from the barren dirt grew an olive tree

by | Feb 13, 2024 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Seven

It’s the smell that wakes her up. Smoke invades her bedroom through the shattered window; they are burning the neighbor’s house. He must be seventy now, or older. His son has long since disappeared, dissolved into nothingness like the sugar he lent her for tea once. Back when there was still sugar. And tea. She cannot do much, but still she runs, bare feet stinging on sharp rocks, until she reaches his door. The hooting and cheering has faded away, a warning call of terror for the rest of the village. But she cannot worry about everyone. She can only try to suppress her shaking rage as she holds the neighbor’s hand. Her other hand brushes the blood from his eyes. She gently tilts his head up. “The stars are as beautiful as your son was”, she whispers. His final cough reminds her of her childhood cat. Now the cat is gone, and so is her neighbor. Soon, she too will be gone. She screams at the sky, but the rising sun glares back at her silently.

She is still sitting there when they return. “Hey, whore, crying over your friend?” one of them yells. His friends laugh and make mocking crying sounds. The world goes red. It only fades back into clarity after the rock leaves her hand. For one shining moment it sails across the open space. But the anger that clouded her reasoning also clouded her aim, and so it falls short. It bounces harmlessly off one of their shins and drops to the ground, echoing in the newly-minted silence. The man’s face matches the blood on his shirt. All at once the wolf pack is upon her, the silence exploding into a mushroom cloud of “bitch”, “whore”, “filthy entitled woman”. There are hands on her, so many hands, desecrating every inch of her. Their boots leave dents down her spine as she tries to shield herself.

The horrible cries turn celebratory as one of the men produces a knife. He directs the others to hold her down, pinning her left arm. One of them twists her hair into his hand. She grits her teeth, refusing to let out her pained scream. She is not as successful in holding back tears. The one holding her hair makes her watch as the knife pierces her skin. The other, on top of her now, makes eye contact as he pushes the blade deeper. Her lips are raw, but she will not make a sound. He starts to carve into her skin. The foreign word is omnipresent in her life, so she knows before he’s finished. “Slut”, in his language, takes form on her skin. Her blood flows into the soil. The men cheer. On the final letter, he pushes the knife even further into her skin, and finally she cannot take it anymore. Her scream forces its way out. She can feel his hardness against her. 

The next day, there is a singular sprout breaking the blood-soaked ground. She finds a chipped cup and fills it halfway with precious water. She brings it to the plant, slowly pours it over the soil. There are a few drops left, and they drip down her throat, a blessing in the hot sun. She sits criss-crossed beside the sprout. She tells it stories of the men, what they do when they come. She tells it about the missing: the neighbor’s son, her best friend from college, the girl she used to play with as a child, her sister’s husband. She tells it about the midnight raid and how they took the delicate gold necklace her father had bought her, back when he was alive and they were allowed to buy gold. Her stomach rumbles; she hasn’t moved for hours. But she cannot stop talking, and anyway, she knows her cupboards are barren. By nightfall, the sprout has grown into a two-foot tree.

It’s a matter of days before the tree bears fruit. The most beautiful, glistening olives she has ever seen weigh down its branches. She stares up at them for a long time, watching them shine in the sunlight. She holds out her hand, and a perfect olive drops straight into it. Her parents had worked in the groves; she knows what good olives taste like. This one is otherworldly. The soft ripe flesh breaks apart in her mouth, fragrant and tangy. She unwraps her scarf and holds it out beneath the branches. A rainstorm of olives. She wraps her bounty gently, cradling it like a precious newborn into her kitchen.

The man tips over the glass bowl, scattering the olives. She sits on the floor, zip ties branding her wrists, watching a lone olive roll underneath her couch. Behind her, another pack of hollering men ransack her house. Their faces blend into those of their predecessors, just as twisted with hatred, just as foreign against the backdrop of home. Tattered pieces of her clothes cover the floor. Her favorite lipstick is smeared into the carpet. The man in the kitchen calls his friend, and they take pleasure in eating her olives in front of her. They spit the seeds at her face, and soon her skin is wet with their saliva. Just as one of them reaches over for more, the first man drops to the ground. His limbs start to twitch, mouth foaming. Twin blood rivers stream from his eyes. The others barely have time to scream before they join him. Incoherent moans bubble from their throats, breaking through the pink froth. She watches them flop on her kitchen floor, beached fish, until they go still. Her nose tells her they had soiled themselves in their final moments. For the first time in recent memory, she smiles.

Later, another man demands she eat the olives herself. They are just as delicious as she remembers. She closes her eyes, savoring the memory of their destruction. “See, sir, I didn’t kill them,” she says, smiling innocently. “Their blood was already poisoned.”

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