Lake Aurantium

Writing Challenge – Orange Tree Writing prompt from  A Writer’s Path

The daily, eight a.m. escape was necessarily hurried. If we were caught in our rooms after that, grounding was inevitable, followed by an interminable lecture about respecting rules. I had perfected the process by simply packing everything I needed in a satchel before bed and upon waking, putting on just enough clothes to be street legal.

This particular morning, I waited for my sister to fall out of the backdoor behind me. She’d left our room at the very last minute and had stopped to grab a portable breakfast. We’d made it, but just barely. I was still tying my bathing suit top around my neck as we set off to the lake for the day. The air outside was thick with orange blossoms. I stopped in the middle of the yard and inhaled deeply, filling my nostrils, solidifying the memory of summers filled with groves and lakes and pastures and all of the trouble four teenaged girls can get into without breaking the law.

“What are we going to do, today?” My sister asked this question every day, knowing we were going to do the same thing we’d always done. As we approached the perimeter of the grove, I stopped again to breathe in the perfume of the blossoms. Nothing gave me more peace than that scent, but in a matter of days, its strength would wane as the fruit stopped developing for the year. I stood longer than usual, today, meditating on the feeling.

We counted the rows of trees as we walked to the one that stretched unimpeded to the lake, except for a strange gnarled remnant of a tree. Its branches black with soot, stretched hag fingers clawed over a shallow crater twenty feet in diameter. It stood sentinel over the charred remains of old or diseased trees, strewn carelessly around its base. Over many years, trucks had scarred this stretch, using it as the main thoroughfare. The entire grove was culled and serviced every year, but this burning spot had been abandoned long ago in favor of portable furnaces.

Our worn Kalsos protected our feet from the quarter-mile tracts of hot Florida sand in between the rich-soiled roots of the trees. Burnt feet were a particular hazard for the Lutz summer lake culture. In the eight hours during which we were required to stay out of the house, we might walk twenty miles through sand or briar patches and across oystered asphalt, shortcutting from one place to another, but we always met at the lake.

We didn’t talk much on our way. We lived in the same room, so we spent nearly twenty-four hours a day with one another in the summer, leaving little left to say. The deeply philosophical stuff would start when we got to the raft where our two friends would be waiting. For my sister and I, conversation was strangled until someone else knocked it loose. Home was a stifled place, dressed in shades of neutrals except for the closets where our only personal expressions were Teen Beat posters. I kept my journals there, hidden in my clothes, for the same reasons most teenage girls do, and for reasons no one but me needed to know.

As we past the old tree, I turned to study it, as I often did, trying to memorize the knots and bends of its haunted shape. Every day for months each summer I followed this superstitious ritual and yet, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t reproduce it on paper. My journals had pages and pages of mangled tree limbs, penciled in frustration. I couldn’t bring myself to sit alone in the grove and try whilst looking at it. Such a disturbance seemed disrespectful, as if sitting on a grave. But today, something was different about my beloved arboreal ghost. Something was moving.

The depression was every inch of twenty feet in diameter with a rise of nearly thirty degrees. It had the menacing look of quicksand, despite its distance from the lake. Yet, the worst I risked in getting close was a splinter or cutting myself on broken glass hidden by the old embers.

“Stay here,” I said to my sister.

She studied me, an expression of shock hanging on her face like old clothes. Finally, she spoke. “What are you doing?”

“Something moved on the tree. I want to see what it was.”


“Does it really matter to you? Really?”

“Yes, it does. I don’t want to have to go home and tell mom that you’ve broken your ankle, or worse, walking through the stupid orange groves because you wanted to look at a tree.”

“I’m not going to break my ankle. God, you can be such a wimp, sometimes.”

I had already put my bag down at her feet and started to edge my way into the depression while she argued. She sat down heavily, Indian-style, resting her chin on her hands, emitting a petulant hough and watched intently. It took a few seconds, but I made it to the tree without incident. There, above one of the tiny knots at the bottom, a single green leaf had poked it’s way through the wood. I sat down in the sand, and stared at it while it moved gently in the spring breeze.

“What did you find?” Yelled my sister, now interested in what was happening.

“A leaf. A living leaf. The tree is still alive!”

“So what?” Said my sister.

I grunted as I stood up, brushing sand and debris from the back of my shorts. “So, never mind.” I said as I made my way back to her. Gathering up my satchel, I reached down to help her up. “Let’s go.” Pushing her ahead, I turned one last time to look at the tiny leaf, smiling to myself.

4 thoughts on “Lake Aurantium

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