Jack Climbs a Tree – a story fragment

For years, I’ve toyed with writing a story about Tater, Jack and Onion – a sister and two brothers from my youth. They were an unusual group, and lived a hard live. Below is a character sketch of Jack. She was the toughest of the three children.

Think of this short bit like you would a pencil sketch, prior to putting oil to canvas.


Jack was high in the tree when she looked over the fence into Old Lady Hibbard’s withered garden. There was only one tree in her backyard worth climbing. She was 12, strong and lithe. Anything shorter than 40 feet wasn’t worth trying to prove mettle and daring.

And this old oak towered over 50 feet, though most of it’s limbs were dead, sticking out at odd angles, bare of bark and slippery. But for Jack, that made the tree easier to climb. Her sneakers found the grip she needed, and her hands were like hooks. Above 20 feet, she would hug the tree like a lover and shimmy up to the next limb.

Leaves are a nuisance to tree climbers. They hide the view, or give the false impression of a stronger limb. Life doesn’t always mean strength. Jack had learned that years ago. And she had decided that trees and humans weren’t that much different.

For every time she climbed the tree, Jack learned new things about its texture and gradual death. New cracks appeared weekly — tiny and easy for the unwary to miss. Cracks in the armor of the tree, showing its weakness and gradual decline.

Sometimes the splits in the tree grew quickly, running up several feet in only a few days. Most times, though, they were tiny — barley longer than a finger’s span.

Still, each part of the tree had to be tested with careful weight, but not so much as to give the impression of fear. Her brothers were always watching, and they depended upon her strength and courage. She was their barrier, their rock in life.

If everything around her was in decline and dying, Jack was alive. Nothing in her mind, nor body gave a hint of death. She was unlike anyone she knew, for even her scent was life. No decay in any way.

Jack was high in her favorite limb, one no other child dared reach when she saw Jessie lead Frankie Wyman through the garden, towing the boy by the front of his shirt. Jessie’s voice was high-pitched and giggly. She switched her skirt back and forth as she tugged on the boy.

Jack didn’t like Jessie. That girl didn’t know anything about work or srugggle. Everything she had, from her clothes to the fancy watches and rings she wore were given to her by her parents.

Jack was sure Jessie had never worked a day in her life. Probably didn’t even have to make her bed, or do her own laundry.

Frankie was different. Jack wasn’t sure how she felt about him. He was mentally challenged and sometimes acted silly.

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