There were three of them, always had been as far back as I can remember. Meandering trunks reaching skywards, topped by a splay of green blades. Ever a source of charm and wonder. Not from these or nearby shores, they had unquestionably travelled far to be with us. Always a stimulus for interest and inquiry. Now suddenly they are two, with the third laid out on the damp morning grass. I stand solemn on the lawn before them, distracted in startled loss.
There was no storm last night, no assault of the elements. Even if there had been, that would not explain why only the one tree has succumbed. There is no evidence of human intervention or fungal infection. The remains, on cursory examination, appear healthy if timeworn. Cause of death must be deemed unknown. A matter of time, arbitrarily allotted and eventually spent. A span used up for the one, with the other two left to wonder and worry. I await that same random fate, alone in this cold and empty place.
Three previously indestructible companions, rendered vulnerable in being reduced to two. They had stood side-by-side with roots entwined, swaying as one with the winds. That was the secret of their survival. They habituated to cooler climates and adapted to sandy terrain, and did so without apparent loss of integrity or sense of self. That was their recipe for thriving. I stroke the weathered trunks in an admiration that is tinged with envy.
The Yucca trees overlook a narrow spread of lawn between the house and the road. As a child, I imagined them as floodlights, standing tall to splash green lighting over my stadium of sporting prowess. Ever accommodating of dreams, a constant backdrop to what was home, a resolute marker to be returned to. As a young man, I wondered at their origins and what had brought them to this far flung place. A provocation for my earlier self to explore and learn. As I grew and travelled ever further, their memory held a power to bring me back at the slightest whim. I still seek out their silent company now, in these days of older age.
Exotic novelty has been their gift and their fate. Accepted and welcomed for this, but, for the same reason, never to be at one with those around them. I feel a solidarity with them, in their evocation of my own experience of distant travels. Facility to flourish in surroundings far from their norm, has been their strength and their burden. They surely suffer the demands to hold true to identity and harbour the constant wish for return, the fate of all migrants. I feel an empathy with them, even if my bags had ultimately been packed to good effect.
Spanish Bayonets was how I first knew them, the soubriquet of the coloniser. That was before I knew better. Youthful investigation had established their true identity, and from then I knew them as Yucca trees. Their Aztec origins set our home place apart, rendering me special by association. A history was offered to enthrall, expanding the tired tales of here that I was forever regaled with. Their Mexican roots sparked early ambitions for expedition and discovery. A world was opened up to entice, enlarging the boundaries that confined me. I embrace them for this bounty, in my mind at least.
The three Yucca trees were the only constant on my return, still stood firm outside a shabby and untended house. Beyond their welcome, long absence had rendered me a stranger. Shared points of reference were long forgotten. Perspectives had shifted from earlier alignments. Of short-term interest for being a curiosity, I cannot be at one with kith nor kin for that same reason. Camaraderie is not readily offered to those who leave. I live out the days on a par with the Yucca trees, in my mind at least.
These migrants from Mexico offer safe haven in my confinement to the periphery. They challenge me in our shared grief, though, to attend to the distress of those who are confined well outside any periphery I find myself relegated to. The town hosts an accommodation centre retrofitted to corral those that would migrate or seek refuge here. That same accommodation centre attracts loud and angry remonstration from those that would have them leave. I do reject and decry such abuse, in my mind at least.
Had they arrived in these times, the Yucca trees would have found themselves quarantined in some hastily erected greenhouse. They might well have met a hostile plant life mobilised to reject them, and an angry insect world organised to drive them away, their every move haunted with hatred. That is our way now. Still, there are those in the town who stand for human dignity and seek others to join them in such solidarity. I do hold with them and offer support, in my mind at least.
About the author
Niall Crowley works on equality and human rights. His fiction is published by CafeLit, The Galway Review, Spillwords, Pure Slush and The Writers Club. He was shortlisted for the From the Well short story competition in 2021, 2022, and 2023, and the Colm Toibín International short story award in 2022.
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