Echoes of Laughter

Stuart Vail

The old apricot tree in the northeast corner
of my former backyard looked gaunt, dried-out, and tired.
Nothing about it even hinted at its once-prolific self,
the robust bearer of a lifetime of wonderful fruit.

Each summer my son’s mother and I
filled the surface of the wading pool with apricots—
much to the great delight of our little one
who swam amongst the floating sweetness,

eating merrily in the world’s largest “apricot bob.”
What he didn’t eat, we ate, canned, or froze.

Our son knew every square-inch of that tree.

Four little slats of wood nailed to the trunk
opened up to him a whole new world;
peering over the ivy-covered fence
he could see Morocco, Everest, and beyond.

Completely hidden by the leafy greenery,
he would play with the many characters
of his fertile imagination
in the great tree.

A rope tied from a branch to the fence provided a
dare-devil escape over the crocodile-infested waters below.

What dangers he encountered once reaching the fence, only he knew.

His mother and I are now divorced.
I visited the old backyard recently
and saw that the apricot tree is now mostly dead.
Its few struggling branches can barely produce
a handful of leaves,
and have long forgotten the fruit.

Or perhaps not.

Is it possible the tree may still “remember”
the fertile years encoded in its rings,
remember the lush pregnancy of summer,
the many hands reaching up to its abundance,
the little boy climbing into its gentle embrace?
Would the tree remember my son today?

If my now twenty-plus-year-old were to climb
to his old familiar resting spot in the crook of the branches,
what would happen?

I would like to think that the life-energy force from my son
would somehow be felt by his old companion,
perhaps awakening something in the brittle wood.

One can never go back. Dead is dead.
I have a wonderful new life now,
with a fertile and promising future.

The old apricot tree will only, however,
flourish in my memory as I think of the backyard
and my young son playing in the branches;

as I hear the echoes of laughter from the pool,
and taste the lingering sweetness of the distant fruit.
In that way, and only in that way, can one go back.


©2002 Stuart Vail