Flash Feature

The Maple Stand

– Matthew McGuirk

            One of my first memories was peering out from behind a maple desk, which I always called a stand because of the eclectic collection of objects that littered it like leaves across the ground in the fall. I remember the whispers from my parents, “where is he? Where did he go?” I never waited too long and I’d plod out from behind the stand and tell them where I was. There’s something about hiding that makes you want to be found, at least at that age.

            I didn’t really know much about maple or oak or pine or anything like that at three years old. That really began when my father took me out in the woods and pulled down the leaves of this tree or that one. He fanned out five pine needles and told me that was how you remember it’s a white pine because white has five letters like the needles. The maple leaf had sharp edges and points, but was easy to remember because we watched the Bruins play the Maple Leafs enough for me to pick that one up without the science lesson. The opposite branches are a giveaway for maple too, he always told me, not alternate like oak. Pairs are sweet on each other like the sap he always said. We tapped the trees in the maple stand during the waning portions of winter on a warm day where snowdrifts still clung to January depth, but the sun sang whispers of early April. We pulled the drill out of the dusty basement and stuck spouts through the furrowed bark. As the snow receded, we needed step stools to hang the galvanized buckets on the spouts we’d placed a little too early. We both blushed when mom asked us about the stools placed against tapped trees.

            I had friends over and in the slitting orange light of dusk we played hide and seek in the woods. There were five of us from the neighborhood and we waited in the thick brush of a scratching bramble or climbed the low, broken branches of a pine or sifted through the stand of maples hiding between the grey bark and setting sun. The game always got rough, but scraped knees and grass stains were nothing to go crying to mommy about. A too rough tag sometimes sent fists flying and gave discolored eyes and cold shoulders for a couple days, but eventually we all came back together and played. You were shamed for being the first found and always wanted to be hiding last and make them call out, “Ollie Ollie oxen free” when we were younger or “I give up already” as we got older. The fading shadows of the trees and moon rising forced us to pull out flashlights, but the games continued well into the night with beams of light dancing across treetops.

            The rough bark of the tree and the warm, soft skin of a girl was a contrast I could deal with in my teens. The scent of her perfume beat out any of the flowers that collected in the open parts of the property, her skin felt like polished stones from years in a riverbed and her movements played like the wind through leaves on an autumn day. The moments between us forgot time and we always hoped for more. The maple stand was still a place for hiding, but now it wasn’t from each other it was from our parents. We forgot that we were still minors and not living our own lives somewhere near a coast with crashing waves or a big city coffee shop with buzzing voices and steaming espresso machines. We could only hold our distance so long before we heard a call from the house and another, until we knew it was time the words reached our ears and we needed to go, now only hand in hand and no longer clinging to every part of each other. I learned to hide when I was three behind that maple stand and I’m still hiding, but now I’m not afraid to linger a little longer before peeking out.

Matt McGuirk teaches and laughs at his puns by day and scribbles somewhat coherent words nightly. He lives with his family in New Hampshire. Words in The Daily Drunk Magazine, Goat’s Milk, Idle Ink, Maudlin House, Purple Wall Stories, Sledgehammer Lit, Versification and othersTwitter handle: @McguirkMatthew and Instagram @mcguirk_matthew.

Photo by Artem Saranin on Pexels.com