When the woman was still a woman, she kept a special place in her mind where she locked away all of the things which were too unkind to say. Every medical refutation to the woman at work who kept trying to sell her essential oils for her diabetes and her septicemia recovery; each ungenerous observation of the way that her brother wiggled out of doing work whenever there was even the slimmest opportunity to do so; each biting comeback when, in the middle of the night, her husband would make snide remarks about how unkempt her hair looked or the dryness of her skin. And so, when the woman suddenly died of kidney failure before her forty-fifth birthday, there were many people at the wake and the funeral, each of them telling tales of how she was the sweetest, of how accommodating she was to their every need. The woman was never sure if this habit of hers was out of some sense of duty to her mother’s favorite cliché about only speaking when you have something nice to say or if there was some deeper-rooted conflict avoidance sutured into her personality.
When the woman was still in the form of a woman, her odd wishes for burial had been respected. She did not make requests often, as she found that they usually resulted in some kind of contentious negotiation with other people’s whims, but seeing as how she would be dead and not have to deal with any of that like she normally would, the woman decided to indulge herself just this once. So when the woman was buried, it was in an egg-shaped casket, and a tree was planted on top. The tree was young, just starting a life that would likely go on for centuries.
Traditionally, people seemed to request either an ashes-to-ashes cremation or a dust-to-dust burial, but the woman wanted to become a tree. That was how she had first heard about it on the news. Later, she would learn that it was more a person becoming nutrients for a tree, but she supposed that this was not as attractive a pitch. Still, the initial idea had caught her, and she put it in writing in her will. Her husband had laughed at the idea, so she was never sure if he would actually follow through.
When the woman was in the ground, she was nowhere. It was the state of dreamless sleep. Restful, but with nothing cluttering the mind. And as her coffin began to break down, she was already in the same process. She was coming apart to her pieces, to atoms and matter, to her most basic components. She was in many places at once—inside the disintegrating coffin, in the soil, and soon in the roots of her sapling. There was no pain, and not even much in the way of awareness. Her body kept doing its cosmic duty, as did the worms, as did the root cap and the root hairs. Everyone simply moved along in this natural process, and the woman thought that she was finally at peace.
And then it came time for the special place in her mind to degrade. And its secrets spilled into the soil as her mind came undone. It was as they reached the roots and were embraced into the ecosystem of her little tree that the woman heard the whispers. She could not explain it, this return to consciousness. All she knew was that she was in the tree—she was the tree—and she heard each of her suppressed thoughts all around her, quiet and overlapping so that she could not parse them. She did not know what to do, or if there was anything that a woman-tree could do. She had long ago come to the conclusion that the only life after death was the silence of the soil, but it seemed there was something lacking in her theory. She could neither see nor move; she could, however, feel and hear and, by some cruel twist of a miracle, think.
It was the first true storm after the woman became a tree. The ground shook with lightning strikes and her branches trembled with the winds, some breaking off entirely. The woman did not know it was possible to retain fear after death; it seemed both an impossible and a ludicrous notion. The tree convulsed against the storm.
And then it hit: the lightning struck directly down the middle, all the way through to the ground.
The sapling split in two perfect halves, each curling away from the other.
And the woman walked out of the middle, reformed in her human visage. Her thoughts were nothing but the regrets which she had taken with her to the grave. The woman knew that she would have no peace until she had personally delivered the loudest and most insistent of her silenced conflicts.
She began to walk through the storm-soaked grove, an arisen woman on a mission.
Audrey T. Carroll is a Best of the Net nominee, the editor of Musing the Margins: Essays on Craft (Human/Kind Press, 2020), and the author of Queen of Pentacles (Choose the Sword Press, 2016). Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Hawaii Pacific Review, CRAFT, Miracle Monocle, So to Speak, and others. She is a bi/queer and disabled/chronically ill writer who serves as a Diversity & Inclusion Editor for the Journal of Creative Writing Studies. She can be found at http://audreytcarrollwrites.weebly.com and @AudreyTCarroll on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.