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The Dryad

by Zettel 

Posted: 05 November 2004
Word Count: 1512
Summary: By way of saying hi, I thought I'd post my entry to the BBC Endofstory competition which I am sure most of you will have heard of and some probably entered. I wrote 2: the Ed MacBain and the Joanne Harris half story - 'The Dryad'. As you could only submit one, I chose the Harris as it seemed the hardest to make work. My half is limited to 1,200 words.

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Summary of Joanne Harris's first half of 'The Dryad' (in full on bbc.co.uk)

The first person storyteller, struggling in a troubled marriage, seeks solace in a local Botanical Gardens and tells of a memorable chance meeting with an ageing lady: Josephine Clarke. The old lady tells her of her love - for a very special, particular beech tree in the gardens. Josephine lovingly visits the tree every day and makes beautiful, detailed sketches of it. Intrigued, and a little bemused, the storyteller listens as the woman expounds about her special 'love' for this tree that she calls her 'fella'. It is clear that Josephine is enraptured by the tree; that she sees her more than 10 years 'relationship' to it, as a genuine love in a romantic sense. She also expresses these intense feelings with sexual imagery. Josephine accepts that others will see her obsession as strange, even aberrant; but is defiant. She has an increasingly unfulfilling marriage to her unimaginative and suspicious carpenter husband Stan. Her love of her tree has made her disgusted by the gifts of wooden artefacts he gives her. Stan resents her time away from him spent drawing her tree. They have a son Dan.

Josephine describes having faced a crisis when Stan wanted to move house. Distraught at the prospect of having to leave her beloved tree, she made Stan suspicious and he jealously challenged her with "You've got a fella, haven't you?" Josephine, though anxious, seemed almost exhilarated at the prospect of professing her love and the shock the truth would generate.

The Joanne Harris half of the story ends with Stan repeating his accusation and challenges her about her 'fella':

"Who is it?"……………………………………………

My second half of 'The Dryad' (limit 2000 words):

It is ironic that of all the men in my life, I had married the one least capable of understanding me.

"Don't be bloody daft woman, you can't love a bleedin' tree. You must be barking." I laughed. He didn't see the joke: thought I was taking the mickey.

Poor Stan, he never saw anything as it was, only what it could become. Most people are like that. So busy rushing about, there's never a place for them to just be. White rabbits like Alice in Wonderland: rushing about looking at their watches wanting to be somewhere else. It never makes them happy. They spend their whole lives expecting what they want most around the next corner; and the next; and the next. One day they run out of corners.

For Stan, a tree was something he could chop into something else and sell. He couldn't understand that a tree just is: an end in itself. Stan thought I was mad for loving a tree simply for what it was. All my darling tree did each day, was get stronger and more beautiful, reaching down into the earth for life, and up to the sky for light. How could anyone not love that? And how could I have lived my life, created a life, with a man who couldn't understand or feel it?

I tried to explain. It was no use. He kept shaking his head, talking about perversion, and madness. I just kept sharing my life, with my lovely tree and Stan just got angrier. He threatened to "chop the bastard down." When I told him it would be the last thing he did on earth, I think he really believed I was mad.

Listening to this eccentric old lady, it crossed my mind that Stan might just have had a point. She stopped:

"Go on dear. Ask."
Though worried about upsetting her, I went for it. I said I understood her love of nature but why this particular tree? She smiled.

" Think about it: we can't love things 'in general'. Must parents love children in general before they can love their own? It's always the same: lovers, husbands, wives. Even little boys who keep spiders first pick a particular spider, give it a name and then give their affection to that, unique special spider. It's the way we're made. It's the same with my tree: varieties of tree differ and every tree within a variety is unique. Uniqueness is precious. It's what we long for so that we can be loved. Love is particular. I prefer beeches. Of the beeches, I love my tree best. What's the difference? Stan was just one man among millions; so was my son; and your husband."

"But relationships between people are reciprocal" I protested, "We get something back." As I said it I thought of my disastrous marriage; the lack of contact between David and me. Smiling she said,

"When you look closely, it's more complicated. Love is a total, unqualified commitment to one particular in the world; usually another human being. But humans often show unqualified commitment to silly things; cars, houses, football teams. We often hear of someone so committed to a particular leylandi tree that they kill or are killed in protecting it. My beech is beautiful and unique. That's why I love it. Unless it was; I couldn't. That's what upset Stan."


The heavy buff envelope arrived on my 50th birthday. A 'pp Richard Brice', solicitor, broke the news that Josephine had just died and the surprising information that she had left me a letter.

"Hello Dear

Sorry to involve you but of all the people over the years, I never found anyone else who really heard me. There’s no one left now: Stan died and I lost touch with my son years go. I should tell you about my darling tree. Life went on as before: Stan never accepted the truth and became angry and sullen. We were living unhappily ever after, until 2 years ago. It was like a dam; water piling up and then the dam burst. Stan hadn't been well and became withdrawn. I came home one day and knew something had happened: the curtains were drawn and he was waiting. He went over and slashed the curtains open to reveal our garden. It took a moment for me to realise.
“There, I’ve seen the bastard off.”
It’s strange when the most dramatic event in your life is the absence of something: no noise or drama just a space, a void in the soul. My tree was on his side at the end of the garden, his crushed branches broken off as he fell. The open wound of his severed trunk gaped at me. Tiny pieces of his once proud life were blowing in the breeze.

Stan never got the fight he expected. I spent the next few days with my love; literally cut down in his prime. Stan waited for the explosion that never came. He did make amends once though. A month later he died. Heart attack. His heart had been weak for a long time. Apparently any shock could have caused it. I wasn’t surprised.

I had cuttings taken from my beech and have planted three where their father stood. I had Stan cremated and spread his ashes at the base of each cutting. Now he can become something else himself. I had a friend who put her husband’s ashes in an egg-timer,* so my choice isn't so strange.

They give me three months, so I must put things in order. Hence this letter. I hope dear you’ll see me properly 'planted' as they say, and accept the money. I thought it might give you a choice. All I’d like you to do is arrange the funeral and clear the house. You could get a gardener to look after the beech saplings. For the rest, I’ll leave it to your judgement. Check the basement.

Have a good life


My visit to the house was unsettling at first. The three beech saplings were thriving and I paid a local nurseryman to look after them. I left the basement till last. It was strange, but not frightening. I realised what Josephine wanted me to do. Knowing was one thing, getting it done was complicated. Much more complicated.

Gentle spring rain. Even two years afterwards, doomed shoots were coming through on parts of the fallen giant. In front of the beech saplings was the most troublesome, hard-won hole ever made in the earth. Only the good will of Josephine's neighbours enabled me to overcome a wall of bureaucratic obstruction. As the sky lightened and the rain turned to a light, refreshing drizzle, six people gathered about this fresh, deep scar in the dark soil. The vicar intoned ancient poetic words and the coffin, its light wood sanded until the burnished lines of grain rippled across its surface, was lowered into the welcoming earth. As it sunk slowly, I noted with satisfaction the plain brass plate carrying the single word: 'Josephine'. Just beneath, was the exquisitely carved legend 'Beech'.


Everyone had gone. Alone by the newly levelled earth I thought.
"Well Stan, you finally got one thing absolutely right."

*(believe it or not, a real life example!).

Zettel - November 2004

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Comments by other Members

fireweed at 01:07 on 06 November 2004  Report this post
Zettel, I was having difficulty sleeping so thought I would try to find a good bedtime story. This was it. Lovely. I thought you developed the situation sensitively and kept the focus on the tree. I can easily accept Josephine's story - trees have a presence about them. I've tried to write poems about them - to convey how their personalities can affect us.

I hope your entry is successful.


Zettel at 01:42 on 07 November 2004  Report this post
Thanks Anna.

Sadly the competition is over. However it was an interesting challenge and I'm glad my version worked for you.



Nell at 13:40 on 08 November 2004  Report this post
Hello Zettel,

I haven't read the beginning of your 'end of story', yet loved this nevertheless. The para where Josephine explains why she loves this particular tree is so rational that one believes utterly in her. I was disheartened to read your post and to think that you now have only a story end, since there's not a lot you can do with it unless you rewrite Joanne Harris' original idea. A great shame IMO.


Becca at 21:08 on 08 November 2004  Report this post
Hi Zettle,
I was very calmed by your part of the story, I did enjoy it and who has not seen the particularity of trees?
I watched the 'End of Story' finals, as it were, with Marian Keyes and three writers who made it to an interview with her. There was a lot of gushing, (shush, I didn't say that), and it was very very obvious from the start who would be chosen. I'm in two minds about what I think about the whole idea, but this is not the place to say so, not being a forum.

Zettel at 23:58 on 08 November 2004  Report this post
I have mixed feelings about it. I had no expectation of winning but it was a challenging exercise. I had fun with the Ed McBain but I entered this one because of all the stories it seemed to me the toughest one to make work in its own terms i.e without flying off into fantasy in the second half. I wanted to make loving a tree make sense. In the end I'm not quite sure the way Harris set it up does work: i.e. her description of Jospehine actually hugging the tree like a lover is too literal. I can make some kind of sense of sexual feelings being involved in such an obsession but in a rather more complex, indirect way. But the discipline was to deal with what was given, not what perhaps should have been there.
Thanks for the comments - as ever encouraging and perceptive.

Becca: it is a lovely thought that one's writing "calms" someone. It is a real emotional reaction. It is disappointing to hear that the whole thing seemed a bit 'lovey-ish' I would have expected better of the BBC. Although this is only half a story, from what I have learned, I am working on my very first short story, all my own, which I hope to post at some stage.
Thanks for your time in commenting


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