Posted on: January 2nd, 2011 Serapis

by Fritz Swanson

When George Washington was a boy, he cut down 100 old cherry trees.

His sister, Betty, caught him.

“You’re smoked,” she said, and shook her head.

George stuck out his tongue. Betty ran off.

Sassafras, a young slave George’s father had just purchased, claimed to be from Egypt. He had written a word on a curl of paper for George.

With his knife, George carved the word around the trunk of the 100th tree.

When he came home, George’s father Augustine said angrily, “We’ve talked about cherry trees, George!”

But George just smiled.

George and Sassafras had all of the trees milled into lumber and George made tools from the wood of the 100th tree. He used these tools to carve a small bird.

*

After dinner, George sat by the fire and whittled tiny feathers and a blunt beak

“What’s that, Georgie,” mother Mary whispered.

“A present,” he whispered back.

Earlier, George had gathered dead twigs and branches from the trees. He had put them in vases all around the house.

“Oh, what a mess, George!” His mother had scolded.

He scratched strange letters on the bird, breathed on its neck, and tossed it into the air.

The wooden sparrow came to life, fluttering around the dead wood. The leaves unfolded green, and the blossoms bloomed pink.

Augustine took hold of George’s ear.

“We’ve plants to move, George! Wagons to mend, soil to prepare, not to mention an orchard of stumps!”

But Augustine saw George’s determination.

“One more day,” Augustine sighed.

*

George put Old Ben the carpenter in charge and had the slaves set to work on the still green lumber. Sassafras insisted they had to move quickly.

They made desks, chairs, card tables, chests, cabinets, secretaries, canes, cases, boxes, and picture frames.

Sassafras and George set aside a pile of the wood for themselves. Under Sassafras’s direction they had this carved into little animals. There were cows, goats, sheep, pigs. But they also made leopards and giraffes. There were crocodiles, turtles, all sorts of snakes. And then strange deer with twisted horns. Finally there were men and women with the heads of animals. As soon as each piece was done, a slave child would start playing with it.

The last thing George had made was a door.

*

“Are these toys?” Betty asked. She and two slave girls pushed cherry-wood bulls through the dust.

Sassafras checked each creation.

“What about the door?” Betty asked.

Old Ben leaned the door against a willow. Sassafras opened the door and out rushed a hot dry wind, strange music, and the bellowing of unknown beasts.

When the wind struck the nearest wooden animals, they leapt from the hands of the children. A leopard, like a kitten, mewed as a little boy held his tail. Six tiny elephants stampeded to the open door.

Sassafras held open the door and looked to each slave.

One of the old men looked up to George’s father who stood away at the door of the house on the hill.

A mother cried and pushed her little son to the door, but he wouldn’t go.

Sassafras sighed and went through the door, closing it after. When the door shut, it fell forward, dead upon the ground.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories

--Brain Harvest