Short Fiction: The Old Fig Tree

Ron trundled up the hill. The long, lush grass swayed and rippled in the breeze, while the late afternoon sun draped its red glow on the giant fig tree. Down below, the village lay still and content. Ron sat down, wheezed and heaved up a large pearl of phlegm that landed on his shoe. He was remarkably unfit. “The heart of a man twice your age,” his doctor had said. As Ron was seventy-three, that was not a hopeful appraisal.

Having recovered from his mild physical exertion—or at least having not died from it—Ron took an old matchbox from his pocket. He struggled with the small item: years of work had left Ron’s fingers warped and calloused. Back in his day a man had to take what work he could get. But, of course, times changed, and personal touch was replaced by the production line; skill succumbed to progress. Ron had been used up, spat out and forgotten; another outdated wreck on the scrapheap. Just like so many other concert pianists from his village.

Finally, Ron managed to open the matchbox. It contained a tiny pile of grey dust: his wife’s ashes. Ron’s wife, Beth, was a hefty woman, and her cremation yielded a generous mass of powdered remains, but she had been whittled down over the years through a series of urn downgrades. Ron sold the original antique vessel to pay for a new radiator, and bought a more basic urn. When that one broke he used a teapot for a while, and then when he needed the teapot for tea he put the ashes in an old cigar box. The ashes made his cigars taste strange, so he moved Beth to a small cardboard box, the former home of some revolting chocolates he had been given one Christmas. When he lost the box playing poker with a visiting Mormon missionary, the last of Beth took up residence in the matchbox.

Laying a loved one to rest is never easy; that was partly why Ron had waited thirty-eight years to do it. Mostly he was just an awful procrastinator. He was lazy too. Despite Beth’s request to have her ashes scattered on the ocean (a two hour drive away), Ron decided she would be just as happy next to the old fig tree (a five minute walk from his house, and, coincidentally, on the way to the pub). Surely one final resting place was as good as another.

The next day bulldozers rolled in and uprooted the fig tree, flattened the hill, and began making room for a new hotel. Chainsaws carved up the tree trunk and branches for a wood chipper to devour—along, no doubt, with the scattered ashes. Ron smiled as he watched. Beth always liked hotels.


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