By Chris Wilson
Half asleep in her ancient garden armchair, Sarah glanced casually towards the dusty old oak tree at the bottom of her garden. Her son Patrick, and his son, had gone out shopping. She was all alone, her next door neighbours were frying steak and onions, and she could hear their children playing and laughing. It was a rich and wonderful sound, and as she listened to them, a trail of bubbles from their bubble lances drifted past her through the air. She smiled as the bubbles turned, twisted, and then popped in the late summer breeze. Sarah loved her garden; and the oak tree: so closing her eyes she began sleeping, drifting back over the years.
“Mum; why can’t I see the smell of an onion?”Patrick asked peevishly. “And as I can’t see it, how is it making you cry!?”
Sarah put down her kitchen knife,, and despairingly looked at her 5 yr old son through a cascading veil of onion laden tears. She had always encouraged Patrick to question everything around him, but this question was a real beauty. Cocooned and enswathed within in a sea of vapour from an ever-increasing mound of sliced onions, she neither had the time to give him an answer, nor a way to answer him with words. Yet she needed to answer him, for it was easy to see that Patrick, armed with a bucket of soapy water and his homemade clothes hanger bubble wand, wasn’t going to go away. Sarah sighed, wiped her hands on her piny,
Inwardly though she smiled. Sarah knew she had to cook the onion soup for the village harvest festival dinner, but sick of the sight and smell of onions, she wanted to get outside. She was the vicar’s wife, she knew she should fully support her husband, but Sarah didn’t always share his faith and convictions, and she had never quite worked out why God, if he even existed had invented onions. Technically they were part of God’s grand plan for creation, but preparing onion soup for sixty people was beyond the call of duty, so she was only too happy to leave the wretched things festering inside. Sarah loved her husband, and adored harvest festival, but next year they could have ham, melon and a glacé cherry as a first course; then at least she wouldn’t cry.
“Come on you little horror, it’s garden time, I’ll try and give you an answer outside!”
It was lovely, cool, and shady under the oak tree, and sitting Patrick beside her Sarah tried to explain what was going on.
“You see Patrick some things in life are big but not very powerful, yet some things are small yet they can be very painful indeed. Onions are like that, or at least the smell that lies inside. You can’t see it, you can’t hold it, yet it hurts you, and sometimes it makes you cry”
She paused and looked at Patrick, but he was only young, and by the frown on his face Sarah could see that he was still unsure. Sarah had an idea.
“Give me your wand for a moment will you; I‘ll show you what I mean”
Sarah felt a little foolish as she dipped the clothes hanger in the soapy water. she was an adult, but as she drew the hanger through the air, she watched with interest as a large bubble formed, spun, twisted and then drifted in the breeze. For a moment Sarah was a child again; and she didn’t hear the happy burble of Patrick’s childish laughter by her side. Her son’s burble then grew into a shriek of joyous laughter. It broke her concentration, and her daydream; as well as the bubble, which gently popped and then quietly disappeared. It was as if had never been there at all, but as Patrick grabbed the clothes hanger and made a fresh bubble; Sarah could see that the first part of her explanation had firmly nestled within his mind.
Then Sarah picked up an acorn, and put it into Patrick’s hand.
“What do you think that is Patrick, and what do you think it might grow into over time?”
Patrick looked at the acorn carefully, and then turned it over in his hand. He knew it was called an acorn, he knew that squirrels ate it for their dinner; as that is what his form teacher had told him. He knew that it would grow up to be something big and important, but he didn’t know how.
“I know it is that it’s called an acorn, but it seems so very small, hard, and sleepy; and I don’t see what it is doing sitting in a little cup or shell. My teacher says that if it wakes up, it will grow much bigger and stronger, but it’s tiny, and I can’t see how”
He nestled up to his mother, as he was tired from playing; and his mother’s body felt very warm and comforting.
“Tell me a story Mummy, tell me about an acorn. Tell me a story which I’ll understand”
Tell me a story, tell me story which I’ll understand. Sarah had said such words when she was younger, for she had sat with her mother under the tree. But then she had given birth to Patrick, and then it was time for her to tell him the story in turn.
It felt odd yet strangely reassuring, but then Sarah woke up, as a passing bubble flopped and popped over her nose. She opened her eyes briefly. She looked up trunk in and at deep green sleepy branches of the oak tree, then from within the innermost secret caverns of her mind she recalled the story that she herself had been told all those years ago.
The village elders and her mother called it the Victory. They said that mighty ships timbers and yard arms had come from its branches. A battle had been fought, in the English channel, with the Spanish armada, and that such timbers had kept the Spaniards at bay. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow, her mother had told her, and as a child Sarah had rolled the acorns in her hand
As a child Sarah had believed that story, but not now, for the tree had changed so much over the years. Now it stood battered, part hollowed and creaking, and as she looked at its aged branches, it seemed that so little of its once great power remained.
It was an ancient tree now, and Sarah wondered how many of its once fine timbers, if nay timbers, had survived. How many had rotted away, or sunk in deep cold salt water; and how many had survived to lie beached, bleached, and fading on a palm fringed, gleaming, tropical shore.
Sadly it wasn’t just the tree that seemed to be fading, for as she had told the story Patrick had just lain there sleeping. Since then he had never mentioned the story, and as Sarah looked up through the gnarled and knotted branches she still couldn’t decide how much Patrick had heard, and how much had really entered his mind.
Insert Patrick looking at his mum sleeping
“Tell me a story mother, the one I’ve heard before”
Fighting a French frigate and standing proud on the windswept quarterdeck of the Victory, Patrick’s voice tore through her dreams like a broadside across her stern, and as Sarah woke she frowned, for she saw Patrick standing before her with a wicked grin.
“Loathsome child!” Sarah snarled at Patrick.” How about respect for the elderly!”
She was being laughed at, and Sarah didn’t like it; but then she began laughing in return. Patrick was holding an unpeeled onion in his hand.
“Now who’s sleeping beneath the onion bubble tree?”Patrick voice rang out mockingly.“Now who’s guarding England while there’s work and onion soup to be done?”
Patrick began laughing, but deep down Sarah was happy. He had been listening, the old Onion Bubble Tree had once more worked its magic, and Sarah could rest easy now. The relay baton had been passed on successfully, and now she knew that the story of the onion bubble tree story would never die. In the sunshine she listened to Patrick laughing. Then she looked at her grandson who now stood by his side, and at a stream of iridescent bubbles, from hid bubble gun, that flexed, danced, spun, and shimmered in the breeze. Life, it seemed was all about onion bubble trees. Maybe there might be a God all around them; and a master plan, after all.