Saturday, August 25, 2018

SHOWCASE: “The Very Last Time I Will Ever Have Sex with a Tree,” by Nathan Cromwell

How, you might wonder, did I end up in a public park with my pants around my ankles and my—er, parts—pinched inside a tree? Long story short, I met a brunette at Retox, she was hot and I was tipsy, and I didn’t check her I.D. Even sober I hate asking a woman to prove she’s real: choose the right moment, it’s awkward; choose the wrong moment, it can scotch the whole deal; and if you choose no moment, you can end up imprisoned by a tree.

Three years ago, according to the most popular theory, the rise of science and the decline in respect for religion pulled modern beliefs back just enough to let the older ones peep through again—not anything big, like gods, but an occasional pixie, goblin, sylph…or dryad. At first these beings terrified and delighted everyone, but after the novelty wore off they became nuisances. And vice-versa: a troll might settle under a bridge, ready to harass passers-over the next morning, only to wake up inside a full-blown homeless encampment and rounded up in a NIMBY-powered police sweep. After a while the mythicals blended, somewhat, into modern life, but you can’t take the tale out of the fairy, if you get me. Even disguised, something irresistible in an idealized, belief-animated figment hurries a man’s pulse.

So my little Myrtle suggested we go to the park, away from the noise and the crowds, and my scrotum agreed. Well, one thing led to another, until, with her arms and legs entwined around me, she suddenly blurted out that she wanted me to be her husband.

“We’ll talk later,” I grunted—reasonably, I thought.

She didn’t unhook her legs, but did slide her palms to my chest and push her upper back against the tree trunk we’d been using for support. I was still managing well enough, but from the expression on her face I realized I should probably hurry. She asked me if I would at least keep seeing her, and—women like honesty, I keep hearing—I said no, I hadn’t planned on it. That’s when her Old-World-mores-colliding-with-a-modern-era’s fury kicked in, and, planting her feet on the ground, she transformed into a tree.

That segment of evening was late-ish to expect casual park-goers, and too early for sloppy drunk couples—I guess I’m ahead of the curve there, always have been. Finally, some dink in a dashiki strolled along. I gave him a hearty halloo, but he took one glance and was quickly gone.

I couldn’t help how I appeared—belly plastered against bark, wading in a puddle of pants—because being solidly tethered at mid-point left me unable to bend.

I pleaded with Myrtle, but it was like talking to a tree, because she was.

Later, after two more avoiders-by, a woman seemed compelled to come my aid. She wore a very judgmental expression for someone who, being at least in her sixties, must have seen it all, especially if she lived in or near this neighborhood. She shoved her fistful of Watchtowers into her purse and approached—though not close. I asked if she could help.

“How?” she replied, logically enough.

I didn’t know how either, but by this time I’d sobered up enough not to get mad. Instead I just shrugged and looked helpless, hoping to inspire her to think a little damned harder.

“Young man, why haven’t you called the police? It’s why we pay them, after all.”

A fair question, but an idea I had earlier dismissed. “I can’t reach my phone, and if I could, I don’t think sex in a public park is strictly legal, so I’d prefer not to involve them.”

She nodded—a vacant one, not the type that indicated synapses rushing to find new and exciting solutions. Since I had given up trying to sweet-talk Myrtle, I decided to pitch my other plan.

“Do you think you could lay your hands on an axe? A saw? A chisel or an auger? Mayb—”

The wood tightened, an obvious expression of disapproval that instead wound up being the most powerful Kegel squeeze in my history. I pounded the trunk and cried aloud. When I settled down, I was surprised to see the old woman still there.

“I’m sorry, young man, but it’s against the law to cut down trees in a public park—that would be vandalism.”

“This isn’t a park tree. Wasn’t here yesterday, was it? Why would they plant one tree smack against another?”

I got another squeeze. My eyes teared up and I let out a low growl. When my head cleared I was amazed to find the old woman still there, caught miserably between charity and common sense.

“I really haven’t memorized every tree in the park. I really couldn’t.”

“Look, you were young once. I’ll bet you found yourself in situations like this all the time. Show a little spunk and give me a hand.”

My Spanish is not so good as to decipher what she said, but I gisted that I had somehow offended her, confirmed when she stormed away while reeling off unfamiliar nouns and verbs.

I returned to blandishing the dryad, but if it were possible for a tree to be stony, this one was damned petrified. As I was trying to flatter her into forgetting the cutting tools proposition, I heard a chortle. Looking to my right, I saw a satyr.

I like satyrs: for one, they don’t change form, unlike some magical creatures I could name. With a satyr, you know what you’ve got. And they can be so charming. I grinned. Here I could get some empathy and maybe help.

“Hello. I seem to be in a bit of a bind. Do you have any experience with this sort of thing?”
 He stood, thinking, his body motionless but for the twitching, heartbeat-metronome of his priapism. I noted this tic, and also realized the satyr was considering my naked rump.

This is the downside of satyrs, no matter how amiable, captivating, and merry: they are undifferentiating sensualists—equally happy with a rare vintage or a box of cheap grape; content to gobble either the haughtiest cuisine or browse in a dumpster; and true believers that a hole is a hole is a hole. This is very catholic of them, but I myself am a specialist.

“On second thought, I’m good. Me and my girl here are just having a tiff—you know how things go. This will all blow over, and how we will laugh.”

The satyr grinned. “Would your girlfriend like a little help? I’m at loose ends at the moment, and things here seem a bit . . . stuck. Allow me to liven them up.”

“No, thank you. We’re good,” I said, as the satyr capered about the path, playing his pipes and shooting friendly nods and winks. This made me laugh, in spite of myself, and he gamboled over and started chucking my chin. Fortunately, a housefrau rounding the bend attracted his attention. He trotted towards her and stopped a respectful distance from her outstretched can of pepper spray.

“Excuse me, miss,” he said to her, “do you possess any olive or coconut oil? Corn Husker’s lotion?” At her disavowals, he tilted his head back, recalling. “Perhaps one of your modern inventions—petroleum jelly? Crisco-brand all-vegetable shortening? Astroglide?”

The woman had backed down a side path and was waiting. The satyr, quick on the uptake, followed her in a mutual dance of retreating, pausing, and advancing. Soon they were out of sight from potential witnesses.

“Look,” I told Myrtle, “you wouldn’t be happy—I’m a footloose kind of guy; I don’t like attachments. How about we go our separate ways and—yaaagh!”

This squeeze did me in, and I swore to marry her. Soon she was dappling me with dewy kisses as I wondered how binding was a mortal’s promise to a magic tree.


Pretty ironclad, it turns out. So we moved in together, and later got a house with a lovely garden. We had a couple of kids, both heroes—the curtain had pulled back enough that the world could have heroes again, not just regular Janes and Joes who rise to occasions and excel, but actual damned heroes who do mighty deeds the world feels compelled to chronicle in poems and to paint and carve—and damn proud of them I am, too.

I grew older, and she must have, too, but not so you’d notice. I expected she’d outlive me by centuries but, complete surprise, she went first: Sudden Oak Death. No one saw it coming—one day she’s fine, the next she’s a pine box.

Now I’m back to where I started: single (though, like a sap, I still miss Myrtle), no kids (both out of the house saving the world), and full of mischief. Look out, ladies, I’m back, no worse for the twenty years of tied knot and ready to tear up the town. So if you’re available and don’t want anything permanent, have brown eyes as warm as teak and hair that rustles like Spring even when there’s no breeze, step up and maybe I’ll buy you a drink.

Oh, and immortal creatures—stay away: I’m spent from living the epic romance immortalized in song and fable I got rooked into. Maybe something brief this time, with a human, but she’d have to accept heroic stepkids. Of course, while I don’t want to get too committed, I also won’t waste my time on some fickle filly. Does that make sense?

And any woman who wants to make time with me must be steadfast as a redwood and supple as a willow. Not that I’m being picky, because I’m not. Is it old-fashioned to ask for her to be like a virgin forest in public and a horse chestnut in the bedroom? Do they make them like that anymore?

Well? Is there anybody out there like that? Anyone like my dear Myrtle? Anyone at all? Please?

Nathan Cromwell lives in Northern California with a sequoia and twin box-leaved honeysuckles. His fiction has appeared in Strangely Funny III and You can read more of his work by checking out


Unknown said...

The titles a grabber. The rest of the story made me smile - especially the satyr.