Friday, May 17, 2013

Tree

Driving her son to school, she saw the perfect tree. The perfect tree stood small and twisted upon the center divider. It commanded its cousins, suburbanly spaced along the same divider. It commanded the giant eucalyptuses that lined the old road. It was centerpoint of a universe of weeds and flowers, cars and houses, birds, beetles, clouds, dust, stone, gutters, children, and crumpled paper. She drove over the small lip of the road onto the sidewalk and the dead leaves, parking. Her son asked was something wrong? She opened her door, walked across onto the median, and sat in the dirt, facing the tree.

Her son followed but did not understand. After a while, he walked toward school.

That afternoon, the phone rang in her car. That afternoon, she received a parking ticket. That evening, her husband came and sat with her beneath the tree. He said some words that seemed like gentle pleading. He left, he came back, he fell asleep at her feet while she sat.

Dawn speared through the eucalyptus, painting patches on the perfect tree. The perfect tree had a thousand red elbows. The perfect tree offered the world its berries, its light, its air, its scent of apple, of dust, chocolate, rubber, marjoram, closet floors. Its leaves were a chaos on which it would be impossible to improve. She breathed the oxygen of its photosynthesis. She drew a finger across a branch, leaving an invisible trace of her skin’s oil. Her husband brought breakfast, cancelled her classes, defended her rights against the police. A friend drove her car away.

.... [For the full-length and updated version, please email me.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Eric!

Callan S. said...

For a second I thought you were going to say it was the secret reason god was made.

Got that dippy feeling when suddenly the inner circle is made to eclipse and surround the outer circle.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

@ Thanks, Anon! Trying to figure out if I'm any good at this....

@ Callan: Interesting twist. That would fit with the layering of reality I'm trying to work with among these stories.

Michel Clasquin-Johnson said...

She alone realises what the tree is. what does that make her? If the tree is the centre of the universe, is she its circumference? and, simultaneously, vice-versa?

How does the tree perceive her? does it worship her as much as she worships it?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Michel: I want to leave those questions open in the story as it stands. But my thought is maybe to have another story that hints toward this one, in which the world has a creator whose aim for the universe is fulfilled by the perfect tree and a lone observer for it.

Juan said...

This has a Humean vibe to it. Is part of the point that anyone can care deeply about anything, where anything is ultimately pointless but at the same point anything can have a point? Even if we take the tack of seeing this as the supreme achievement of a god,as was said above, the question still remains as to why god would choose something so incongrous as the object of creation.

So could this be a sort of aesthetic anti-realism? Or perhaps it does reveal an objective standard of beauty, which is nevertheless alien to conventional folk sensibilities.

Burythe Nuts said...

That was lovely. This stuff should make one think and be open to interpretation.
And so it is.
I like it.

Anonymous said...

Le Guin's The Direction of the Road

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for all the encouraging comments, folks!

@ Juan: Yes -- those are exactly the questions I am struggling with. I don't mean to resolve them with this piece, just invite the reader also to reflect on them.

@ Burthye: Yes, thanks!

@ Anon: I have enjoyed the Le Guin I've read in the past, but I've never read that one. I'll check it out. Thanks for the tip!

Juan said...

@Eric: Thanks for the response. Another question: where do you lean on the issue vis a vis the objectivity of aesthetic and/or moral values? I remember you writing a long time ago on a blog post that you were leaning towards some kind of realism. Is that still true? I'm not asking for a detailed philosophical argument either way, just want to know where your intuition lies nowadays, if anywhere.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Juan: I do still lean toward some version of realism -- but a pretty weak or deflationary realism. I continue to struggle with the issue, not quite sure where exactly to settle.