"Did you hear something, Viola? How about you, Beatrice? Or
is Paulie T. just talking out of his branches?"
"Ida B, don't pay him any mind," Viola told me.
"We heard something on the wind about a storm headed your way, and we were
all settling in and hoping you were okay, too. That's all."
"There's no storm coming today," I said. "Can't
you feel how beautiful it is?"
"You take care of yourself now, Ida B," said Viola.
And then they all just stood there, like they were sleeping standing up.
Well, I got tired of feeling like I was alone in that particular
crowd, and I was peeved about Paulie T.'s pleasure at my expense. "All
right then, I'm headed off to have some fun somewhere else," I said.
And none of them said a word back.
Once Rufus and I got to the brook, I asked right off, "Did
you hear something about me and some trouble?"
"Did you bring the rafts? Are you ready to play? Get 'em
ready and get 'em in so we can play, Ida B," said the brook, ignoring my
"In a minute. First I want to know if you heard something
about trouble heading my way."
"My-oh-my, and will you look at that," the brook
replied. "I'm late for an appointment, Ida B. Gotta go, gotta go.
"Better talk to the old tree," the brook went on as it
rolled away. "Yep, yep, that's a good idea," it called as it tumbled
over the rocks and around the mountain and was gone.
Now, by that time I'd just about lost my patience with the
bunch of them. But talking to the old tree was a good piece of advice, so I didn't
mind the brook's rudeness too much.
Rufus and I hiked up the mountainwhich isn't really a
mountain, but "hill" is just too tiny a word for ittill we got to
the old tree that has no leaves and hardly any bark. That tree's bare and
white, and people think it's dead but it's not; it's just older than old.
It hardly ever speaks, and even if it does you often have to wait awhile. But
when it does you want to listen, because it's also wiser than wise. And it
always tells the truth, unlike some of the young trees that tell you what they
think you want to hear or are just too, too clever.
When we got in front of the old tree I said, "There's a
rumor around that I'm in for some trouble. Now that's from Paulie T., and
you and I both know that his word's worth about two fake pennies. But I was
wondering if there's something I need to know?"
Then I climbed up into the tree's branches, and Rufus settled
in down at the bottom of the trunk. I rested my head on one of the limbs, closed
my eyes, and got ready to listen with my insides, because that's what you have
to do with that particular tree.
I was sitting there for quite a while, and not minding a bit.
The branch against my face was warm and smooth, and it still felt like a
nothing-could-go-wrong day. I was ready to believe that Paulie T. had just been
working his mischief, when all of a sudden I got a cold feeling inside of me and
I saw a dark cloud at the front of my closed eyes.
And I got a message, but not in words. That tree lets you know
things, those things go into your heart, then they find their way up to your
head, and once they get there they turn into words. At least that's how I
think it works. So, if I had to give it words, this is what I'd say the tree
was telling me:
"Hard times are coming."
Well, my eyes flipped open so I wouldn't have to look at that
darkness anymore. I jumped out of the tree, almost landing on Rufus the Saliva
Factory, because I felt like I'd gotten a shock right through me.
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