The Takeaway |
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The Takeaway

By Crystal Brinkerhoff

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The tree stump seemed to call to him.

Come, Boy. Come and sit.

He did so with a heavy sigh, though he could hardly be called a boy anymore. He must be about the oldest person he knew. How lonely that sometimes felt. The only people who knew him now, knew him as an old, stooped over man.

His hand brushed the stump, the grooves of growth rings dry against his wrinkled, paper-thin skin.

No matter where life took him, it always managed to bring him back to the home of his youth. To this tree. Or what was left of it.

He looked up into the cloudless blue sky. There’d been a time that the stump he now sat on had been a tall, beautiful tree. Swinging from the branches and reading in the grass under the shade of the tree, his days had been carefree. He’d had his first kiss under this tree. He smiled at the memory. A redhead named Brenda.

He shifted in place, but it was no use. The stump was solid and unforgiving against his backside, and he had little meat left on his bones. But he didn’t leave. Not yet.

The tree had been good to him. Provided for him during the darkest moments of his life.

When he’d first set out on his own, he’d been so anxious to leave and test his way in the world. But he’d quickly learned the painful lesson of how little the world cares for you without money. The tree had been there then, offering up her apples so he could sell them. He’d gone to school and gotten a job.

But an education and career had not kept the dark times from coming. When his mother had gone to the hospital and never returned home, he’d learned just how uncertain life was. That there were no guarantees. He’d gotten serious about finding someone to settle down with. And for that he’d needed a home. The tree had provided her branches, and he’d built a house.

But the dark times were not over. He’d faced financial ruin, the house that he’d built with his bare hands left to his ex-wife and kids, and he’d had nowhere else to turn. In despair he’d come to the tree again. She’d offered up her trunk, and he’d built a boat.

He was running away. He’d known that even then.

It turned out, sailing was a complicated skill to learn, and he had not been a fast study. But his trip to the sea had been revealing. Mostly he’d figured out that he was an idiot, but more importantly he’d learned that it’s never too late to hope for happiness. Even if you’re an idiot. Especially if you’re an idiot.

Upon his return, he’d gotten a job in a local grocery store and rented a modest apartment on the south end of town. He’d adopted a cat and reconciled with his kids who were grown with kids of their own.

He gave a contented sigh and glanced at his watch. He would be late if he didn’t get going. He groaned with the effort of standing and brushed at his pants. His granddaughter had a birthday party, and he didn’t want to miss it.

His life had been full of mistakes. He’d taken advantage of others, ruined relationships and then worked hard to salvage them. He didn’t know how much longer his body would go on working, but he intended to be grateful for what was left.

As he shuffled away it was as if the tree called after him.

And the boy was happy.

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