12 October 2017
I did the majority of the work on this short story a couple of months ago, with a view to entering it into a Sheffield-based competition, but I then missed the deadline due to having an operation…. Hope you like it.
Pines for Pine, Aches for Oak, Weeps for Willow
The morning of the Final Felling in a plush, desk-less classroom. Shaw thought again about when he last saw the tawnies, heard them too-woo. Decades ago. Squat little Russian dolls perched in the sycamores that used to line Vainor. She was so excited by those owls. Jumped up and down, pointing. Shouting Daddy, look. Memories waking him up every night since the details were announced. Clock on eight-oh-six. He looked again at The Council’s Facilitator Notes. Rubbed his eyes. Fiddled with the knot of his tie. Never got used to these in forty years of teaching…. The notes outlined the post-webcast discussion he was to lead with his class. No deviation permitted. Discussion openers: talk through the reasons for The Verdancy Enhancement Programme. Share one of your positive experiences of Urban Greening. These were the fancy names given to the removal of all trees from Sheffield’s outdoor spaces, to be replaced with ‘tree-inspired artwork’ covering the outside of any structure. According to the script: ‘a scheme of improvement to, and regulation of, the mental health and well-being of Sheffield’s citizens’. The Final Felling was to be the ceremonial cutting-down of Sheffield’s last tree, in the trendy tower-block suburb of Bradfield, where Urban Greening was being taken to new heights, literally.
But Shaw suspected that he missed the tawnies – all birds, in fact. Even the squirrels. He missed dappled light, breezes in high branches; forest-canopy feelings that used to flood in upon opening the bedroom curtains. Foot-deep leaf carpets of autumn. Even the root-raised pavements hadn’t bothered him. These were thoughts that could land him back in with a Thought Clarifier, though. Mentally shelf them. On with the day….Then, eleven twenty-one on the clock. Fifty-odd ten-year-olds watched Shaw dull the screen with a downward wave of the hand, webcast over. A Suit had made the first ‘chop’ with a ceremonial axe of Sheffield steel. Cameras from social media channels filming. Someone spoke into a microphone about An Historic Day; applause. Nothing on the children’s tablets despite being asked to take notes.
A clap of his hands, as much to get his own blood pumping as to rouse the class. What I’d like us to do now is talk a bit about what we’ve seen. To start us off, then. Read the discussion opener….. Into your pairs, then we’ll feed back.
Need to stop entertaining interruptions…. Yes, Smith.
You remember real trees?
I remember when they were everywhere. When they called this city Britain’s Greenest because of them, not because of the paint job.
You touch one?
And then the hands going up, questions thick and fast.
Did you climb one, ever?
I used to read sitting in a tree in my parents’ garden. I still climbed them when my children were about your age. Mainly to rescue them when they got stuck. Laughs.
Where did they come from?
Each type of tree produced its own seeds and new ones grew from those.
I don’t mean that. You showed us that video about keeping trees in those special zones, remember.
Because I had to….
They showed us how you make a tree for furniture.
Well, when I was a boy, we didn’t just want them for furniture –
No, I mean how did they ever get into Sheffield in the first place? How come we ended up needing to get rid of them?
Well, there are some people who believe that we never should’ve…. They were there before the city was built. Most were cut down to make way for buildings and roads, some were kept, other were planted where they were wanted.
People used to want them. Why?
Shaw had no answer at first. Unbuttoned his left sleeve, rolled it up, started on the right. Perched on the edge of his desk. Adopted his ‘some people believe….’ tone, usually saved for religious history studies.
It was believed that the trees themselves were better than what we call Verdancy Enhancement, he began. Aside from the fact that they naturally improved the air quality –
But we have those special pipes under the roads for that.
Well we do, but…. How to phrase this carefully… Word gets back to parents… they just felt more natural. Birds lived in them, so you heard their song. Daddy, Daddy look. Yes – can you hear them? Yes. Can you make the noise? The wind rustled the leaves. The trees were…. musical. There were colours…. Sometimes they seemed like they were glowing when the sun was on them. In the autumn you had these different yellows and oranges and browns… You had the shade, the fruit… and you could play with them. We had this game called conkers…
Shaw stopped. The entire class were silent, attentive. Move on, now… Let’s remind ourselves of the question…
A half-hour passed. Lunch time, then fifteen minutes in the Oxygen Regulation Facility. Every school now had one. Pure oxygen, fifteen minutes daily; mandatory for under twelves, Council Orders. His class were timetabled for one-oh-five this week. While they were topping up, watching the swirling, calming, green shapes projected onto the walls of the ORF, Shaw called at the office to see if there were any letters home to issue. Communication in paper form was no longer deemed an environmental issue, thanks to the vast plains of forest – strictly private – blanketing the country east of the Hyperway. He was handed a bundle of flyers printed on Council headed paper. Read one. The new Eradication Hotline; the number you now called if you saw seedlings poking through the tarmac. In the photograph an ethnically diverse team clad in hi-viz smiled as they used the ‘latest technology’ to blitz the ‘infected area’. Ghostbusters…. A post-it was attached to the top flyer. Must Go Out Today. He made sure the office staff saw him carry the flyers away, and back in his classroom he hid them in his satchel before returning to the ORF.