This isn’t the first time. Sometimes, it feels like she’s always climbing this tree: when her little brother betrays her; when her memory fails her; when she barely passes a test and her father tells her, “One more C…
While walking home one day, I spotted a tree tilted over onto the sidewalk. It had been pulled up by its roots, perhaps by a recent storm, and had fallen forward out of its small patch of raised city grass so that the tree appeared to be attempting a handstand. It remained there a couple days until finally someone came to take it away, and I walked by it every day, pausing a little longer each time. During one of these passes, I thought how easy it would be to climb the tree now, with its branches so low.
For me, climbing trees has long been wrapped up in coming of age, budding queer sexuality, and the discussion of what’s “natural,” so when I got the idea for this story I knew I wanted it to be a kind of awakening for the main character. A sexual self-discovery wrapped up in secrecy, power imbalances, and moments of unexpected vulnerability. In my first draft of the story, I tried to fit it all into a single 300-word paragraph. Then, when that left too many unanswered questions for readers, I expanded the story, allowing it to balloon to three paragraphs and 600 words. Finally, after over a year of revisions, I cut the story back to one long paragraph. The version published here is the fourth or fifth draft of the story, which is itself the seventh story in my “A Girl” series.
I started the “A Girl” series a couple years ago, while preparing myself for the publication of my story collection, Night Beast. I returned to it periodically for two years before finally admitting to myself that it could be a collection. That’s my project now: a collection of flash that explores the complexities of girlhood and the narratives we’ve constructed about it through a variety of genre lenses. “A Girl Climbs a Tree” is one of the few realist “A Girl” flashes I’ve written so far, but it remains one of my very favorites, perhaps because it has taken the longest to get right—so far; I have a lot of other “A Girl” flashes in the works!
RUTH JOFFRE is the author of the story collection Night Beast, which was longlisted for The Story Prize. Her fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, The Masters Review, Lightspeed, Nashville Review, and elsewhere. Her months-long interview series with the authors, editors, and curators of craft books and resources is freely available on the Kenyon Review blog. She lives in Seattle and teaches at Hugo House.