A little girl woke with a nail clutched in each hand.
She crept into the kitchen, ate a piece of bread, and headed straight for the backyard, where the weeping willow waited. The little girl, waving the nails, asked in a voice new to the tree, “May I hurt you?”
The tree was stunned, many times having sheltered this little girl after yelling and hits. She would drop her long, slender branches like flaps of a tent around the girl and her fear. There the girl might sleep, or read a book—sometimes aloud. The tree listened.
The little girl stared at the tree, waiting. Still the willow did nothing. So the girl yelled, again startling the tree, “I’m going to hurt you!” and got closer, waving both nails.
Already confused, now frightened, the tree bent down and with the thinnest of long slender branches tied the little girl to her trunk.
The girl slept deeply, pressed up against the smoothness of bark. When she awoke she twisted and wriggled a hand free, untied herself, and slipped down the trunk. Before she left she placed the first nail between the willow’s limbs. The second she slid in her shoe.
As she walked slowly toward the backdoor of her house, the girl reached down, retrieved the nail, clutched it in her right hand.
The tree watched and worried as the little girl grew smaller with each step away. Her books had often been full of terror and rage. But there had never before been a nail.
SUSAN FLYNN has been published in Late Peaches, An Anthology of Sacramento Poets; No Achilles, An Anthology of War Poetry; Tule Review; Oberon Poetry Magazine; and Cosumnes River Journal. She has also attended several writing workshops and studied under Mark Doty, Fenton Johnson, Carl Phillips, Susan Kelly-DeWitt, Kate Asche, and Pat Schneider. Susan has her BA in American Literature and her PhD in Clinical Psychology, and currently works as a clinical psychologist and a university professor. She lives in Sacramento and enjoys fly fishing, writing, photography, and playing the piano.