Some flash fiction for you …
“It’s me birthday!” the woman beamed.
Grey ringlets ran down her forehead like rain, and into her eyes, which sparkled behind wet spectacles.
“Lovely day for it,” said the woman who crouched next to her. “Shall we have a picnic?”
“Ooo, what a nice idea!” said the birthday woman – she could hardly be called a girl.
“Oh dear. I appear to have left the basket on the counter at Harrods,” said the second woman.
“Are you sure it’s not at the bottom of the tree?” asked a bloke in steamed up glasses, and a blue cagoule shiny with rain.
The three peered down from the branch they were sitting on, and down the length of the huge oak.
“It must still be back at Harrods,” said the first woman, with a sigh.
“There is no bloody picnic basket, Muriel!” said the second woman. “I was being sarcastic.”
“Oh,” said Muriel, in a voice smaller than a tree bud. She sniffed, whether from cold – it was quite chilly, although it was July – disappointment, or hay fever, it was hard to say.
There was a pause, then:
“Barbara … my feet are wet,” said Muriel.
“Of course your feet are wet,” said Barbara. “We’re sitting in a flaming tree, in the middle of a bloody storm. What did you expect? Fluffy slippers? Toasted cheese sandwiches, followed by jelly and ice cream?”
“Toasted cheese,” murmured the bloke.
“Jelly and ice cream,” sighed Muriel. “They always make a party, don’t you think, Barbara? A birthday party, that is.”
Will you shut up about your bleedin’ birthday!”
“Now, Barbara,” said the man.
“And you can put a wet sock in it, too, Ian,” Barbara snapped. “Bloody hell! I can cope with sodden feet and freezing cold for the cause, but I didn’t sign up for her!”
Barbara’s voice rose steadily, until she practically shouted “her!” She glared at her companions from under the hood of her cagoule, which was green, and glistening with rain.
“I say, will you lot on the lower branch pipe down, please?” asked a voice from higher up. “We’re trying to decide on a suitable protest song, and we’re struggling to hear ourselves think over all the kerfuffle.”
“I’ll kerfuffle you, Bill,” replied Barbara. “You should thank us. If I were you, I wouldn’t want to hear myself think.”
“What about ‘Kum Ba Yah’?” asked Muriel.
“As a protest song? We’re trying to protect ancient woodland from being bulldozed, not convert people to Christianity.”
Crack! The sound of not-so-distant thunder interrupted the argument.
“Is it safe to be up a tree in a thunderstorm?” said Ian nervously. “Shouldn’t we go back to the cars? For the tyres, that is?”
“Some conservationist you are, Ian, driving a bloody car,” said Barbara. “I took the bus. You probably wouldn’t recognise a bus stop if it walked up to you, and tapped you on the shoulder.”
“Wonderful, modern science, isn’t it?” said Muriel.
“What,” Barbara bit off the word as though it were piece of particularly tough veggie bacon, “does science have to do with whether it’s safe to be up a tree in a thunderstorm, or whether Ian has ever parked his bum on a bus seat?”
“What you said: about bus stops that tap you on the shoulder.”
Barbara’s reply was lost under the sound of thunder. The flash that followed lit up the sky, the trees, the protestors, and the workmen in their yellow safety helmets, and high vis jackets. The men had been sheltering under golf umbrellas, and looking at their phones. Now they walked quickly through muddy pools of rainwater to their van, and were soon inside.
“Victory!” Bill shouted, from one branch up.
“God, Bill, you’re even stupider than I thought,” said Barbara. “They’ll be back.”
“Maybe if we sing ‘Kum Ba Yah’, he wouldn’t be so angry, and the thunder will stop,” said Muriel.
“Who wouldn’t be angry?” asked Barbara. “Bill? The chair of the Highways Commission? The head of the construction firm?”
“God,” said Muriel.
“Oh my Lord, someone even stupider than Bill: no wonder he married you!” said Barbara.
“’A Thousand Trees’!” said Ian. “Everyone loves the Stereophonics.”
Barbara replied in a voice which could have blighted an entire oak forest.
“The trees are metaphorical: the song is about something quite different. And, for the record, I much prefer the Manics.”
“Ah.” Ian’s head and shoulders drooped, like a flower defeated by heavy showers.
“What about ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head’?” asked a woman on a distant, higher branch.
“Do any of you lot even know what we’re doing here today? Or why?”
Barbara glared up the tree, and received a second hand shower from the wellies, boots, and trainers of the protestors sitting above her. “You act like you’ve never been on a protest in your life!”
“I was on the grants not loans march in Sheffield, and the Criminal Justice Bill one in London,” said Ian, adding: “They laid on buses for that. So there: I have been on a bus.” He paused. “This is my first time up a tree.”
“I’ve never been up a tree before, either,” said Muriel, adding: “Or spent my birthday on a protest. We usually go to my mother’s, or a carvery.”
“First time in a tree, but not the first time out of one,” said Barbara, with an expression that was even gloomier than the weather.
Currrr-crack! said the lightening.
“Just a cake,” sniffled Muriel. “Even a bun, with a candle.”
“Oh for – !” said Barbara.
“’The eensy weensy spider’!” sang Bill.
If you enjoyed reading this, look out for my collection, Koi Carpe Diem, due out in August, which features the story, “Bunty Jennings: Tree Whisperer”.