A Cloak of Shimmering Gold by Susan Mellsopp
Green slid irrevocably into gold that shimmered in the darkening sunlight. As the first autumn winds slid around the hills, and down into the narrow valley, the mornings closed in on a carpet of cascading leaves which fell at the bottom of the tree. The dying remnants of a glorious hot and dry summer began to scatter in many directions as the mistral tumbled towards an unknown destination.
The golden cloak was short lived. A procession of cows, almost dry with their udders hanging loose and wrinkled, trampled the falling leaves. A motorbike constantly roared past and ground the cloak into the muddy ruts without a care. Horses, large eventers, stamped the leaves into a paste with their huge hooves as they joyfully cantered up the long farm race.
Then there was the woman. She seemed sad, lost, separated from the reality which had previously shone from her presence. Nowadays she often came with her brown dog and sliding carefully down the bank sat and watched the river as it sparkled and eddied in the early morning light. Several trout rose to the surface looking for sustenance but they no longer seemed to excite her. At other times when the sun was high in the sky she seemed to meditate mournfully as her eyes streamed with tears which slid onto the soft gold carpet. The tree knew she was unhappy, and tried to bend his branches to embrace the kindly woman. Sometimes she picked up his leaves and threw them into the water, watching as they disappeared into a future as unknown as hers. The faithful dog sat at her side, often looking quizzically at her mistress. She frequently hugged the gentle dog tightly and sobbed into it’s gorgeous soft coat. Then the woman would leave, reluctantly dragging her feet as she returned to her daily drudgery, seeing yet not feeling.
The tree wondered why, at his advanced age, his survival seemed to have been assured. Guessing his presence was only required to stabilize the bank so the farm race did not slip into the winding river, he sighed. More golden leaves rained down. He always managed to smile, even as the black and white bovines took little interest in his daily musings, soft lush grass was all they wanted. Shivering slightly, more gold leaves gathered in great numbers in the nearby grove of trees.
Soft curling breezes increased as autumn pushed past summer. The tree began to feel almost naked. Leaves blew in every direction now and surrounding paddocks were covered in a mist of disintegrating mulch. Trying to cover himself, the tree allowed the winds to bend his branches and hold them against his ageing trunk.
Then one day no one came. The cows disappeared, the horses were gone, and that sad lady with the gorgeous dog was missing. Silence brought immense sadness. As the tree drooped into its own loss the quiet became fearful. Any remaining leaves scattered in the cold grey wind and the sky grew dark and foreboding.
Late one afternoon two burly men arrived with chainsaws. Tree realized he was now surplus to requirements. As the chainsaws roared to life tree stared at his home of decades and slowly died as branches dropped into the river or fell and blocked the raceway. Yellow lichen shook in disbelief as its home was tethered then fell to be sawn into many undistinguishable circular pieces. The golden cloud was no more, life had been extinguished. Yet, tree has never been forgotten by its friend, the sad woman. Its cloak of gold is forever wrapped around her.