Books are gentle companions. Usually.
Except for that one time I was just about murdered by books.
That was twenty years ago . . .
I didn't know what to do with my ... [+]
"When are you coming back down?" her parents asked her an hour later.
"Never," said Tracy Jo.
Her mother and father had more questions, of course. Parents always do. They took turns asking them.
"What will you do when you're hungry?" asked Tracy Jo's mother.
"Eat plums," said Tracy Jo, plucking one off the branch as she spoke.
"What will you do when you're thirsty?" asked her father.
"Plum juice," his daughter responded, tilting back her head and squeezing the fruit over her open mouth. "Delicious!"
"What about when it rains?" (her mother, again).
"I brought my raincoat," said Tracy Jo. It was hanging over a branch close by. So was her pillow, and her favorite blanket with the stars on it.
Tracy Jo's father scratched his head and said, "But what will you do in the winter? Plums don't grow all year."
Tracy Jo thought for a while, and answered, "I'm sure that when people see a little girl stuck up a tree with no food to eat, they'll share some of their own when they walk past. Especially if she sings them a song."
Her mother came up with the next question.
"What about your education?"
"I've got books—tons of them," said Tracy Jo, pointing upward. The highest branches of the plum tree were full of books of every kind, like bunches of colourful birds. There were picture books, novels, even a lot of thick, heavy books that bent the branches down low. As a very clever girl, Tracy Jo knew that, as she got older, she wouldn't be reading picture books any more. Grownups like to read very big, dull books, so she found the biggest, dullest ones she could find. One of them was a phone book.
"Books are one thing," said the girl's father. "But what will you do for exercise?"
"That's what the skipping rope is for," said Tracy Jo, pointing to the blue, snakelike thing tangled up in the branches.
Tracy Jo's parents whispered to themselves for a few minutes. Then they both said, "Alright."
"Alright?" said Tracy Jo.
Her mother nodded.
"If you really want to live in a tree your whole life," she said, "there's nothing we can do to stop you."
"Really?" said Tracy Jo.
"Really," answered her father.
Tracy Jo grinned.
Everything went just as Tracy Jo had planned. Whenever she was hungry, she picked a plum. Whenever she was bored, she plucked up a picture book. Whenever she felt like exercise, she untangled her skipping rope. That always took so long, and was such hard work, that she needed a nice, long nap afterward.
When winter came, and all the plums dried up, Tracy Jo sang to people as they strolled by.
"Adorable child!" they'd cry, and give her some of their groceries. So many people gave her awful things like onions and celery, though, that Tracy Jo started singing made-up songs with titles like "Cake is Great," and "Little Girls Love the Chocolate Cookies with the White Stuff in the Middle." That helped a bit.
Now and then, the girl's parents would step outside and say, "Are you sure you don't want to come down now?" But Tracy Jo would always answer, "No, thank you."
And so the years rolled on. The little girl grew bigger, and taller, and older, until she wasn't a little girl anymore. No, she was a woman. Her mother was an old woman now, her father an old man. The two of them decided they'd move to Florida, where there's lots of sunshine and orange juice and other things that old people enjoy.
"Are you sure you don't want to come with us?" they asked their daughter before they left. "No, thank you," Tracy-Jo said. Then she went back to reading the phone book.
"Suit yourself," said her parents.
And off they went.
It sounded like . . . snoring.
Squinting in the moonlight, Tracy Jo noticed something she'd never noticed before. On the lawn across the street, high in the branches of a tall peach tree, was a man. He was about her age—and fast asleep.
"Hey!" Tracy Jo shouted. She shouted it a few times, actually.
"Hmm? What? Yes?" said the man at last, rubbing his eyes and sitting upright.
"How long have you been living in that tree?"
"The tree?" said the man, sleepily. "Let's see..." He counted his fingers for about ten minutes, then blurted out, "All my life!"
"Really?" said Tracy Jo, astonished. She'd been so busy reading and eating plums and untangling her skipping rope that she hadn't noticed.
"What's your name?" she asked.
"Preston," said the man. "Preston Rice."
"Not a very good name," said Tracy Jo.
"No it isn't. But it's the only one I've got."
The two were quiet for a while.
"Where are your parents?" Tracy Jo asked Preston, eventually.
"They moved away," he said, a little sadly.
"Mine too," said Tracy Jo—a little sadly as well.
There was an even bigger quiet. The bigger a quiet is, the harder it is to think of the right words. Luckily, Preston came up with something.
"I'm curious," he said. "Do you ever get . . . lonely?"
"Absolutely not!" yelled Tracy Jo, crossing her arms. Then she added, in a smaller voice, "Just once in a while."
"Me too," said Preston. "Once in a while." Then he cleared his throat and said, "Well . . . with you all alone in that tree . . . and me all alone in this one . . . do you think . . . we should just . . . move into the same tree?"
"That's the silliest thing I've ever heard!" snapped Tracy Jo. "And yes, we should," she added.
"Really?" said Preston.
"Really," said Tracy Jo, smiling.
Who can say why?