Her fingers trembled as she reached for the book. The dampness on her hands smeared the bold, black letters etched along the edges of every page. A frame of words, repeating the same sentiment over and over and over again: “I trust you. I trust you. I trust you…” A compliment, she told herself, an invitation. At least that’s what it had felt like in the beginning. The first few times she’d turned these pages, it had been invigorating. A thrill beyond any. With every touch, a current would course through her entire body, starting in the tips of her fingers, working its way up through her hands, arms, torso, up her spine, between her shoulders, making the hair rise in the back of her neck, spreading like a spider’s web across her mind.
It was exquisite.
It was surreal.
It was bliss.
No book she’d ever read before compared to this one. It was like being let in on a secret no one else knew about. A treasure brought into existence for her to discover, and only her. Never once had she spared a thought to all the other readers that must have come before her.
She turned to page 164, the page she’d left off yesterday. The page she’d slammed the book shut on, fury guiding her hands. She wasn’t sure what was making them open the book to this same page again now. Curiosity maybe? She flattened the worn pages with her hands, the book lying open on her lap. It revealed a colorful image of a grand tree across a two-page spread. She smoothed out the bent corner at the top of page 164. She’d probably bent it last night when… It folded back neatly, staying in place, but leaving behind a visible crease through the page’s three-word frame. The tree at the center was red maple. With nothing else but a meadow of short green grass in the image, it was difficult to tell how tall the tree actually was, but its trunk was sturdy and wide, its branches hanging low, but spreading at the top into a wide, majestic crown of red and yellow.
Last night, when she’d seen it for the first time, she’d been enchanted. The beauty of the colors flowing from yellow to red and back again in lovely waves across the crown, the intricate map of branches intersecting in so many places without ever getting in each other’s ways, and the sturdy and pale, seemingly immaculate trunk this breathtaking magnificence stood upon with such grace.
But what a poor enchantment it had been.
Yesterday, wanting to memorize every little detail of what she had been seeing, she had run her fingers across the pages, as if seeing with her eyes wasn’t enough. Not enough to take it all in. That’s when she had felt them, the rough spots. The deceitfully immaculate trunk had really been marred by rough spots all over its stout body. Not trusting her fingertips, she had bent down, almost putting her nose to the pages, thoroughly inspecting its impurities. Names, the rough spots were names, of previous readers, no doubt, who had befouled the book –her book– with their filthy names, permanently etched into the bark of the red maple tree. So she’d slammed it shut, unable to take in any more, angry at the book, angry at herself.
Today, that anger had fled her entirely, to be replaced by the shame that made her fingers tremble as she again touched the page where the trunk was, feeling for the rough spots on it. There were dozens of names, all written in different sizes, some of them having left a deeper mark than others, and none of the handwriting seemed familiar to her. Except… Except one. She didn’t think it had been there yesterday, but she might have missed it in her fury. She burst into tears, cupping her face into both her hands to keep the book safe from the moisture. Though she knew she hadn’t written it, there it was, in her own untidy sprawl, right beneath the red maple’s crown –her name– etched into her tree’s bark.
Context for this piece: Each day of this new year I will be setting aside about an hour to write a short text, any kind of text. I will use four random prompts generated by an app called Writing Challenge, with five minutes of writing dedicated to each prompt, bringing it up to a total of at least 20 minutes of writing for each text.
The prompts are marked in bold letters and a full list can be found here:
- Write a story that has a character who opens a book
- Include a tree in
- Include the sentence: “she burst into tears”
- End the story with the word “bark”