Short Story: The Lawrence tree in Leith


Posted by in November's Magazine

After her shower, after she had been dressed by kind hands the care workers had sat Iris beside her bed in the moss green chair filled with foam cushion. She liked it there. There was a window beside her and she could see the sky out of it and feel the breeze on her skin.  

Illustration by David Lynburn

Sometimes she would be sitting with her hands folded in her lap, occasionally smoothing out her skirt aware it was her favourite one covered in little yellow flowers. Other times she would pass the hours by longing for her place amongst the birds that flew above the care home building. Iris wondered what it would feel like to fly in formation, not thinking in words but just knowing things. 

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Oftentimes her body would be in the chair but the whole room would fall away to somewhere else. She was a silver haired time traveller. Suddenly she would find herself looking all the way up her mother’s arm to find her smile beaming down at her as they walked together to the Kirkgate. Or she would be eight and hiding and looking at her feet tucked into her, almost holding her breath so that her brother wouldn’t find her and win hide and seek. 

That afternoon a girl came into Iris’s room. Iris looked at her face as if it was a map she had travelled before. The girls eyes were the deepest brown…they reminded her of holding a baby boy with the same eyes in her arms. The girl cuddled and kissed her and said “hiya gran.” 

She was light, and Iris couldn’t help but grin and reach up and touch her gently on the side of her face that was perfect with youth. She sat herself down on Iris’s bed and began to pull books out of a bag. “Started college on Monday gran…it was amazing honestly, all the lecturers are sound and we got straight into painting.”

George had then kissed her with the tenderness of a whispered question. Their mouths together broke gravity

“That’s good hen.” Iris could remember now. The girl when little was always running, paint on her hands, streaking it across her carpet, and the girl’s Dad giving her a row. Iris had pretended to be cross but part of her had enjoyed the colours that splashed on her cream carpet like a rebellious dream.

“Bought these books today, thought you might like to look with me.” The girl – Amy with the brown eyes and hands covered in paint – opened a book with beautiful flowers painted across the pages. She turned them slowly so Iris could take them in, then one painting made Iris put her hand on the book so Amy didn’t turn the page. Something about it was familiar. The painting was of a tree from the perspective of being underneath it looking up through the branches at night. Iris knew that view.

“Let’s see,” said Amy, reading the tiny writing at the bottom of the page, “that’s The Lawrence Tree by Georgia O’ Keefe gran, do you like it?”

Iris smiled at Amy as, out of the corner of her eye she saw George McKay walk into the room, still fifteen, with curly cropped hair and her boyish smile. George smiled and tapped at her watch. Iris closed her eyes and allowed herself to disappear into another time. To her Lawrence tree, the one in Leith Links.

“Hold on tight Iris!” Iris clung onto the handlebars of George’s big brother’s bike as they cycled down Leith Walk. George’s hands touched hers as she steered the bike with no effort. The streets were silent; the red ribbons in Iris’s hair untangled and flew behind her. 

Reaching the links, George slowly stopped the bike and helped Iris off. They pushed the bike together across the silent space, the grass moved like waves in the night breeze. 

There was one tree in particular, it was huge with branches that created a perfect place to sit and talk, sheltered, it felt secret. 

The girls sat with their backs against the trunk. Iris looked ahead, too shy to take in George’s face, through the grass their hands found each other. Happiness they weren’t meant to have, it made Iris want to cry.  

Time collapsed and folded as if Iris was sped up and watching her and George from somewhere else. The girls were holding hands, looking up through the branches of the tree, the black sky punctuating the space between branches, tiny stars made them hopeful. 

George told Iris quick stories about them escaping Leith for London, Paris in a red hot air balloon, sailing the seven seas with spy glasses and a map, finding somewhere that they could be more than the fact of their biology. George had then kissed her with the tenderness of a whispered question. Their mouths together broke gravity.

Iris left the grass her body hitting every branch of the tree as she fell into the night sky. She span through her entire life after that moment looking for George. 

She was nowhere to be found. 

A breeze came in through the window of her room. The birds circled the care home. Iris looked around but George Mackay had gone. Amy, the girl with the brown eyes and hands covered in paint, looked concerned as she wiped away a quiet tear from Iris’s cheek. 

“Who’s George, Gran?” Iris took her granddaughters hand and tried to speak, but George still held all of her words with her first kiss underneath her Lawrence tree.

The one in Leith Links.

Katy Nixon

Info: Katy dedicates story to Terry

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