Stop. Stop. Stop. Today I have an attraction to every red traffic light. Can you believe that? Alice is now late for school and I’m late for work. Bumper to bumper the cars wait for green. Go. Go. Go.
When the light finally changes the cars in front don’t move. Horns sound off. Then one horn blares for too long and I know something is wrong. A man in a business suit steps out of his car two vehicles down and stands still. More motorists get out of their cars to see what’s holding up the traffic. The deafening horn stops. There is a part of my mind that thinks at least I would have an excuse for why I’m late. It’s only then when I realise the acute silence that surrounds us.
And straight after that, I hear it. A whispering drifts into the city on the cool morning breeze.
‘Can you hear it?’ Alice asks.
The sound cradles my thoughts resting in my mind. The green light turns amber and then red. But I don’t care. My mind is caught.
‘Mumma, don’t listen to it.’
My hand reaches for the handle of the car door.
Alice crawls over me and grabs hold of my arm. ‘Don’t open it, Mumma.’
Alice swears to me that she can see colours, like little bees, floating in with the wind. ‘Everyone outside is breathing them in,’ she says. ‘We mustn’t breathe them in.’
I feel the urge to open the door. Persuading me.
‘Mumma, no,’ she warns. She pulls my hands to stop me from opening the door. Tears roll over her little cheeks as she fights with my obsession to open the door.
I stay in the car for maybe five or ten minutes, but I don’t know―everything stops around me, and after that, there’s a loud crack of sound like a tree splitting open.
The people standing outside weep where they stand. Those in the open have no protection from the little bees. Into their lungs, the colour goes down, down, right to their toes. Roots grow from their feet, fingers and elbows, snaking into the ground. Deep. Skin turns to bark.
‘She’s returning the trees,’ Alice says. ‘We took too many trees from her.’
I snap out of my daze. ‘Who is she, Alice?’ I ask.
‘I don’t know her name,’ she says. ‘But she told me not to listen.’
Eventually, there is no room for the road. When the new trees stop growing we sit in the car twisted up in the middle of a wooded forest.
Alice cups my face with her little hands and looks into my eyes.
‘She’s happy now.’ Alice smiles. ‘I’m glad she didn’t take you too, Mumma. I didn’t want you to be a tree.’