with it.
       It was clear that I had a number of different options to choose from. So I chose the one that I thought would work the best and began to tackle the stubborn old tree stump.
       With one of Ian’s shovels, I dug a hole in the ground around the outside of the stump.
       Then I took a rusty old handsaw and cut across the stump a couple of inches below the soil line. It was far too delicate an operation to use my neighbour Ian’s expensive chainsaw.
       Using a rusty old handsaw was proving to be a difficult task. In hindsight, I probably should have picked a different method or used an electric handsaw. But I would change a lot of things about my life if I could.
       With the red hot sun beating down on me, I continued to dig deeper and deeper below the soil and made another cut across the stump. No matter how hard I tried, it just didn’t want to move. It was safe to say that it wasn’t going to go down without a fight. I grew tired of the arduous and lengthy process of cutting. It took me about twenty minutes or so just to make a small incision in the stump. I started to get angry with the tenacious old tree stump, so I got a sledgehammer and gave it a few good hits until it finally flew out of the ground.
       A small piece of the stump still remained in the ground, but that was fine by me. You wouldn’t be able to see it, anyway. I used some odd pieces of turf to cover up what was left of the stump. Then I used the garden hose and poured a generous amount of water on top of the turf until it looked as good as new.
       I knew that my dad would’ve been proud of my efforts. Even to this day, I still can’t believe that he’s gone.

My mum came back from her holiday in New York and showed me her engagement ring.
       ‘Congratulations,’ I said.
       ‘Thank you,’ she said. She looked outside and noticed that the pine tree was gone. ‘You got rid of it?’ she said.
       ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Me and Dad always talked about it. I thought it was time.’
       ‘I suppose you’re right,’ she said, as she stared out of the window.
       ‘I’ve got something for you,’ I said. I took a necklace out of my pocket and gave it to my mum. It had a heart-shaped pendant on it that I had fashioned out of the old pine tree. I was pretty proud of my handiwork.
       ‘I love it,’ she said. ‘Thank you.’ She kissed me on the cheek and gave me a big hug.
       About a year or so later, I stood in the back garden and watched as my mum married my step dad. They were facing each other and standing in the spot where the old pine tree used to be. And even though it had been gone for months, I could still feel its spirit watching over us.

Thomas Morgan is a writer from Worthing in West Sussex. His short story Promises was published in the 2019 Leicester Writes Short Story Prize Anthology, and his flash fiction story Encounter was published online on Visual Verse. Follow him on Twitter: @tommorgan97

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