The Olive Grove: Part I


Darkness still covered the olive grove when he arrived. The morning fog hung low and the fog clung to roots of the trees and the trunks seemed to float – like the ghost of a mangrove forest at high tide. The cast of their gnarled branches, flung long by a horizon-high moon, wound and danced on the shifting mist. These shapes – serpentine shadows – taunted him. They were the guilt in his chest released and made material. Even the leaves, shivering in the slight breeze, sounded a snaky sibilance. It was the only sound in the grove, but for the sure tread of his sandals, and the writhing beat of his traitor heart.

He walked until he found what he was looking for – an old tree, dead standing.

Putting down the bundle he began work. Laying his left palm on the trunk, he tapped with his right, just as his master had taught him. Systematically, he went, until he saw it clearly. Yes, this tree would do nicely. He turned back to the bundle and unrolled it on the hard-baked earth. He took out a saw and started work and when he had what he needed he sat back against the tree. The curve of the trunk cupped his back and he leant into the trunk. Turning the wood in his hands, he visualised what he needed to do. Once he had the plan clear in his head, he picked up the chisel.

With singular focus he carved. He didn’t stop when the sun rose and burned through the morning fog. He continued to work through the midday sun and he didn’t seek shade when the sun began to burn him. Sweat pooled on his brow and and ran down his face, but he didn’t stop to mop it. When his hands blistered he carried on carving and when those blisters popped and his blood streaked the olive wood’s grain he continued to work. By mid-afternoon he had finished. After sanding his object smooth, he had waxed and polished it and now the carving lay across his palm with a mirror sheen – it embodied all the emotions he felt: betrayal, confusion, abandonment, inevitability… One of them would understand.

He stood up and stretched, sighing with with satisfaction as his back and sternum clicked. His mouth was dessert dry, but his mind dessert calm. Yes, one of them would understand. At peace now he stood. All that venomous spite that had leered at him when he first came to the olive grove was gone – he had channelled into his offering.

As if following some preordained path he removed the rest of the tools from the bundle and laid them on the floor in a row, next to the carving. He took up the bundle – a long muslin sheet – and threw one end over an olive branch. Making it secure, he made a noose with the other end. Standing on the edge of the dry stone wall that the tree overhung, took in the valley with all its depth and beauty then he took a breath and he stepped forward. He sighed with satisfaction as his neck snapped.