Atticus told me to write a story about something beautiful. But what is beautiful? A bouquet of flowers, a symmetrically-featured face, a snow-capped mountain, a satellite view of the earth orbitting the sun?
He clicked his pen as he thought of his own ‘beautiful’ story.
‘Can you stop?’ I said. ‘It’s distracting.’
He stuck the end of his pen in his mouth and cracked his teeth against its edges.
I gathered my notebook and went outside to sit on the deck.
There was nothing but fence and straw-coloured hills and sky. The cows and sheep must have been over the hills, grazing in the shade or drinking from the water hole. The gum trees rustled in the breeze, and goosebumps appeared on my arms. I stretched my legs into the sun, but kept the rest of me in shade so I could see my pages.
You know what’s beautiful, I wrote. The lines in the wood on the deck right here. You can follow them with your fingertips and go on journeys to everywhere. And you have to wonder what came before – what kind of tree was this wood made of, and which year of its life did this line signify? What happened that year – or the years and years before – to make the grain swirl in this way? Who sat under this tree, who climbed it, who lived in it, who scratched their initials into the bark?
What’s beautiful is even thinking about these things. How does the sun feel if you’re a tree? Can you feel yourself growing?
Does your stump still exist out there somewhere, left to grow tall again while you are here, a plank of wood for me to sit on, stretching my legs out in the sun and writing about something beautiful?
Bare footsteps padded towards me, thumping and peeling away from the inside floorboards. The door opened then slid shut again to keep out the flies.
‘Time’s up,’ Atti said.
‘You didn’t say there was a time limit.’
‘Sometimes you can’t know these things.’
He snatched my notebook and held it high, ignoring my protests and jumping in pointless attempts to get it back. Giving up, I sat on the pile of firewood, crossed my arms, and waited.
‘Not bad,’ he said at last. ‘I’m impressed, little sis.’
‘You have to show me yours now.’
‘Didn’t write anything,’ he shrugged.
I got up and ran inside, but all his stuff was cleared from the table. My blood boiled like only he could make it.
‘I hate you!’ I called.
‘You don’t,’ he laughed.
‘I do! Why’d you make me write that stupid thing anyway? It’s not even a story.’
‘It doesn’t matter. Don’t you get it?’
Just then, mum and dad pulled back into the driveway. Dad got out of the car and opened the gate, and mum drove the car in, crunching gravel all the way. Atti left to help them bring the shopping in, and I cleared some space on the bench.
I gave one-word answers and nodded as they rattled on about the things they saw on the drive, the locals they spoke to, the daylight robbery prices of things at the shops.
And I forgot to say to Atti, No, I don’t get it. Why did you make me write about something beautiful? What did you write? I know you wrote something. I know it.
Now that he’s gone, I wish I’d remembered.
[a 20-minute story inspired by the following random words: beautiful, earth, orbitting, slow, Atticus, drinking, red, tree, running]