It’s an almost perfect day. The sun has just come out after a long lazy nap in the clouds. It’s the kind of day when elves and unicorns and faeries can be found. And if you climbed to the very top of the largest oak you’d see a rainbow.
It’s the same kind of day that I first met Oliver. I was four, and I hardly remember anything from back then, but that day I clearly remember. I was helping out in my father’s printing shop. I watched in fascination how he set the letters on the press. It was then that Oliver came in. He couldn’t explain why he came by himself here, and he insisted that he wasn’t lost. Soon he went out, and when my father wasn’t looking, I ran out after him. It turned out we both loved exploring and magical creatures, and both of us wondered why the sky was blue. We were friends.
Today, we should have been running through the woods, or seeing who could swing the highest and then jump. It’s a wonderful day for that. But we weren’t.
THREE YEARS AGO
I’d just turned nine. He was going on ten.
I was up in that highest oak, he on the same branch. We were racing to get to the top first, and as usual, we tied. As usual, my dress got torn, although I had promised my mother to be more careful today. On the very last branch, where the leaves teased and tickled our arms, we sat down to take a rest. I took a newspaper out of my pocket, for lately I had taken a liking to the news. It had a stamp printed in the right corner. I started reading.
“Parliament Passes Stamp Act.” I waited for his response.
He didn’t say anything.
I continued reading. “We did not consent to this. Taxation without representation is tyranny!” I especially enjoyed the way the last sentence felt, how the letters bounced with energy on my tongue.
Again there was silence. Then he spoke, slowly, a pause between each word. “I think… it’s… only natural that we should pay taxes. After all… we are subjects of King George.”
This time I didn’t say anything. This was the opposite of what I was hearing at home. Since my father was a printer, the Stamp Act affected him very much. He had to pay a tax for every paper he printed. None of my family liked it. Why should we pay the Parliament if we couldn’t elect its members?
But what worried me more was that this was the first time we didn’t agree on something. I didn’t like this painfully loud silence, so I suggested we look for gnome homes. Neither of us particularly wanted to do that (we were much too old, it was more like something my little sister would do), but it was better than silence, so we did it anyway.
THE NEXT DAY
We were walking to the woods just like any other day. It was cloudy, just like any other day. But it was different, different in a way that I didn’t want to think about. I took off my shoes and went into the creek. The water stung. I saw a tadpole, reached down to catch it, but I noticed Oliver wasn’t there. He was sitting on a cool gray rock behind me. I turned to him. “Would you like to catch tadpoles?”
He looked at the water. His shoes were still on. “Well, I talked to my father about the Stamp Act.”
“He said that anyone who opposes it is a traitor to Britain.”
That my father, and even I, might be traitors wasn’t something I’d wanted to consider. But Oliver’s father is different from mine. His father is a governor, appointed by King George. He’d never approved of us being friends.
I didn’t know what to say. Before, I always knew what to say to Oliver.
He continued talking. “And… he says he knew something horrid would result from us… mingling. He says that we ought not to be friends anymore.”
The water stung even more than before. I’d read books about friends being driven apart, but overnight? No, it couldn’t happen. Never.
“Oliver, surely you wouldn’t listen to him?” I looked in his eyes. He seemed as confused as me.
“I… have to go home,” he said, softly.
AND THE DAY AFTER THAT
Three o’clock. I quickly put down my books, said goodbye to my parents, and then ran out the door. It was only after I got to the hickory tree, where I met Oliver once he came back from his tutor’s house, that I remembered. Oh, I remembered.
But I waited anyway. What was the worst that could happen?
Sure enough, I saw him coming down the road. He didn’t look at me.
“Oliver!” I yelled out.
“I’ll never be friends with a traitor!” Down the road he went. Soon he disappeared from sight. I could only see the emptiness, his shadow lingering long after he had left.
Two days ago, I disliked the Stamp Act. Now I hated it. One tax and two friends driven apart? I raced away, all alone.
ONE AND A HALF YEARS LATER
I was at the harbor with my father. I wasn’t entirely sure why we were there. Earlier, that’s where my father would pick up shipments of ink and paper. But now we were boycotting English goods, instead making our own printing supplies, so why…? Looking back, it seems too odd of a coincidence.
I stood there, looking at the ocean, thinking of England on the other side. The breeze observed me for a while. It saw I was far too happy and decided to show me some sadness.
So it crept up and blew my newspaper, and I ran for it. It blew off into the harbor, and when I looked up…
The newspaper fell on the deck of a departing boat. A boy picked it up. He looked at me. I looked at him. Then the wind got angrier and picked up, the boat getting smaller, smaller, smaller, until it was gone.
I’m up on that tallest oak again. Alone, the branch seems far too long, and I can see the nothingness, the silence that’s replaced him. Yes, there are other friends, but no one listens like he did. There’s no one who knew how to cheer me up as well. There’s no one who I laughed with as loudly. And he’s gone now.
I climb down the tree, lowering myself branch after branch. Only my footprints lie helplessly behind as I walk out of the forest, out of this almost perfect day.