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InfertilitiesJoseph Nicholson

Joseph Nicholson
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This story was shortlisted for the Writers Rebel Flash Fiction Competition.


Daddy said, help me bury it. So I stood, rain plicking off my hood, watching him steam with the spade in the hole. Come on then, he said, and I cast in the dirt I’d clawed up, already a wet clod in my palm. We had to cover the white things, hide them. When we’d stamped the soil into flatness he told me, That’s yours, that is.

It was already trembling, just a thin whip of tree. But it took, somehow. Grew taller and taller, year on year. If I lay in its shade I’d sometimes feel a lick of cobweb in the air, or the fluster of a bird’s wings in the distant aboveness. Bees hovered up and down the trunk, past the hundreds of narrow eyes watching over me. One summer the tree swelled with tiny fruits, first gold then crimson red. Daddy made me spit out the bitter when I tried one, he stood over me crying at the sink saying Never, never, never do that again. But that didn’t stop the starlings pecking at them in the grass, like breadcrumbs. After Daddy got sick and we sold the house the new owners hacked it down, they wanted designer decking and it was in the way. My tree, and what did I do about it?

There’s another rowan now. It’s in the wall outside my office window. Under the numbing light of meetings I stare at it clasping into the not-quite-nothing between the bricks, rooting in air. Just a scrap of leaves, held into the wind like a leap of faith. It somehow endured when the heat came last summer, pressing greenly against a dryness nobody had ever seen before. It should have another two hundred years, whole centuries to reach into its promise – upwards, outwards. I’d give it a year here, if that. Soon, it’ll be too big, too grown to carry on living.

Funny how it keeps trying though, creating itself out of unwelcome. No sense of the trees that have failed before or the death ahead of it. Every time I see a sapling like that, something faint inside me wills survive, survive, though I know it won’t, how could it, surrounded by people like us, in a place like this?


Joseph Nicholson is a writer living in west London, near the canal. Alongside writing fiction, he works in a creative agency, making campaigns and films for charities and NGOs. 


He writes: “When I was very small, I planted a rowan tree in the garden of my childhood home. It grew beautifully – magical and wild. And like the tree in the story, it was cut down by new residents – people who didn’t think it was fashionable enough. The climate emergency is so overwhelmingly enormous, impossible to process intellectually. But I think we do understand the fragility of the world through the particulars of nature: the smaller things, like that rowan. A tree that a little child wonders at, a tree that for some is totally disposable. And the thing is, though the human age can feel maddening, crushing, almost hopeless, life clings on. New trees seed, and grow – somehow. The story isn’t finished. Not yet.”