The Woman In The Ironwood Tree
In the middle of the patio grew an enormous ironwood tree. Its sprawling branches would cast huge shadows across the boundaries of the property belonging to my grandparents. I was lucky enough to have a treehouse on one of its lower branches. There I would spend hours playing alone, and on windy days I would close my eyes and listen to the leaves of the tree rustle angrily against the strong wind. On the far right of the treehouse was an east-facing window – well, not really a window by any window standards if there is such a thing – but just a square opening about two feet by two feet wide.
I don’t remember when the rickety ladder that led up to my treehouse became perches for the many cats that lived with us. But as soon as one would show up and settle itself down on a rung, others would soon follow until it looked like a ladder of fur. Still, I would always have to be extra careful when walking down it to not stumble over the sleeping balls of fur, especially if I left after the sun went down. Not that they would ever move out of the way, of course. And not that there was an entire tree that they were free to lounge on and call their very own…
Once, on a particularly warm evening, I was lying on the wooden floor and coloring a butterfly by the light of a large flashlight. As I desperately tried to stay within the lines, I heard the distinct sound of rustling leaves from one of the branches. I cocked my head up and glanced at the door to see nothing there, then I turned my head to look at the window and again – nothing. Thinking that it was nothing more than the cats playing around on the tree, I brushed it off and went back to coloring. A moment passed, and I heard the sound again – this time, it was much closer. “Silly cats,” I thought, not even bothering to look up this time. Instead, I reached for my red crayon lying just out of my reach. I leaned forward a little more and, stretching myself longer, grabbed for the crayon, which for some odd reason, rolled towards the window and under a small homemade table that held a random assortment of toys and books. Grumbling softly to myself, I rose from the floor then, walking to the table, bent over and reached my hand under it. Slowly I swiped my small hand back and forth on the floor, but to my dismay, the crayon was nowhere to be found.
That’s when I heard a soft laugh.
For some reason, I have no idea why I thought this, but I actually thought that one of my cousins came to visit and was playing a joke on me. So I quickly turned toward the laugh. And there, sitting next to my coloring book on the floor, was a woman. The first thing I noticed was the beautiful raven-colored hair that trailed loosely down her back to her waist. She smiled at me with skin as pale as moonlight and eyes the color of a peacock feather and just as brilliant. “Hello, little one,” she said. “Hello,” I replied, smiling back at her.
She held out a closed hand toward me, “I think you’re looking for this.” she said, opening her fist exposing my lost crayon.
“You found it!” I exclaimed happily while walking back to my coloring book.
“It fell through a crack in the wall under the table,” she said, motioning in the direction of where I was previously searching.
I sat down next to her and took the crayon from the palm of her hand. “Thank you so much,” I said gratefully, as my eyes darted to the page of the coloring book, expecting to see the partially colored butterfly.
Instead, there on the page was a drawing of a grave covered with roses and a headstone named Elizabeth Rathborne.
I can’t honestly say how long we spent in that treehouse talking, but during that time, I learned that she was once a mother of a daughter about my age and about how much she missed her. I learned that her life was cut short by a car accident and how she was afraid to leave this place because she didn’t know what awaited her on the other side.
That night, I also learned one more thing.
I learned that for some reason, I could not only see what was waiting for her but also who was waiting for her.
You see, Elizabeth passed away almost ninety years ago. By this time, her daughter and husband had both passed away as well, and they were waiting for her to join them.
I eventually shared what I knew with her, and she leaned over and kissed me softly on the cheek, “Thank you.” she said with a smile. Her lips were as cold as ice, but I didn’t really mind. I was just happy that I was able to help her find the peace that she desperately yearned for.
That night, as I lay in bed slowly drifting off to sleep, I thought about Elizabeth and all that she shared with me. I also thought about my own life and how much I would miss my grandparents when their time came to leave this world behind, which made me sad for a moment.
But at least through this experience, I found comfort in knowing that when my time came to leave, they would be there – just like Elizabeth’s family – to welcome me home.