Like a small flower that blooms between the cracks of a prison floor, my blossoming came in the most unlikely of places. I walked between the tables in the retirement home, pretending to check if anyone needed assistance. It wasn’t exactly my idea of a great time being around people over three times my age, but I was told that serving forty hours of community service would keep shoplifting off of my permanent record, so there I was.
“B-12!” the voice boomed from the too-loud PA system. “I need a shot of B-12. That’s B-12 everybody.”
Greg was up on stage, spinning the metal Bingo cage and wearing a smile just screaming to be punched. Everyone there loved him, as if he was their favorite grandson, and me like the rebellious teen going through her blue-haired punk phase. We were the same age, but we couldn’t be more different if we tried. For one thing, he was actually volunteering to be there. It’s not like he’d ever try to steal some beer in the hopes of impressing a girl.
“O-69. O-M-G. Back to that summer of ’69. I see you smiling there, Ruth. O-69.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes for at least the tenth time that day, afraid that I’d actually tear the optic nerves and have them fall out of their sockets. Looking towards Greg, I tapped two fingers to my lips and exited the Aloha Room, then leaned against the wall and dug into my pocket for my cigarette pack.
“I-20. I hope no one’s cheating, because I can see it all with my eyesight of 20/20. I-20.”
Even with the door closed, his voice reverberated against the walls and echoed through the outside corridor. I didn’t think I could take another of his ridiculous attempts to be funny, so I walked off in search of somewhere isolated. I ducked behind the parking garage and pulled out a pre-rolled joint from the pack. As I brought it up to my lips, I spotted an old Asian man straddling a bench with a small bonsai tree between his legs. Talk about cliché. He looked at me as if I had interrupted a private conversation.
“Not in the mood for Bingo?” I said, hoping he had forgotten about it and would rush off to join the others.
He turned his attention back to the tree, ignoring my presence. That was fine with me. I shrugged and lit up the joint, choosing to ignore him, too, but something about the pink flowers caught my eye. I thought all bonsai trees were only brown and green.
Exhaling the smoke, I asked, “What kind of flower is that?”
“I’ve told them so many times already,” he said without turning to look at me. “I just want to be left alone. I don’t want to play Bingo.”
I wanted to say, “Who pissed in your coffee this morning?” but instead settled with, “I was just asking. Do whatever you want for all I care.”
The old man relaxed. He picked up a spray bottle and misted the little tree with water. I watched him as I took another drag from the joint, wondering what it was about the flowers that interested me so much. I didn’t even like the color pink.
Sensing I wasn’t going to leave, the old man sighed. “They’re camellia flowers,” he said. “Hoa trá, from Vietnam.”
“Cool,” I said. “My parents are from Quang Ai.”
He lifted his eyebrows and faced me. “Oh? Have you ever been to Dalat?”
I shook my head. “Never left California. Born and raised here in Fountain Valley.”
He seemed disappointed by my answer. I extended the joint towards him as if trying to make up for it.
“Want a hit?” I said. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.”
He waved his hand as if trying to swat away an annoying fly. “Girls shouldn’t smoke. It’s no good for you.”
Ignoring the sexist part of his comment, I said, “It’s healthier than smoking cigarettes.” Then, leaning in as if divulging a secret, said, “Plus, we kinda have something in common, you and me. We both grow plants.”
The old man laughed and glanced at the tree. “Do you hear that, Camille? You’re no different from a marijuana plant.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “You… named your tree?”
He ignored me, instead continuing to chuckle to himself and mist the leaves once more. After inspecting one of the branches, he motioned for me to sit down and join him.
“Would you like to know the story of this bonsai tree?” he said.
Figuring it was better than going back to playing Bingo in the Aloha Room, I shrugged and straddled the bench so that I faced the old man through the branches. I lifted the joint to take another drag.
“Put that out,” he said. “You won’t need that anymore.”
I had the urge to rebel and blow a puff of smoke in his face, but something about the way he said it made me comply, as if he was a Zen master and I was his pupil. I stubbed it out on the side of the bench and placed what remained between my legs for later.
“Okay then, Mr. Bonsai,” I said. “What’s up with this little tree?”
“Like you and me, this tree was born with unlimited potential as to what it could become. It started from something as small as a seed, waiting for the right conditions to burst outwards and become something grand.”
“Kinda like the universe,” I said. “You know, with the Big Bang.”
He waited a few seconds for my interruption to dissipate into the air. “Close your eyes,” he said.
I did as I was told and waited for him to continue. The silence permeated through the air and into my pores. The breeze gently swayed me as if I had leaves and branches myself. The sound of birds chirping in the distance relaxed me, and the warm heat from the sun filled me with a tickling, glowing sensation. I imagined myself as a tree and smiled at the thought that I was already stoned.
The old man finally spoke up, talking slow and calm like what I would imagine a Zen master would sound like during guided meditation.
“Like humans, trees have a memory, as well. This bonsai tree fondly remembers the humans it has interacted with throughout the ages, and if you are willing to listen, it will share these stories with you, too.”
* * *
Camille’s first memory of Thái Dương occurred when she was five years old. Like her, he was still at the beginning of his life, taking root and beginning to take shape of what he would become.
Hoa was running around the garden chasing after something when Thái Dương stumbled into the yard looking for a place to hide. He peeked through the bushes towards the sound of children’s voices in the distance.
“Are you in trouble?”
Thái Dương jumped. He turned around and saw a man tending to a small plant. “We’re playing hide and seek,” the boy offered hesitantly.
The man wrapped a wire from one of the branches to the tree’s trunk.
“Why are you tying the tree?” said the boy.
“I am training it,” said the man. “If I don’t tie it, it will grow in whatever direction it wants, and then I’ll have a hard time to keep it under control.”
Hoa skipped over to the two of them with her hands clasped in front of her and held them out to Thái Dương. She smiled and waited for him to lean in close before opening them. A frog leapt out of her hands towards his face, causing him to fumble back and trip. Hoa laughed as he fell to the ground.
“Hoa Trá,” said her father. “That was not a nice thing. Apologize to him.”
Hoa stopped laughing and looked down at her feet. “Sorry.”
Thái Dương picked himself up and patted his clothes.
“I’m sorry,” said the man. “Sometimes Hoa does not know how to play properly.”
She spotted a dragonfly and began to chase after it, acting as if they were no longer there.
“What’s wrong with her?” said Thái Dương.
“Nothing is wrong with her,” said her father. “She is different, just like everyone else.”
Thái Dương stared at the girl. She jumped and screamed at the dragonfly like a crazy person, but despite this, he felt a strange attraction to her. Her clothing was unlike anything he had ever seen, with intricate geometrical patterns stitched into the fabric. His, in comparison, was plain and dull, a simple white button-up and gray pants.
“You’re not from this village,” said the man. “Where do you live?”
The boy broke out of his spell. He returned his attention to the man and said, “In Dalat.”
“What brings you all the way down here?”
Thái Dương looked as if he might be in trouble. “My friends and I like to go to Datanla waterfall sometimes to play.”
The man nodded. “I see. Well, be careful. And next time, don’t just jump into people’s yards like that. Other families might not be so friendly.”
Hoa came running up to them, no longer interested in the dragonfly. She plucked one of the blossoming camellia flowers from the tree and smelled it. “It’s pretty like me, right, Daddy?”
“It is,” he said, “but you shouldn’t pluck them like that. You just killed that flower.”
She panicked and tried to put it back onto the branch.
“It doesn’t work that way,” he continued. “Once the flower has been plucked out, you can never put it back.”
“But…” Hoa looked like she was about to cry.
“But if you help take good care of the tree, it can live forever.”
She thought about this. “If we take care of each other, can the three of us live forever, too? Mommy and Daddy and Hoa.”
Thái Dương looked at the ground, feeling left out.
Hoa’s father put his hand on her shoulder. “If we take good care of it,” he said, “we will live forever through the tree.” He looked at Thái Dương. “Do you want to learn how to care for the tree, too?”
Before he had the chance to respond, they overheard his friends yelling his name and turned around to see them standing near the road. The other boys looked at him as if he had decided to swim in mud.
“Why are you playing with the K’Ho?” said one of his friends. “They’re poor and dirty.”
Thái Dương felt his face blush. Hoa, oblivious that they were making fun of her, held up the flower and asked if they wanted to learn how to care for a tree. They all laughed.
“It’s okay,” said Hoa’s father. “You should go back to your friends.”
Thái Dương searched for the words to apologize.
“Feel free to come back again anytime,” said the man.
Thái Dương ran to his friends, who continued to laugh and mock him all the way down the road.
* * *
I opened my eyes and realized the bonsai tree in front of me was the same one from that tiny village. The flowers bobbed up and down with the wind, as if acknowledging that I was correct. I had no idea what had happened, but it felt as if I was there watching the scene play out, or, to be more precise, like I was recalling a long-forgotten memory. One that I never had to begin with. I glanced down at the half-smoked joint between my legs, wondering if I had underestimated the strength of that new strain.
I looked back up and noticed the old man watching me intently, as if he knew what I had just seen and experienced.
“The lives of those who have cared for the tree remain as part of this tree. Its memories are their memories,” said the old man. He caressed one of the leaves. “This tree has been through so much. It has felt emotions, just as humans feel them. It has known joy from watching the children grow, and growing along with them. But it has also experienced pain and sadness.” He closed his eyes. “No one can go through this life without experiencing a moment of overwhelming sadness and pain.”
As if reacting to his action, my eyelids drooped down and closed, as well.
* * *
Hoa, now twelve years old, ran out to the backyard and kicked the tree over. She screamed as it fell to the ground, as if daring it to get up and retaliate. Dirt scattered out of the pot, revealing some of the tree’s roots. She had grabbed her father’s machete from the shed and now held it above her head, turning to stand directly over the bonsai tree. Using the reflecting streak of moonlight to aim, she swung down and hit the dirt, barely missing the branch. Struggling to bring it back up, her hands trembled as she held it overhead again. She trained her eyes directly where she wanted it to land this time and brought it down with all her might. The branch splintered in two. She screamed and lifted the machete again for one more swing when she felt it snatched out of her hands.
“Hoa, stop,” shouted her mother. “You’re going to hurt yourself.”
Hoa tried to snatch it back, but her mother extended it out of her reach. She balled her hand into a fist and was about to hit her mom when she spotted Thái Dương standing by the road. He held something behind him that created a shimmering golden aura around his body. Hoa’s mother followed her daughter’s gaze and relaxed at the sight of the boy. She beckoned for him to come closer. Hesitantly, he looked at the two of them to make sure they were done fighting before approaching.
“It’s nice of you to come,” said Hoa’s mother. She lowered the machete. “Can you watch Hoa while I put this away?”
He nodded, and she retreated inside the house.
Forgetting about the machete, Hoa asked, “What’s behind your back?” She stepped towards him and peeked her head to the side.
“Remember when we were trying to catch fireflies?” said Thái Dương. He revealed a mason jar filled with several moving lights. “I caught some for you.”
Hoa took the jar from him and stared inside. Mesmerized, her eyes followed the lights as they flitted around in circles.
“I thought it might cheer you up,” he said and went to pick up the bonsai tree.
“Leave it alone,” said Hoa. Her attention snapped to the fallen branches.
He pretended not to hear her and scooped some of the dirt back into the pot before setting it upright again. “Your father would have wanted you to take better care of this tree.”
“That tree is useless,” she shouted. “It didn’t save Daddy. He was supposed to live forever if we took care of the tree, but it didn’t do anything to help him.”
“He’s living through the tree now. Remember? He said if you take good care of it, you’ll live forever through the tree.”
Hoa took a moment to process this, then looked down at the severed tree branch. She picked it up and tried to reconnect it, panicking when it wouldn’t stay stuck.
“Once it’s plucked out, it can never be put back,” he said, remembering her father’s words.
“I’m sorry,” said Hoa. “I won’t cut your arms off again, Daddy. I’m so sorry.”
Thái Dương was taken aback by her literal interpretation of his words, and then realized he shouldn’t be surprised. She always did see the world the way she wanted to see it.
“You need to take good care of your father now,” he said.
“Thái Dương,” a voice shouted from down the road. “Thái Dương, I know you’re here. Come here at once!”
Thái Dương ducked his head between his shoulders. “That’s my dad,” he said. “Sorry, you know how he hates when I come down here. I have to go now.”
“Okay,” said Hoa.
He waited for a goodbye, even though he already knew one wasn’t coming. He half-heartedly waved and ran out to the road in the direction of his father’s voice, stopping just beyond the garden to turn back around. He saw Hoa’s mother huddled over the kitchen sink, sobbing with her hands over her face, then looked in Hoa’s direction.
She grabbed the jar and sat next to the tree, opening the lid and letting the fireflies escape into the night sky. The jagged tip of the broken branch seemed to point the way for the lights to follow.
“Look at the pretty stars, Daddy,” she said, hugging her knees as a tear slid down her cheek.
* * *
The old man stroked one of the tree’s branches. “This bonsai has lost many chances to grow in different directions. I have cut off many branches myself.”
“How many memories does this tree have?” I asked.
“Oh, ho ho ho.” The old man’s laugh was throaty and deep. “So many.” He looked at me through the branches. “So many memories.”
I looked at my phone to check the time. We still had about twenty minutes before Bingo was supposed to end.
“Think I can see another one?” I said and closed my eyes in anticipation.
The old man smiled wistfully. “All you have to do is listen.”
* * *
Hoa had aged again, eighteen years old this time. She walked along the dirt road towards the town up ahead, turning around to make sure her companion was still following close behind. She huffed and blew her bangs away from her eyes with an air of impatience. The bonsai tree was double her size now, but its anthropomorphic body lagged behind at half her speed. Its attention drifted to a butterfly skittering across the rice paddies and knelt down to slowly extend its hand, hoping to catch the winged creature on its jagged finger.
“Hurry up, slowpoke,” shouted Hoa.
The butterfly retreated up into the air and flew away. The tree’s body sagged with disappointment, its face incapable of changing its stoic expression. It got up to its feet and continued to follow after Hoa.
They entered into the halls of an international school, where they wandered aimlessly until spotting two elves in matching blue robes. Both were about a foot taller than her, and their skin was white like grains of rice. Hoa and the bonsai tree followed them out to a courtyard where dozens of elves and humans conversed with each other. She surveyed the faces of those around her and stood on her toes to try to find her friend.
“What are you doing here?” said a familiar voice.
She turned around to get a glimpse of the human boy in his matching blue robe. Thái Dương winced at the sight of the tree.
“Why did you bring that with you?” he said.
The tree attempted to grunt a response but only managed to shake the leaves and flowers on its branches.
“Daddy says congratulations on your graduation,” said Hoa.
The two elves nearby laughed. One of them pointed at the tree and said, “Qu’est-ce que c’est, Sam? Ton cadeau de graduation?” What is that, Sam? Your graduation present?
The boy blushed and shook his head. “Juste un stupide arbre.” Just a stupid tree.
The girl could not understand what they were saying. She figured they were speaking Elvish. She motioned to the tree and said in Vietnamese, “Hoa trá. Giống như tôi.” Camellia. Just like me.
The two elves looked at each other and giggled as they walked away. One of them said, “Ciao, Sam.”
“Did he call you Sam?” said Hoa. “Is that your Elvish name?”
“What? No,” he said. “You shouldn’t have come here. You embarrassed me.”
“What? Why?” She turned back to the two elves, but they were already gone. “What did they say?”
“Forget it,” he said. “Come on. I’ll walk you home.”
“What about your parents?”
“They were too busy with work today.” He turned to leave.
“Oh,” she said, tilting her head for the tree to follow along with them.
After a brief period of walking in silence, she asked, “Why did you change your name?”
“It was too hard for them to pronounce Thái Dương,” he said. “They kept saying it like ‘dung’ instead of ‘young.’”
“It’s not funny,” he said.
“What’s my Elvish name?”
“It’s French, and you don’t need a new name. You don’t even speak French.”
She lowered her head and looked away, regarding the people tending the rice paddies. She knew he would never be out there doing manual labor, unlike her. He was smart and rich, and soon he would leave this town behind with the rest of the international kids. Part of him had already left when he decided to change his name.
He sighed. “I guess you would be called Camille.”
“Camille,” she said, pronouncing each syllable as if it was a separate word.
“But you’ll always be Hoa to me.”
“No.” She raised her voice. “If you can be Sam, then you can call me Camille.”
Sam shrugged. “Fine. You can be Camille.”
They walked in silence again. Sam looked up towards the dark clouds on the horizon and knew that it would probably rain soon. He took a deep breath and looked down at his feet.
“I was offered a chance to go to university in Paris,” he said. “But I would have to leave at the end of summer.” He kicked a small rock into the rice field.
Camille remained silent. The tree had returned to its miniature state in the clay pot. She held the pot in her hands and leaned her face forward to smell the flowers.
Sam stopped walking. “What do you think I should do?”
She shrugged. “You’re going to leave anyway, right?”
“I haven’t decided that yet.”
“What do you think I should do?” he repeated.
Camille looked out into the rice fields again. They were beautiful. She wouldn’t mind staying here for the rest of her life, but she knew he felt differently.
“I think you should do what will make you happy,” she said.
Taking her words as an invitation, his hand reached out to her chin and turned it so that their lips could connect. It took her by surprise, and she instinctively recoiled. The clay pot fell to the ground and shattered into several pieces.
Her stomach jumped and nearly leapt out of her throat as a whimpering yelp. She crouched down and tried to put the broken pieces back together.
“Why did you do that?” she said. “Now look what happened.”
Sam was too paralyzed to help her. “I… I was just… You’re the one who pulled away and dropped it.” He took a step back and felt a surge of anger swell up inside him. “You always cared about that stupid tree more than you cared about me. I don’t know why I ever even liked you in the first place. You’re just a stupid, poor girl.”
Hoa was too surprised by his reaction to respond.
“Maybe I should leave and never come back, and then you can be alone with your precious tree forever,” he said. “Maybe then we’ll both be happy.”
Tears welled up in Sam’s eyes. He hadn’t meant to say all of that, but it was too late to take it back. He turned around and ran away.
Hoa sat there, speechless. Her heart felt like it had forgotten how to beat. She felt like she really might never see him again. She never thought of him in a romantic sense, and she had no idea he felt that way about her, but sometimes losing a best friend can be just as painful as losing a lover.
Her tears fell onto the soil, absorbing like raindrops in the dirt.
* * *
“What a jerk,” I said, while at the same time knowing what unrequited love felt like.
“Indeed,” said the old man. “He would live with that regret for many years.”
“What happened to him?”
“He left and made a life in Paris. As the years passed, he thought of the girl less and less.” He caressed the petal of a camellia flower. “Until war broke out, that is. You’re familiar with the Vietnam War, right?”
I shrugged. “I’m aware that it happened.”
“By the time he heard the news, it was already too late for anything to be done. He went back, but… It was already too late.”
* * *
Camille stroked the burnt leaves of the bonsai tree. They snapped with the weight of her touch and crumbled to the ground. From her squatting position, she tucked her head between her legs and quietly sobbed. There weren’t any tears left for her to shed, and the pain continued to increase, overwhelming her ability to breathe.
“Hoa,” said a long-forgotten voice. “Hoa, is that you?”
She sniffed and raised her head. The blurred shape in front of her approached, looking like a dream stepping into reality.
“I finally found you.” The voice sounded relieved.
Camille wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and blinked to focus on the man’s face. It had gotten rounder and fatter, but there was no denying that it was him.
“Sam,” she said.
He didn’t think she would remember him by that name.
“Hoa,” he said, “are you okay?”
“Hoa has died,” she said.
Sam scrunched his eyebrows.
“My name is Camille.”
“Hoa died in the fire with her mother.” She stood up and kicked the bonsai tree over. “There is nothing left of Hoa Trá.”
“Your mother…” Sam gulped. “She’s… dead?”
“The fire spread to our house. We made it out, but Father was still inside, so I ran back in to save him. I didn’t know Mother went in after me until I…” She clenched her fists. “…until I heard her screaming my name from inside. The roof collapsed before she…” She lifted her foot and kicked the tree with each word. “It’s! My! Fault!” she screamed. “My! Fault!”
Sam stepped in to stop her.
She pushed him away. “Why did you come back?” she asked. “You should not have come back here.”
“I came back to check on my family. I wasn’t able to reach them from France, and there was no news.”
“Are they okay?”
Sam looked down and shook his head.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “You really should go back before they won’t let you leave again.”
He looked around at the devastated buildings. With both of their parents gone, he decided the least he could do was help get Camille to safety.
“You should come with me,” he said.
She was surprised to hear him say that. She smiled and softly shook her head. “I can’t. They won’t let me leave the country.”
“I’m sure there’s someone we could bribe to let us through the border.”
“No, I should stay here. I should help my people rebuild.”
Sam picked up the tree. “I can’t let you stay. If something happened to you…” He didn’t let himself finish the thought.
She felt sorry for him. After all this time, he still had feelings for her. She looked around at the devastation herself. Most families had already moved somewhere else. Reluctantly, she nodded and said, “Okay. Let’s leave together.”
By then, it was impossible to exit the country via plane or bus, so their only option was to be smuggled illegally by boat. When they finally found one willing to take them, there were over a hundred people crammed aboard a boat designed for less than a fraction of that capacity. Sam had to bribe the captain to get him to allow Camille to take the tree on board. He tried not to think that it might have denied someone else passage.
In all this time, Camille never abandoned the tree. It was a husk of its former self and had to be cut until it resembled the first time Thái Dương laid eyes on it all those years ago. Like the two of them, the bonsai tree was getting a fresh start.
As they drifted along the sea after more than a week—both Sam and Camille had lost count of the days by then—another boat appeared beside them. Climbing aboard, three pirates pointed their guns and fired into the terrified mass of people. Those that weren’t hit scrambled for cover or jumped into the water. Sam scrunched himself into a ball and hid his head. More gunshots and screams filled the air around him until they were replaced by a silence so quiet Sam was sure he had died. He lifted his head and was amazed to see that the pirates had been overtaken. Turning around, he saw Camille splayed on top of the tree. Reality seeped back in through the cries and moans of the passengers.
“Hoa!” he shouted, rushing to her side.
A bullet had torn through her lung. She struggled to breathe, giving shallow breaths as she tried to talk.
“Sa-Sam,” she said. She clenched her eyes shut. “It hurts.”
“Help,” he screamed. “Somebody.”
“Now I will li-live in the tree, too.”
“Don’t talk. Save your strength.” He tried to grab someone running past him. “Help us!” he said, but the man ignored him and ran to someone else.
“Remember wh-when you ca-caught the s-s-stars for me?”
Thái Dương looked back at her. “Just hold on.” But it was too late. He witnessed her strength give out and surrender. “Hoa,” he cried out, holding her tight.
His tears dropped to the soil of the battered tree, mixing with the blood of its latest transfusion.
* * *
“So there you are.”
The Bingo announcer’s voice broke me out of the memory. He approached our hideaway and gave us a strange look before stopping a few steps away from the bench.
“What were you two doing?”
My heart was still beating fast from the previous memory. I tried to lighten the mood. “I was just hanging out with Mr. Bonsai and his tree.”
Greg crossed his arms. “You missed out on the chance for a good prize today, Sam. Free movie tickets, popcorn included.”
“I knew it,” I whispered. “You’re Thái Dương.”
The old man did not say anything, but I could see in his eyes that I was right.
“No one’s too young for Bingo,” said Greg.
The old man leaned towards me. “What is your name?”
“Ashley,” I said. “Ashley Nguyen.”
“Ashley Nguyen,” he repeated, and in a soft voice added, “Now you’re part of the tree’s history as well.”
Greg inched his head forward. “What are you two talking about?”
Sam sighed and stood up. “I’m not interested in Bingo or free movie tickets or any of that stuff,” he said. He picked up the tree and walked away back to his apartment inside the complex.
“Well, we’ll be here every week if you change your mind,” he shouted after Sam. “And don’t forget about the shuffleboard tournament tomorrow in the Kahuna Lounge. All right, Sam?”
The old man was already far enough away to not warrant giving a response. Greg raised his eyebrow at me.
“What did he say to you? I can never get him to open up about anything.”
I shrugged and picked up the half-smoked joint as I stood up, making sure he didn’t see it. “He didn’t really say much. Just showed me his tree.”
“Hmm. Yeah. He’s always carrying that thing around everywhere he goes. Maybe he’d be interested in some kind of botany class. You think so?”
“I don’t know, man,” I said and walked to a nearby trashcan to toss the joint away. “Is there something you needed me for?”
He put his hands on his hips. “Yeah, we need you inside to help with the tables, not out here looking at some tree with a grumpy old man. Now come on, let’s go.” He clapped his hands. “Chop, chop.”
I took off for the day after we cleared the Bingo space. I didn’t see Sam at all the rest of the week, and once my community service hours were up, I didn’t have any reason to go back there.
Sometimes when I would start rolling a new joint, I would stop and think about the memories I saw. I wondered what the old man was doing at that precise moment, and if he ever thought about me at all.
I got my answer months later when a phone call from the retirement center informed me that Sam had passed away in his sleep. They told me his will stated that they give the tree to me. They questioned me about it when they saw me, but I just shrugged and grumbled something about him maybe being lonely and remembering that I had sat quietly with him and the tree once. I didn’t want to tell them the truth. They wouldn’t understand, and I preferred to keep those memories for myself.
When I got home, I placed the tree on a table and tried to get lost in the branches and flowers again, but where there had been something before, now there were only the camellias. I looked at it for a good, long while, but what did I know about trees? The plants I had tried to grow before had all died on me.
After a quick online search, I found a national park to take it to and let it take root in nature for a change. I figured it was a fitting memorial, a living cenotaph. If they were all living through the tree, then they would be at peace there. As I planted it in the dirt, I remembered Sam’s words. Once it’s been plucked out, it can never be put back. It might not live forever, but all good things must come to an end one day.
Alex Rezdan is an American writer currently living in Berlin. His short stories have previously appeared in Popshot and Literally Stories. When not procrastinating with classical piano and juggling, Alex spends his days resisting the urge to binge on Netflix in order to finish his sci-fi novel.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Bonsai Memories”
Author Alex Rezdan delivers a resonant piece that blends multiple themes, a strong sense of place, and a bit of history to bring together two people from different cultures and different generations. And he shows the universal theme of how lives can unexpectedly influence and change one other.