My Mostly Happy Life - Autobiography of a Climbing Tree

Updated 2 years ago By Shelly Reuben
 My Mostly Happy Life - Autobiography of a Climbing Tree

Illustrations by Ruth McGraw

Chapter 3 – Pepita and Her Violin

Don’t ever let anybody tell you that trees can’t fall in love.

I have on more than one occasion.

I still do.

I usually fall in love with pretty girls in summer dresses, but not always. Once it was a middle-aged woman with large sad eyes and dark red lips. She wore a black velvet, fur-lined cape,

held a white ermine muff, and walked through the park on snowy winter days like a banished Russian tsarina. Another time, I fell hard for a cheerful, easy-to-laugh waitress with a big bosom, brown eyes, bright blue lacquered nails, and dyed blond hair. Later that same year, I was captivated by an elderly lady with beautiful bones, delicate hands, and a tantalizingly sweet half-smile that suggested tender and happy memories.

My first encounter with Petita, though, was immersed in danger and preceded by screams, with violence and romance hard at their heels.

“Help! Help!” I heard from not far off, but before I could pinpoint the location, she stumbled into the light of the street lamp and hurdled herself through the entrance to the park.

When I think now of how she looked then, I remember an elfin beauty fleeing in fear for her life. She had shoulder-length fair hair, gossamer in the lamp light, skin as pearly white as the inside of a seashell, and terrified blue eyes. She lurched as she ran, because any grace she may have possessed was encumbered by the violin case that she clutched to her chest.

 My Mostly Happy Life - Autobiography of a Climbing Tree

She continued past me, but drew to a confused halt thirty seconds later where the footpath forked left and right. Just then, Alonso Hannah, behemoth-like and larger than life, emerged from the greenery. As easily as if she were a child’s toy, he lifted her off the path, strode forward, and placed her on one of my lower limbs.

“Stay here until I come back,” he barked, and then he ran into the street.

It is a wondrous thing for big, ungainly tree like me to hold a beautiful woman in my arms. I was more accustomed to the grabbing hands and scampering feet of children than I ever would be to the delicate soul who balanced on my branch like a creature made out of starlight. I was terrified that I would drop her.

I did not.

 My Mostly Happy Life - Autobiography of a Climbing Tree

But I did get the chance to study her up close. Her face. Her smell. The touch of her fingers on my bark.

It was her face that intrigued me most. Her skin was so white, it seemed transparent, and it was as soft and smooth to the touch as the petals of a rose. She smelled like lilacs, even though the lilac season was over, and there were dark half-moons of fatigue under her still frightened eyes.

I wondered if she could feel my trunk, my bark, my twigs, my leaves, and my branches … every part of me … trembling with emotion. I loved the honor of sheltering this fragile, imperiled creature, and I felt ennobled by the groundskeeper’s trust.

Alonso did not come back for twenty minutes. When he did, he strode forward, lifted Pepita out of my arms, and gently lowered her to earth.

“There were two of them?” He growled out the question.

The woman nodded.

 My Mostly Happy Life - Autobiography of a Climbing Tree

“One short? Yellow windbreaker? The other tall? White T-shirt and red baseball cap?”

She nodded again.

“I got ‘em,” he said grimly. “Turned them over to the police.” He held out a small shoulder bag, no bigger than a wallet with straps.

“Yours?” he asked.


He gave it to her.

Then the architect, arborist, and guardian angel of my park tilted his head to one side, much like a faithful and loving dog, and said, “Alonso Hannah. That’s my name. This is my park.”

He waited.

The woman hesitated, as though considering her options. Finally, she said, “My name is Pepita St. Claire.”

And the one-armed giant who had begun the day as the Samuel Swerling Park groundskeeper and morphed into an avenger, underwent yet another transformation and became something of a chivalrous knight.

He held out his right (and only) arm to her and smiled.

Alonso had a very nice smile.

“Come on Pepita,” he said. “I’ll walk you home.”

Copyright © 2017, Shelly Reuben Originally published in The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY - Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her books, visit







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