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Awards

 

Distinguished Author & Artist Award, 2014

First Place Award, Great American Song Contest, 2014

Second Place Winner for Poetry

Many Honorary Mentions

Max Tell / The Heart Shaped Tree

 

If children of the House of Argu saw children of the House of Argi, they would click their tongues. If children of the House of Argi saw children of the House of Argu, they would hiss like snakes.

 

The barbed wire fence that separated these two great houses was kept tall and strong.

Sometimes, a boy of Argu would play with his ball by the fence, while on the other side, a girl of Argi danced to the music in her heart.

Some say that a ball does not like to play with one child alone. A ball must spread the joy of play and laughter.

Whether this be true or not, one cannot be sure. But one day, the ball decided to play a trick on the children.

It slipped from the boy’s hand, rolled through the fence and came to a stop at the feet of the girl.

She was so caught up in the music playing in her heart that she picked up the ball and handed it through the fence to the boy.

The moment their hands touched, the girl of Argi was shocked by what she had done and hissed like a snake. 

To her surprise, the boy of Argu did not click his tongue. “Thank you,” he said, then smiled with a mouth full of braces. She could not help but smile back with a mouth equally full of braces. 

Suddenly, their hearts stopped. There stood the father of the House of Argu and the mother of the House of Argi.

“Son!” cried the father, “This is forbidden!” 

“Daughter!” cried the mother, “You have shamed us all!” 

Without another word, the two were dragged home and punished.

That night before bed, the boy asked his father, “Why can’t I play with the girl of Argi?”

“Their blood is unclean,” said the father.

The girl asked a similar question, and her mother replied. “It is not for us to ask, only to obey.”

The father kissed his son, and the mother kissed her daughter, for they loved their own child with all their heart.

From that day on, he clicked his tongue, and she hissed like a snake. 

* * * 

It did not take long before the ball got tired of all this tongue clicking and snake hissing. It jumped from the boy’s hand, leaped over the fence and fell into the open palm of the girl.

Startled and afraid, they stared at each other.

Then the strangest thing happened. Slowly, ever so lowly, fear turned into wonder.

“She has two eyes,” he said to himself, “just like mine.”

“He has two lips,” she thought, “and a big, warm smile.”

Then they spoke as if in one voice. “If you get hurt, do you cry?” 

They both laughed and started babbling back and forth. 

“Parents are silly.”

“All we want to do is play.”

“What’s the big problem?”

“We’ll be punished.”

“No, we won’t!” said the boy. “We’ll find a place, a secret place, all our own.”

So the boy walked along the fence on one side, and the girl danced along on the other side. One went east, one went west.

The next day, the boy signaled to the girl to follow the path to her right. 

Anyone watching could not have realized what they were up to. It simply looked as if he was playing with his ball, and she was dancing to the music in her heart.

The two soon disappeared over a hill and down into a secluded valley. At the bottom of the valley stood a tall old tree. Its branches grew in the shape of a heart.

Somehow, one of its roots had tangled itself in the fence. Over many years, it had pulled and tore at the fence, cutting a great gap between the land of Argu and the land of Argi.

From then on, here is where they met, in secret, in the shade of the heart-shaped tree. Sometimes, they sat together, in the archway of the opening, safe in their own private shrine.

Here is where they played together. And the girl danced, not only to the music in her own heart, but in the boy’s heart as well.

The very first time that they met in this sacred place, he asked, “What’s your name?” 

She looked timidly up at the heart-shaped tree, saying. “I’m Agriam. What’s your name?”

“Agrum” he said, then proudly, “the oldest son.”

“Oh no, that’s my brother’s name,” said Agriam, a tear rising in her eye. “He must not find us.”

“We are safe here,” he said reassuringly.

These were joyful times. One day, they played and laughed, and laughed and played, until their cheeks and sides ached. Exhausted, they leaned against the trunk of the heart-shaped tree and fell asleep.

They slept well past their lunch, past their supper, even past their bedtime. And when they awoke, their skin turned cold. It was as if they were caught in a nightmare.

Two great pools of light threatened them from either side of the fence, as angry voices from within the light shouted. 

“You are the father,” cried the House of Argu. “You must take up the first stone!”

“You are the mother,” cried the House of Argi. “You must take up the first stone!”

Agrum and Agriam trembled with fear, as two figures slowly stepped forward from either side of the fence. At first, they were shapeless shadows within the two pools of light. 

Slowly, the two shadows turned into the father and the mother.

“In the name of duty!” cried the one house.

“In the name of honour!” cried the other.

Reluctantly, the father and the mother knelt, their hearts pounding. As each picked up a stone, the voices of both houses united into one great cry that shook the branches of the heart-shaped tree. 

“Stone them! Stone them! Stone them!”

As angry as the father was, he could not throw a stone at his own son. Nor could the mother throw a stone at her own daughter. So he aimed at the girl, and she at the boy. From either side, they let their stones fly.

But the stones were not content to strike as they were commanded. Glittering in the torchlight, the father’s stone turned away from the girl and struck his own son hard upon the lip. The mother’s stone did the same and struck her own daughter just below the eye.

As both wounds poured with blood, both houses cried out in agony and despair. 

Agrum and Agriam held each other, cheek to cheek, their tears and blood mingling. 

The father on the one side and the mother on the other ran to their own child, knelt and begged forgiveness.

Still on their knees, they turned and looked at each other. Their eyes met through the shrine of the fence. They were no longer the heads of two great houses, separated by generation upon generation of hatred and mistrust. 

No. For the first time, they looked at one another as equals, for each saw the pain of the other and felt the deep cut of their own shame.

The light of the torches on either side flickered. More shapes stepped forward, those of brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles, those of grandparents and of friends. 

As these two great families stood and watched, the father wiped the tears and blood from the face of his son, Agrum. And the mother did the same for her daughter, Agriam.

For the longest time, no one made a sound. Silence filled the night. 

Stars began to break out in the sky above. The moon stretched out her arms of light, dimming the torches. 

Agrum and Agriam looked into the faces of all those who had gathered around them. With one gentle smile, they forgave them all. They took their father and mother by the hand. They led them in a dance back and forth, back and forth, through the shrine of the fence, until everyone, every man, woman, and child, of both houses, danced to the music in their own hearts.

(c) Robert Stelmach 2009



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