The Malignant Magnolia
A Short Story
Jawanza James Williams
The perils of comprehension are the parts- a psychic rejection of the status of his unrequited love. And by the agony of reality, he finds himself staring at base boards, resting his face on the carpeted floor- vying for his sanity.
The screen door separated the air sharply, populating the porch and living room equally, with magnolia pollen, and more so, the stark solemnity of the missing parts. Fredrick stood peering through the screen, where beyond the mahogany floor boards-a massive Magnolia tree took precedence over the yard, and to his mind, the world. The magnolia flowers caught in rapture- a brilliant sun waving its power in tandem with the caudation of wind. Fredrick admired the lack of sound that truly was anything but absolute. Air cycling, penetrating, in communion with the Magnolia reminded Fredrick of the sea, beating the earth in merciless waves.
Fredrick stepped onto the porch, lunging his body forward, inhaling deeply, as if to relieve himself of the expectations of the house, to exert his freedom, and ascend into the troubled offices of his mind. In the refuge of shade provided by this Magnolia, Fredrick inspected his chair- a restored cast-iron 1950’s cinema seat. He touched the hand-sculpted legs, allowing his index finger to explore the pleasurable path of curled iron, and to rest in the firm upholstery; the red fabric, stained maroon from years of comedy, drama, tears, laughter, love, and loss. Fredrick seated himself, and pulling from his pocket a pack of cigarettes, lit one; the blue-grey smoke irritating his eyes, still he looked onward to the magnolia, seemingly past it, beyond the hour, before the day.
“Well do you?”
“I don’t think about life that way; I just live it. Whatever happens happens.”
“So, you don’t think I’m worth-”
“Fred, please, stop. Can we just lay here? You think too much.”
“You don’t think enough.” Fredrick exhaled softly, shifting his head to better see the blossomed magnolias in his resting position on another’s legs. He could not stop thinking, for not to think, to him, would be to ignore the depth with which he loved. To not speak forgoes him entirely to the dominion of emotion. Fredrick knew that day beneath white flowers, that his love was being rejected, and that without personal, relational, or even divine sanction, madness would bottle-neck at his throat, and spill from his mouth in scads of melancholy.
Fredrick finished his cigarette with a final drag, pushing the smoke between his lips, fashioning a plume that was swept off briskly by the wind. No clouds today he thought to himself.
“I see the spires of a cathedral- oh, and there, a horse.”
“How long have we been looking at clouds?”
“Since we were nine?”
“Damn Fred, it’s been fifteen years.”
“I can’t imagine how life would have been, had we not met.”
“Right? It’s unthinkable.”
“Yeah, we belong together-“
“So, I have a date tonight.”
“Yeah. It’s just drinks.”
“I love you.”
Fredrick remembered that day often. He clung to the words not returned, though he heard them many times before, but it was clear that the truth was found in the absence of words. The silence, though violent, was comforting. It is of this single moment in time, now years ago, that for Fredrick, he realized, that the magnolia relinquished its symbolic love, and like a sheet of cold steel, hardened, and mocked his convictions. The magnolia was malignant.
If you close your eyes, remember the days before. Watch the gray light sharpen walls and lift reality- wholly, and remove you from your past perpetually.
Hour upon hour moved across the sky, across the face of the magnolia tree in cadence with Fredrick’s recollections- however fragmented they are. Contempt filled his body, and flaring like a beast of mythological origin, Fredrick’s nostrils spread. The magnolia remained stoic, dignified, adorned with white flowers. But what of Fredrick? What of the wraith-like hymn he longs to sing?
Fredrick was no longer of the living. He ate, but did not taste, he was breathing but not quite alive. He watched the setting sun being cradled at the top of the magnolia. The blossoms were like soft hands, working the reigns of some cosmic magic- with the same jurisdiction over his life.
The magnolia has always been there, perhaps a hundred years before he was born. It knew all; it held him as a boy, it coddled him, it even inspired him. But now, it mocks him. The magnolia is the only tether to sanity remaining for Fredrick, but it is the same magnolia, that propagates his madness.
Fredrick stands from his chair, and walks down the steps of the porch, around the house. He opened the red doors of an old outhouse, splitting cobwebs. He entered the shed moving a dusty box here, and there, stomping his toe on some unseen metal. But there, in the back, illuminated by a streak of fading sunlight, he found a single bladed ax. He grasped the vermillion handle. He would remove the reminder; he would extract the beautiful tumor taunting him with surgical precision.
Fredrick stands at the base of the magnolia tree with a new moon, the sound of frenzied insects- patrons of an ancient amphitheatre, wild with blood-lust, as the witnesses. They would be the spectators of an emancipation of mind. The moon would make milk of the night, while Fredrick exorcised the darkness.
He held the ax at the height of his waist, and with one forceful swing, pierced the bark of the magnolia. He continued. The hacking sounds ricocheted, while Fredrick cut away at his torment. He felt alive, killing the tree.
Magnolias fell from high, blanketing the grass, gracing the ax, yet cursing the holder. Fredrick felt as if he had been ejected from the earth, into an infinite expanse. He was transported to a place without sound, where the falling magnolias were incandescent lights exuding a morose pulse in the cosmos of his mind.
One must take solace in the facts of any given situation. The truth of all matters is that they end- and most things will never be resurrected, and in fact, are unworthy of said resurrection.
Before the night was finished, and the moon tucked itself beneath the horizon, Fredrick watched the magnolia tree fall. His triumph, he believed, in fact, swears, caused the magnolia to sigh with the final incision. Fredrick poured gasoline on the remains of the tree, and like a pagan, danced in a wild frenzy, ecstatic- caught in the remains of the rapture known only to the magnolia flowers.
The morning came, and Fredrick found himself in his bed. He awoke smiling. That day, he would actually leave home; today, he would start his life anew. Fredrick, washed, dressed, ate, and even hummed a pleasant tune. Finally, he decided to go out of the house. Fredrick expected a black blemish on the yard, and the charred remains of the magnolia, but he found a magnolia unmoved.
A streak of unfathomable fear and confusion confounded Fredrick, and his vision wavered, and his knees felt weak. Fredrick ran, jumping the steps, to the outhouse. He opened the red doors, pushed away cobweb, stomped his toe on some unseen metal, and found a single-sided ax, with a vermilion handle.
Fredrick chopped at the magnolia, again. He cut it deeper and harder than before. His hands blistered, and bled. The magnolia fell. The flowers were grounded.
Fredrick awoke in his bed, smiling. He washed, dressed, and ate. He went outside, expecting to find the remains of the magnolia, and surely, the tree still stood. Fredrick cut the tree down.
Fredrick awoke, happily. He cut the tree down.
Fredrick awoke happily. He cut the tree down.
Fredrick awoke happily. He cut the tree down.