This one was my first solo project, when I had only the lowly rank of Putative Kinsperson. Everything seemed so thrilling at the time. I remember the heady triumph of showing my initial result to Brother Dwayne: in autumn the foliage of my tree turned literally to gold. Beautiful, delicate golden leaves, each of them worth a fortune. How crestfallen I felt when I realized they were only pyrite! Brother Dwayne encouraged me to persevere and not lose faith in my abilities.
"Not quite gold, but a remarkable suffusion of yellow nevertheless. Beautiful and harmless; two qualities that are seldom achieved in conjunction. At your age I foolishly attempted a burning bush and the whole southern gardens were incinerated in the resulting conflagration."
This one was supposedly created from simple Japanese maple trees, but I always had my doubts about that. One early spring, Brother Dwayne decided to experiment as he was so often wont to do. With painstaking care, he installed minute spigots on these trees and collected sap in adorable little metal buckets. He obtained approximately one teaspoonful that he boiled carefully on an open flame. One of our less successful cedar trees was sacrificed to provide the firewood. When almost all the water had evaporated from the thimble-sized boiler, there remained a single drop of maple syrup. According to Brother Dwayne it was the mellowest nectar he ever tasted and "most precisely, though not accurately, described as the flavor equivalent of a cat flap". Now that I think of it, that’s when he started acting strange. Or even more so. I miss Brother Dwayne; I wonder what happened to him.
There was something unsettling about this one. Brother Dwayne really put his soul into it, and considered it his master-piece. But to me it felt just… wrong. We eventually sold it to a Mr. Zorkowicz and good riddance.
Brother Dwayne could spend hours contemplating his pine thicket and getting lost in meditative introspection. When questioned, he would put forward the most eccentric assertions.
“From without, our portable landscapes appear deceivingly small and harmless. If you are not careful in your wanderings, however, you may realize too late the unfathomable size of it. We perceive penjings as miniature, but this is simply due to the inconceivable distance that separates them from us. As we twist the limbs of the trees and sculpt their shape, we are moving them further away from this world, slowly pushing them across some unseen horizon. Consider the sky: Venus is in truth larger than the Moon. And the dimmest, most inconspicuous little star could swallow them whole in an instant.”
During the course of the last year, I would occasionally discover little bottles floating on the water of this pool. Inside of these I would find tiny bits of papers that I would extricate with my most minuscule tweezers. When I examined them under my magnifying glass, I saw them to be covered with microscopic writings. These messages seemed like gibberish to my eyes and I could not decipher their meaning, if indeed they had one.
I never found out who was expending so much effort pulling that joke, although it reminded me of the sort of things Brother Dwayne would do. These occurrences stopped some months ago and I had forgotten all about them until today. This evening I found a tiny skeleton beneath that tree.
It’s been 60 years since he disappeared. Where has he gone all that time? He always knew that the world is full of hidden wonders. Now, at last, I realize… I wish I would have believed it too.
Lately, my memories have taken a bright golden hue. They are more vivid than they ever were, but already I feel them becoming dry and brittle. Beautiful, delicate golden memories… are any of them worth anything? Soon they will fall off one by one and gather dead at my feet. How long before the wind scatters them? Or maybe some child will retrieve a few and preserve them between the pages of a book.
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