Issue #77

Winter 2021

For Want of a Dryad

by Mari Ness

The tree would not stop complaining. I sympathized, to a point; I was hot too. But what, exactly, did the tree expect me to do about it? Other than plant more tiny trees, to suck up the carbon and provide an infinitesimal amount of shade. Enough to – maybe – help out an ant. Maybe.

Though even the ants seemed unimpressed.

"Why can't you bring me real trees? Decent sized trees?"

"This is what I can afford. Besides, you have a huge tree right behind you. That bald cypress."

"He? He never talks to me. I'm far too small for him."

"Your social life isn't my problem."

"It is since you can fix it."

I let that go.

The tree didn't.

"We used to have dryads, trained to care for our every need," the tree mourned. "Water. Nutrients. They even protected us against the wind. And now this. So – so – so – inadequate."

I couldn't dispute this. I was certainly an inadequate gardener.

But I could do better, I thought. I bought a couple more tiny, cheap trees sourced through Etsy.

All wrong, the tree sobbed.

It wasn't just the tree. City officials, too, took what I could only regard as an unhealthy interest in what I did and didn't have in my yard. Talking trees, fine. Something like yellow nutsedge – which never talked back to me – absolutely not fine. The majestically named Caesar weeds, which failed to look imperial in the slightest? What was I thinking? But they came by only once a year or so. The tree sulked day in, day out, even when I threw milkweed seeds nearby.

"What are you doing?"

"The seeds are cheap," I said. "Plus, butterflies and that sort of thing."

"Butterflies," the tree sniffed. "Like they'd come anywhere near something this weedy."

I could still hear the sobs even after I had retreated back into the house. Aggravating barely covered it.

But I admit it: I was sorry when the storm came. The little trees babbled incoherently; the bald cypress was silent. They needed a dryad. I needed a dryad. I sighed, scattered more seeds into the wind, and kneeled down next to the fallen branches, ready to cut them into mulch. The bald cypress seemed to bow, either to me or the new little trees struggling against the breeze. But I could not be sure.

Author Bio

fallen leaf

Mari Ness has published poetry and fiction in, Clarkesworld, Uncanny, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Apex and previously here on The Cafe Irreal. Her poetry novella, Through Immortal Shadows Singing, is available from Papaveria Press, and her essay collection, Resistance and Transformation: On Fairy Tales, is available from Aqueduct Press. She lives in central Florida. For more, follow her on Twitter at @Mari Ness. Her story, "Broomsticks," appeared in Issue #16.