It’s an odd place for it, at the edge of a children’s playground. It doesn’t quite belong but it’s always been there, for as long as I can remember. It can’t be there on purpose, it’s the result of an accident. I’m sure of it. Why would anyone plant a pear tree there?
It’s a bit strange to be standing here, at the opposite end of the playground, on the side of an alleyway, some twenty-odd years later, looking at the tree. As a kid, I could see it, straight ahead, from the top of the slide with the red staircase. I could also see it on my right while sitting on the swings if I was facing in the right direction. Of the three spring-mounted horses, there was only one that looked at the tree, the other two looked away; together, they formed a rounded triangle. In the spring, when the tree was in bloom, you had to sit at the far end of the seesaw and wait to teeter to the top for a view of the flowers.
Over time, the painted steel we used to play on, with the smell that sat at the back of your nostrils and dripped into your throat, has transformed into hard, colourful plastic. The loose gravel that left a mark every time it broke a fall has become rubber pebbles, probably made from ground up tires. Looking back now, things were better then, even though every thing was harder.
This playground is out of the way. I only came because I had an afternoon to kill. We moved away from the neighbourhood, the park, and the pear tree while I was in high school. A few years later, I left the city. I’ve been back several times to visit my folks but this is the first time that I’ve come to see the pear tree. None of my friends live in this neighbourhood. There’s no one else to visit.
It’s older now, the tree is. Of course it is, but the world looks young when you are, too. I’ve since seen orchards with rows of pear trees lined up in good order, pruned regularly, and watered automatically. The fruits of those trees are picked and placed in cheap woven baskets and then sold to local tourists like me who are just trying to escape their lives for a weekend. We used to take only one fruit at a time from the tree I’m looking at now, sometimes on our way home from school and sometimes when we got high after sunset.
What an incredible stroke of luck, that tree is. It was likely born from the seed of a carelessly discarded snack and spared as a sapling by an inattentive groundskeeper. It has managed to survive long enough to root itself into the memories of the children from this neighbourhood. How did the mice and jackrabbits in the area miss it back then, when it was simply a seed? They must miss some or we wouldn’t have forests, would we?
I remember throwing rocks at the tree from where I’m standing now. It was target practice. At first, it was all about getting distance. Soon, accuracy was key. I broke the windshield of a car that was parked in the opposite alleyway, behind the pear tree. The father of one of my classmates yelled at me from behind the fence of his backyard. I just stood there, with my mouth open, frozen because I got caught. I think it was her stepfather.
There was another time when a daycare teacher caught me throwing crab apples at a parked school bus in an attempt to get them over the bus. I had to do lines for that one. “I will not throw crab apples at the school bus,” one hundred times over. I distinctly remember using a lined, ledger-sized sheet of paper. Only a few apples cleared the bus and hit the sidewalk on the other side of the street. Most of the rest hit the side of the bus. No windows broke.
There aren’t any children playing or throwing stones in the playground right now. It’s a hot day at the end of spring. They must still be in school, the same elementary school that I went to. I wonder if they’ve seen my picture on the wall. Did I ever look up to look at the framed mosaics of faces? Probably not. I doubt I’d remember if I did, anyway.
Where I live now, there are no jackrabbits. There are rats and raccoons, though. I know I’m homesick when I catch myself hoping to see a jackrabbit while looking at an empty field, that’s usually in a park, crowded with people, and surrounded by intersections. Whenever I drive in this city, I always slow down for the jackrabbits when they are crossing the street and running away in their zigzagging way.
I can’t stay here for much longer, reminiscing like I am. I have dinner plans downtown. I doubt the tree will be here for much longer, either. It’s older than me, that I know — probably close to forty. My timing wasn’t great for this visit; it’s too late in the season to see the pear tree flower and too early for it to bear fruit.