Words || Brenda Anderson
A red tree sits outside my window. It wasn’t there yesterday. I check, but none of my friends snuck over and planted a mature tree in front of my house.
Weirder still, numbers that look like 1249 have been roughly carved on one side of the trunk, and 1647 on the other. There’s a small crevice, almost hidden from sight, at the intersection of branches and trunk.
I get some gardening gloves and reach into the crevice.
Inside, I find scraps of paper: not ordinary processed paper, no. These are buff coloured, rough to the touch and covered in strange marks, like a drunken fly wandered all over them. I study the marks. This isn’t fly-writing. There’s pattern and purpose here.
I hold a scrap up to my nose and smell charcoal, like someone’s burnt a twig and used it to write.
I lay the first scrap aside.
On the one underneath, there’s a picture.
It’s a cat.
Not just any cat, but a truly famous cat, one I recognise.
The grinning cat from Alice in Wonderland, all teeth and attitude.
I put this scrap aside, and look at the next one.
The smile’s still there, but the cat’s gone.
I shuffle them back in order. If I flip them between my fingers, I make the cat disappear.
Again I study the writing.
And suddenly I understand.
It says LOST CAT. Can you help?
I flip the scraps again. The cat’s there, then it’s not.
In my mind, I put the charcoal, the picture and the timeline together.
You know what I think?
This tree is looking for that cat.
All history knows that it turned up once in Oxford, England, in 1862. The story itself was published three years later.
The tree, my tree, my strange red tree, is looking for its cat.
Okay, the tree’s got the wrong continent and it’s one hundred and fifty years late, but that doesn’t matter. I bet 1249 and 1647 are dates, carved centuries apart into its trunk. That makes this tree a time-traveller, and I think parts of it travel at different speeds. Maybe it navigated too close to a fire, once, and one of its branches burnt. That would give it charcoal, to write with. And where would it get homemade paper from? Easy. Go forward in time. Hang round some artist’s studio and take notes. Make its own paper to write LOST CAT notices.
In 1862 Charles Dodgson saw that cat and included it in his ‘Alice.’
My heart races. I have to let the tree know! I run inside, get my own pencil and paper and write down the date, time and place. A smart, time-travelling tree can find that riverbank in Oxford.
Then I put my note into the crevice, pat the tree and whisper, “Good luck.”
Next morning the tree’s gone, like it was never there.
If you see them, that tree and that cat, look away.
They’ll need their privacy.