There were eighty lime trees in Linden Road. Despite their number and elaborate seasonal costume changes, no one in the road paid attention to the trees. The young man from number 54 had once, for no clear reason, stuck a kitchen knife in the tree outside his front door, but apart from him, nobody seemed to notice them.
The trees, though, noticed the people. They watched them with great interest, exchanging theories about their comings and goings, sometimes guessing at their motivations and desires, always looking for an opportunity to help with the many challenges the people faced.
One tree had held a sock high in her branches for over fifteen years and had no intention of letting go of it any time soon.
The trees were proud of the successes they had enjoyed in their efforts to help. People were careless and clumsy, always letting things slip through their soft fingers, and the trees made it their business to make sure these things were not lost. They carefully stored empty crisp packets, old chicken bones and soggy gloves in the shoots around the base of their trunks for when their owners would need them again. They caught flimsy polythene bags and cardigans in their branches when they floated from cars or were hurled from windows. One tree had held a sock high in her branches for over fifteen years and had no intention of letting go of it any time soon.
Long ago the trees had noticed how few of the people went outside when the weather turned chilly, and so they combined their efforts to fill the colourless autumn gardens with their beautiful golden heart-shaped leaves. The trees delighted in seeing the people stumble out into the light and gather the leaves into large black sacks day after day. The people needed so much help.
Occasionally the trees would turn their attention to someone in particular who seemed to need extra help. Tili, the tree outside number 42, was concerned about its occupant. She liked to call him Ray, though she didn’t know his name. Ray left in his car every day when the birds were singing in Tili’s branches, and he returned with the birds each evening, though he was never heard to sing. Tili saw Ray through the uncurtained window watching television programmes about the big war that had happened back in olden times. She told the other trees that Ray had eight complete part-work magazine serials with accompanying DVDs all about the war, and the trees all agreed that was a lot. Tili said that another person with flowing hair and blue shoes used to live at number 42 but left one day, shouting and crying and pulling a suitcase with a broken wheel.
Now Ray was on his own. He still went out each day and returned home each evening to learn about aerial dog-fights or escape attempts from notorious prison camps, but through the window Tili saw the times when Ray would pause the DVD, put his head on his arms, and be very still. She wanted very much to reassure Ray of her constant leafy presence, to gently kiss his soft fingers and say, ‘I have not abandoned you.’ She spoke to the aphids and they agreed to help.
The next day, Ray left home slightly late, as he often did in those days, and headed for his car. A loose sock was attached by static to the back of his jacket and the tip of his tie was damp and darkened by cornflake milk. The sight of him made Tili want to gather him up in her branches. When he opened the door of his car, Ray’s fingers stuck to the handle for a moment before something sticky gently relinquished its embrace. Only then did he notice the sap covering the surface of his car. He stared at the syrupy residue, and then turned and looked for the very first time at the tree under which he was parked. His eyes travelled up the solid trunk to the burgeoning canopy of greenery overhead. Tili beamed down at Ray.
After such success the lime trees decided to extend the initiative to all the cars in the road. They loved to see the people wave their fists at them in gratitude, to hear them phone the local authority and tell them all about the incredible sap. The people spent more time out on the street now, harvesting the glue from their cars with sponges and buckets, avoiding one another’s eyes and staring instead with great intensity at the trees around them.
But not all the trees were content. Tili had seen something in Ray’s eyes when he looked at her for the first time, and what she had seen wasn’t love or gratitude, but pure, blind, animal incomprehension. When she watched him now, she could think only of the day when he and all the other people would be dead and in the ground, the UPVC sidings on their ugly houses cracked and blackened, their cheap cars rusted to dust, their brief lives as forgotten as the golden heart-shaped leaves that fell into their gardens in such numbers every year.