The Cherry Tree
A story of marital infidelity, corporate boredom, and the uncanny power of nature over common sense
High up on the moors surrounding the city of Sheffield there is a Cherry Tree. Quite how there came to be a Cherry Tree out on that moor is knowledge that has long been lost to any living being; as to why there is a Cherry Tree there, well, that is entirely irrelevant – at least it is to this story. And what better way to begin a story than with a lie.
If you were to lodge in the boughs of that Cherry Tree and turn to the north-east, facing out across the valley, you would see before you, spread like a messy spillage of metropolitan spatter, the fair city of Sheffield and its’ green spangled suburbs. If you were to sit at the top of the tallest of the city’s buildings and look out towards the Cherry Tree, you would be able to share almost the exact same view that had been both keeping and sending Max White sane and insane respectively over the last year. Max was not in the highest building in the city, but it was pretty high just the same; he was at his place of work on the tenth floor. That put him roughly eighty five feet above street level, nearly four hundred feet below Cherry Tree level. Make of that what you will.
Max was not happy at work. He was good at his job but the days when that meant anything were as long gone and forgotten as the knowledge surrounding the planting of the Cherry Tree. Max was an engineer, a civil engineer. It was his job to plan and maintain the stuff that exists below the roads and footpaths, the flotsam and jetsam to which none of us give a second thought: pipes and wires and steel and concrete and plastic and copper and brass and general, everyday, hi-tech debris, and all these things found their way down there by someone digging big holes or mile-long trenches with noisy, smelly machinery. Important as his job was, the public’s perception of what Max did was to make them late for work while at the same time, defacing and scarring the streets of their sacred city. For all his civil engineering efforts, the public’s opinion of, and subsequent reaction to, his work, was generally much less than civil, nearer antagonistic and bordering on considered violence.
But the public’s lack of understanding regarding the importance of his work was not the source of his depression. Neither was the fact that he had been waiting for over a decade for promotion that was obviously never going to come. No, what was upsetting Max was the realisation that the fifteen years he’d been working for the company stood for fifteen years of wasted time. Fifteen years staring into manholes and muddy pits; fifteen years of scribbling on ancient plans and arguing with other engineers; fifteen years of gazing at the same clock, willing the hands to move ever more quickly from eight in the morning to five in the afternoon. Wishing away his life.
And that was a sin. His Nan had told him so.
Max was not old, not by most standards. He was only in his mid thirties, but that was old enough to appreciate that time was a precious commodity. Not as precious as his Nan must have thought, now ten years in her grave, but precious all the same. His youthful days of seeing death as something so remote, something so far into the future that he could not even begin to consider it, were now no more than embarrassing memories. Although Max could still count himself young, both physically and socially, he could also feel the beginnings of an uneasy dread of mortality.
And of course, that would be just fine and dandy if it wasn’t for the fact that he believed the years from twenty to thirty five had been entirely wasted; years that had passed almost without notice. It was only when he wandered into the toilets to relieve both his bladder and nerve numbing boredom, glancing into the mirror, wondering who the old bastard was that was looking back at him, that he would have the passage of time rudely forced upon his consciousness.
Who knows where the time goes?
And then there was the company. Ha! The way it was starting to treat everyone: its employees and its customers, seriously pissed him off; and the way all the bosses were now yes‑men who couldn’t look anyone in the face. What had once been an exciting, stimulating place to work, had now become thoroughly depressing. A world of memos and e-mails and new directions and strategies; a world of visions and corporate policies and customer care global statements, instead of a place where things got done. Max couldn’t remember the last time anything actually got done.
But of course, we’re forgetting the Cherry Tree. Max’s Cherry Tree. He spotted it one wet, Wednesday afternoon, while he sat at his desk and his boss berated him for either doing something he shouldn’t have or for not doing something that he should. As the words droned on, he happened to glance out of the window, allowing his eyes to skip across the roofs of the city and out into the countryside. He let them continue on their way, through the nearby fields and farmlands, on and upwards, out to the heather-covered moors in the distance. And while his eyes caressed the wavering horizon he suddenly stopped.
“What’s that?” he said.
His boss, thinking that this was some sneaky method of wriggling out of his responsibilities, redoubled his attack. “What do you mean, what’s that? Don’t think that ignorance is any excuse in my book.”
“I’ve never seen it before,” Max said, standing and walking across the office to the window on the south west side. It was clearly a tree, standing alone, on the vast expanse of moor-land that was visible from his eighty‑five feet vantage point. As he looked, the tree seemed to grow both in stature and importance. Something so far away and so simply itself. There was something about that tree that made Max feel better. He didn’t question the effect, he just took advantage of it. Somehow, it had transported him away from the irritating monotony of his bosses gripe to a place where the trivial no longer held sway. That tiny tree was bigger than anything that had happened within the confines of his office in the last fifteen years and Max could only marvel at its simplistic beauty.
“I said,” his boss ranted on, “do you expect…”
“Sorry,” Max interrupted from across the room. “I must have made a stupid error. Not concentrating. Totally my fault.” He walked briskly back to his desk. “You can be assured, I’ll take it on board, learn by the mistake, and then ensure that it never happens again. I’ll make a note in my diary and we can all discuss it at the next team tactic talk. We can flag it up, make an issue of it. Hopefully, we’ll all benefit in the long run. From bad comes good – and all that. Cheers!” Then he sat down and ignored his bosses stunned expression. After five minutes or so of miming work, he looked out again at the tree and quietly thanked it.
That was how it began. Almost a non-incident; harmless even. Who could have known what that tree would ultimately be responsible for: two broken marriages, a kidnapping, an attempted murder, two suicides, one new life, a tragedy and a song.