By Eric A. Clayton
Once upon a time there was an enormous oak tree, home to a family of gray squirrels who spent hours each day scurrying up and down the bruised and battered bark collecting acorns. There was one particular branch—a strong, sturdy thing—that grasped for the sun, and the squirrels loved it not because of its tempting stock of acorns—the downfall of many an overconfident companion—but because of the tire swing that hung from its height, lurching about in wind and rain, its braided rope digging, digging, digging into the old bark, eating it away slowly, day after day as the squirrels watched. And from way down below, where the grass was long and peacefully swaying, a little girl—barely four years old, long hair swept up in a bow the darkest of purples—would laugh and laugh, clinging to that piece of blackened rubber, all giggles and grins and snot as a young woman pushed her, watching, smiling. And the squirrels smiled, too, cheeks full of acorns.
But that was once upon a time and what happens once necessarily ends, cut down and cut short in an instant. And now an aging woman returns and stands in front of an old, rotten stump and remembers when the branch tumbled down and the tire swing became trash and the tree turned black and the squirrels vanished—and she’s haunted by all that it has meant to be lonely and lacking and tired.
There are no more acorns.
About the author:
Eric A. Clayton is the author of "Cannonball Moments," a work of spiritual nonfiction. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, NCR and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Follow his writing at ericclaytonwrites.com.