The No-No Tree.
Evelyn remembered watching her two younger sisters as they danced on the lawn. Wearing brightly coloured swimming costumes with short white pleated skirts, the girls would practice gymnastics – standing on each other and striking poses. It was as if they were listening to an invisible orchestra playing music only they could hear. They were like butterflies flitting over a flower bed in springtime, foot-light and dainty.
So much time had passed since then and yet the pang of nostalgia bit hard. Evelyn held the birthday card, not sure if she should treasure it or throw it way. On the front was a picture of two young girls dancing and twirling, wraithlike in the bright light and long shadows, in that ethereal state just before the sun goes down.
The card in her thin-skinned hands shook as she contemplated the day she had last seen her sisters dancing. The wheel chair creaked from the tremor that now strained through her body. She hated the sound, the rhythm implying energy when all it meant was an uncontrolled fight against the ungainly movements of cerebral palsy.
At the roadside they collected the mail and bread from the rusty drum with its front cut out. It was game of danger to put your hand past the serrated edges that lay in wait to scratch them as the victor stole the first taste of the loaf of fresh white bread, wrapped as it was in smooth brown paper. Evelyn was under orders not to reach in as her palsied movement might cause her to hurt herself, and so she never won the prize of bread so fresh it became sugar on the tongue.
The special stage the girls performed on was off limits to Evelyn who couldn’t leave her wheel chair without help. The tree was white-barked and smooth, and was scrawled with secret messages from fairies and woodland sprites – that conveyed the magical choreography to the performers. This stage was a long, thick branch that was waist high to the pair of pre-teens artists. It grew oddly from the trunk, almost parallel to the ground.
After playing around with the poses on the grass until their confidence grew, they became more daring and started to pose on the tree. Evelyn thought they looked beautiful and the overwhelming pride in their graceful moves negated the jealousy she felt.
Well, it should have. She told herself over and over. ‘They aren’t hurting me, they aren’t hurting me.’ But they were of course, by the exclusion and showing off the agility required for the routines.
The younger girls made up songs and plays and adventures together. Evelyn would watch and applaud soundlessly with hands whose palms couldn’t touch together. She’d wave and cheer while inside resentment grew, gripping hard and making a gnarly knot in her chest like the exposed roots of the tree, binding her to the pain of rejection.
Yes, it’s true. Evelyn was the one to tell their parents about their dancing and their poses, and she slanted the story with enough suspicion that she implied they were deliberately posing for passing traffic. Something she was sure of in her geriatric reflection now, was that this detail was completely untrue. But it could have been true and they had put themselves at great risk if a driver with ill intent had stopped. Surely a temptation to passersby. So she justified her actions, telling the story to their parents as her spite-blinded vision saw it.
All she achieved was further alienation from the girls. She’d set no good example. They didn’t see her intervention as helpful or protective. They saw right through to the jealousy that motivated their older sister to dob them in.
It was Evelyn who learned the lesson in this sisterly exchange. Evelyn should have left them to their artistry and dancing adventure. She reconciled herself that would never be included in any of the games made up by her younger siblings.
That the tree was called the “No-No Tree” ever after was a payback from the girls. They ran to get the mail from the “No-No Tree.” They raced for the school bus at the “No No Tree.” They carried the bread home from the “No-No Tree.”
It was the day before Evelyn’s fourteenth birthday when she spoke to their parents. Sixty years ago today. She had no chance to break into the younger girls’ well established relationship after her role in the drama of the “No-No Tree.” They had been tight from the moment the youngest was born, preferring to play as free spirits and not with a girl who couldn’t run or climb or hide behind the chook-pen in a game of hide and seek.
The card was from her older brother, the first she ever received from him. How odd he’d pick this one. He knew that Evelyn had broken the game and brought a heavy discipline and a lifelong ban of playing in the tree. Perhaps he guessed about the life-long guilt she carried for spoiling the game.
In those days he avoided playing with the girls. He was always making something in the shed – he had a fascination with making things and undoing the making of things. Even if it only had two parts he’d still want to undo them and put them back together. He lived overseas and hadn’t been in contact with his sisters for many years. Evelyn sighed, thinking she should have been the one to reach out to him.
Their little sisters had both died during the last year. She missed them desperately. In her mind’s eye they danced still. They were like jewels on the necklace their mother wore to church, as they spun and cavorted with abandon on the tree.
Maybe her brother thought that he could bring the last two siblings together, as if by breaking the silence the healing could begin.
Evelyn held the card, opened it and read “To my sister Evelyn, who dances in her dreams.”