In the backyard was the apple tree. Twice her height, hard green apples clinging to spindly branches. Still burning with embarrassment, Cynthia marched out.
'Hello Cynthia.' said the tree.
She scowled at it. "The kids at school say trees can't talk. How come you are?"
'Ah.' It had the grace to look ashamed of itself. 'I'm not really a tree, you see. Or I wasn't. I'm your father.'
Cynthia looked at it carefully. "I don't have a father. He died when I was little."
'I didn't die, I think I'd remember if I did. I just woke up one day... and I was a tree.'
"Oh." Possibly that was okay. Fathers were supposed to talk. "How did you become a tree then?"
'I've had a bit of time to think about that. I think your mother is a witch. She turned me into a tree.'
That was a bit of a surprise. Her mother had never struck Cynthia as particularly witch-like.
"Are you sure? Why would she do that?"
'Who else could it be?'
"Oh... Do you like being a tree?"
'Well... It has benefits I suppose. I get to talk to you a lot, that’s nice.'
"That's good then." she decided.
'Although...' the tree continued hesitantly 'I'd really quite like to be human again. Do you think you could change me back?'
"How? I'm not a witch."
'You are your mother's daughter. If she has magic, so do you. That's how it works in the stories, right? Maybe if you really wish hard for me to be a human again, I will be.'
"Maybe... I guess I'll try, if you want me to."
'Thankyou, I'd like that a lot.' said the apple tree.
Michael sat next to her, having apparently forgiven her.
"You're weird." he told her, then attacked his chocolate bar. This required his full attention since it included chewy caramel.
"Sorry." she said, still embarrassed. "Um... do you have a father?" she asked him carefully.
Michael coughed chocolate crumbs.
"Course I do. Everyone has a dad."
"Oh." He inspected his snack. "You're lucky."
"What's it like? Having one?"
"Um... pretty crap really. I mean, he brings good presents. I got a wii for Christmas." This was said with great pride, she was obviously expected to be impressed. She indicated that she was.
Michael shrugged. "But he's nothing but trouble. My mum hates
him coming around, and he gets really crap if I want to play a one-player while he's there."
He bit savagely into the chocolate bar.
"Oh. Doesn't he talk to you? Tell you stories and stuff?"
Michael carefully finished chewing. "No, dads don't really do that sort of thing."
At home, Cynthia's mother was packing someones dress into a box, ready to send.
"Mum... what was dad like?" Cynthia asked.
Her mother paused and stared at her.
"Um..." she quickly smoothed down the skirt and moved over to sit on the sofa. She held out a hand, Cynthia obediently took it and climbed up with her.
"Well, he was a very nice, kind man. He adored you. He used to play with you all the time, read you stories. Why do you ask?"
Cynthia drew a deep breath. "Are you a witch? Did you turn him into the apple tree?"
"I... no!" her mother had pulled back as if burned. "Why... oh. I didn't think you remembered anything, you were very young."
"You did turn him into a tree?!"
"No!" Then more softly, "No. Your father died. We buried his ashes in the garden and planted the tree to help remember him. Do you remember planting the tree?"
"I don't remember anything. The tree says you did it."
"Cindy..." her mother coughed and hurried out of the room. She seemed upset.
Cynthia walked outside.
'Have you tried to turn me back yet?' the tree asked, sounding hopeful.
"Um, not really. Are you sure you want me to? Everyone says… real dads don't sound nearly as good as you."
'Please. I'd be a good dad. I really don't want to be a tree anymore.'
"I think I like you better like this."
'How can you know?! You don't even remember what I was like before!"
Cynthia backed away, the tree had never argued before.
'I'm sorry Cynthia. I didn't mean to yell. Please turn me back, then I can prove I'll be a good father to you.'
"You're a tree. Trees can't talk."
The tree watched her run inside, silent.
Inside, her mother was back with a book in her hands.
"What's that?" Cynthia asked, curious.
"Something I made for you. Come see."
Cynthia climbed back onto the sofa.
"I've got lots of photos of your dad here, see, here he is reading to you." She flipped through a few pages, showing a stranger with a baby.
"I'm sorry I upset you." she told her mother, who was obviously trying to help.
"That's okay honey. I suppose... your new friends at school all have fathers, don't they?"
"Yes." Cynthia admitted. "But they say I'm lucky I don't."
"Oh. Well, your dad was a wonderful person, he loved you very much. I think you would have loved him too."
Michael seemed to know a lot about these things so she sought his advice. He suggested that babies liked everybody. When you grew up you knew better.
The apple tree watched silently as she approached.
"You're not my father, you're just a tree." She told it. "My father died, you were planted to help us remember him. I guess you've done that. Sort of."
She wasn't sure what else to add, but had a vague feeling that the tree was upset. She reached up and twisted an apple free.
"You're just a tree." she repeated firmly. "I'm not going to turn you into a person. You can't talk, and you definitely can't tell stories."
She turned and ran back into the house. The tree wasn't watching her.
Thanks to my muse; drjon