Prompt: "Women are like a different species or something."
Happy Earth Day, everyone. Go planting or digging!
Even when Henriette was a little girl, she had this thick and earthy strength about her which bordered on the unnatural. Everything about Henriette was like this; she ran harder, yelled louder, lasted longer, grew taller, played wilder, ate more, spilled more, laughed more, broke more, did more than any other little girl ever, real or imagined. She became a danger to have in the house. Bull in a china closet, the adults would say amongst themselves when the dire prospect of a sleepover presented itself. These were the same type of adults who said things like what doesn’t kill makes you stronger, and strong paths, strong shoes, as if they had any idea of the truth of the matter. This last one was especially hard for Henriette to understand. Her hands and feet looked suspiciously like shovels, and shoes never seemed to last on her. But her life was always full of friends and of fun, so she paid very little heed to the mutterings.
Big and bold as she was, Henriette favored being out of doors amongst things growing as fiercely as she. Picnics, tree-house building, camping — you name it — Henriette was Johnny on the Spot. On camping trips, for instance, she was often named the Firewood Fetcher (in part because it was too perilous to leave her near an open flame), and she was swift and sure about it. One late afternoon, Mrs. M., the mother of Henriette’s dainty friend Joanna Mason, sent Henriette to go looking for firewood about as big as her arm.
“Sure thing, Mrs. M,” Henriette had said, bellowing. And she disappeared into the forest, the smaller plants positively jumping out of her way as she struck off into the wild. The day leaned into dusk, and dusk leaned into night. Mrs. M. began to fret. She knew Henriette to be nigh indestructible, but one usually worries about an eleven year old girl in a strange forest under nightfall, if only as a matter of propriety. Then, presently and from a distance, strange crashing sounds reached the ears of the small huddle of girls around their teeny little fire. The crashing was growing closer and closer to the camp.
“That’ll be Henriette,” Mrs. M. said, letting relief flood her voice. The girls shifted on their campfire logs. Not two moments later and Henriette stood before them, her dark hair sweaty and stuck to her freckly face as she dragged herself and her quarry up to the fire pit.
“There you go, Mrs. M.,” she said, “that ought to last us the whole trip. Ain’t you proud of me?” Her gasps were loud and breathy as she tried to talk. There, some forty feet behind her, stretched a slim maple tree — branches, leaves and all — the rootball of which now lay near the fire pit. Its trunk was about the size of Henriette’s arm, which frankly was very thick for any girl, let alone one who was eleven years old.
“For heaven’s sakes, Henriette! You brought us a whole tree to burn?!” You see, this was the type of thing to which Henriette was predisposed. In addition to her great strength, she tended to be a very literal sort of girl. “We can’t burn that; it’s green wood! That won’t burn for ages, you silly goose!” And Henriette looked around the wispy flames of the campfire to the other girls, faces all morose since there would likely be no s’mores that night.
“I — I – I —,” Henriette had said, trying very hard indeed to keep from sniffling, “I only did what you, you, you asked. I’m very sorry, Mrs. M.”
“There, there, dear. All’s well that ends well, I always say. Don’t you worry one bit about it. I reckon you’re hungry, ain’t you? There, there. Now over to the picnic table with you, and get yourself something good to eat before it gets too black out here.” Mrs. M. did all she could to keep for laughing out loud. One never knew what would happen when Henriette was along.
While Henriette had made herself a very large sandwich which may or may not have been salted with tears, she’d turned frequently to glare at the maple tree stretching beside the table, between the tents, and into the forest. “I can’t believe you’d do this to me,” she’d loudly hissed at the tree, not caring a fig if the girls could hear her or not. “Here I am, ‘posed to bring back firewood, and you up and ain’t even the right kind. Too good to burn for me? You mean, selfish thing, you!” Then gave the ground a stamp. And the tree had stood, dragging it’s great gangly length up from between the tents, pulling its rootball underneath itself until it stood before Henriette, drooping its branches before her as if ashamed. It thrust out its roots and walked to the campfire, lowering itself in a very sad, dignified way into the swiftly rising flames, fanning itself with its own branches until the whole base of it was alight.
That night the girls had many, many s’mores, and Henriette and her friend the maple tree had been the heroes of the trip.
As Henriette grew from a little girl into a young girl, and a young girl into a big girl, and then into a young woman and finally a full grown woman, things which would have once seemed strange to the town became familiar happenings, like maple trees committing dignified suicides, and crystal goblets digging out hiding spots in the walls to hide from Henriette’s sight in case of special occasions, or rains showering bright orangy-red tulip petals Henriette loved instead of actual water drops. Nobody thought a thing about it.
One time Henriette planted a gingerbread house and with pure heart and strength of will demanded it grow so that the Johnson's, a very nice family who moved north following Hurricane Katrina, would have a place to live of their very own. When Mr. and Mrs. Johnson got their divorce not three years later, the house came and knocked on Henriette’s door and informed her it was moving away, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Rather than throw a fit, Henriette saw at once the house blamed itself, and she felt very sorry for it. So she gave it her last bag of gumdrops as a going away present, and told it she hoped it would have a wonderful life, and they parted as friends.
Then the day came when Mrs. M., who’d over time become even closer to Henriette than her own daughter, realized it was time for talk.
“My dear,” she’d began as they sat swinging on Henriette’s porch swing, “it’s time you up and got a man. Got settled down. Married. Ain’t you getting lonely yet?” The sun beat down on the low slung porch roof, fat bees bumbling around the hanging airplane plants spinning slow in the wind. Henriette tried, yet again, to keep from crying. After her own parents were laid to rest, it had been a bit lonely in the house, perhaps, but she still had her friends. Even the gingerbread house saw to a monthly email.
“I suppose,” Henriette said, voice booming as she tried to sound extra strong, extra secure, “but I haven’t really thought much about it.”
“Well,” Mrs. M. advised, “I think maybe it’s time you do. My dear, you may be a species of woman all your own, but well, you’ll still need company from time to time. So you think about it.”
And so Henriette did. She thought about it and thought about it, for as a very strong, literal woman, she hadn’t the slightest idea how to “up and get” a man. Wasn’t like she could walk into the wild and pull one up, like she had all those years ago with the maple, after all. Or was it?
Or was it?
A week and one night later, the woods outside of town found Henriette crashing through their midst under a blossoming full moon, deep orange at its far edge. They whispered and rustled against one another.
“Hello, woods,” Henriette called. The woods were gratified that finally someone bothered to address them while stamping and stomping all their pretty and useful undergrowth into bits. “I was told I’m supposed to up and get a man…I don’t quite know where to find him, but you wild places seem to have so very much of just everything, why, just an abundance, you see, that I thought perhaps you might help me out, just a bit? I’m sure a great, big, fine forest like yourself must have the absolute best when it comes to men, you know, just lying about.” And stomp, crash, stamp, went her shovel-like feet through the undergrowth, but the woods didn’t really care, for it was so nice to be flattered in such a manner. “Oh please,’ Henriette continued, “I’d be so very grateful if you could help. I don’t know how I could ever repay you; but I swear I would try. Oh, please help me.”
And the forest simply couldn’t ignore the plea. Next thing she knew, she’d bumped right into him. He was actually taller than Henriette, very tall in fact, with a distinct tree look about him. He looked at her. She looked at him.
Love. Love at first sight, love at first moment, love at first everything. The sky sprinkled tulip blossoms every rainy day for ten years straight, and together they created a life full of wonder and affection. Twenty more years passed, and though the days of tulip petal rains were over, the young couple rooted themselves in each other so deeply they became a single entity; Henriette and George, or George and Henriette. One way or another, referencing them required a single breath instead of two. And their lives were good and strong together, albeit odd, considering George was at least one part forest, and Henriette, well, was weird enough without a earthy tree-man at her side.
As their love grew, so did the size of the town. With its growth came the fated day when Mrs. M., now quite old, came hobbling up the walk to see Henriette and George, tiny red cedars skipping behind her as she hurried her cane over the concrete slabs.
“Henriette and George, come out,” she called in a wavery warble as she came up the walk, the little trees snatching at her skirts and trying to steal her cane. “Henriette and George, it’s just awful! They’re bulldozing! Henriette and George, come out here right quick!”
When Henriette heard the word “bulldozing,” the sap of her blood ran so fast her feet began to speed her body right across the foyer’s floor. She ran out the door, George hurrying in the distance behind her, towel around his neck from his half-completed shave (poor George had to shave three or four times the day in good weather; his stubble looked vaguely like ferns of some sort). While she ran, she felt the strength gathering in her limbs, like a tornado or earthquake or some other wide and ominous event waiting to happen.
For the day of payback had arrived. As Henriette ran, growing stronger and stronger, with her George running behind her, the bulldozers one by one broke themselves just because they knew that if they didn’t, Henriette would do it, and it was the chivalrous thing to do in such a situation. Drivers jumped from their high seats to the ground in surprise; Mrs. M. darn near had a heart attack. For when they turned about to investigate the cause, there was nobody around, save a mighty, mighty maple tree or two standing sentinel at the town’s edge, swaying back and forth in the wind.