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The People's Pear Tree

By William AndrewsPublished 2 years ago 9 min read

“You’ve got a big day tomorrow, Edward. Are you excited?” said Joel, sipping his morning coffee in the kitchen.

Edward shrugged and continued balancing awkwardly over the bannister in the hallway.

“You know it’s not scary. We all do it when we get to your age - it’s an important part of growing up and will help you as you get older. I’ll be there with you, remember… you’ll enjoy it”

Joel sensed the uncertainty in his son’s body language. Edward’s head was dipped low and he continued swinging around the bannister. He had lost his usual, happy self.

“Edward, come here and let me explain it to you. It will help”

Joel shifted the spare chair out from under the table and rotated it towards his son. Edward hesitated initially but obliged once he heard the pop of the biscuit tin. Moments later he was sat with his favourite treat looking up at his father. Joel smiled once again.

“Now, there was once a man who lived in France…”

“Did he speak French?” Edward interjected in a livelier tone and with a mouth half-full of biscuit. Joel smirked.

“Yes, he spoke French. And he was an incredibly clever man, and he knew a lot of things. He would invent things… machines and sometimes little robots - and then he disappeared.”

“Where did he go?” mumbled Edward.

“Well, everyone thought he had just vanished, some thought he had died, but he reappeared a few years later, with a brand-new machine and that machine, changed the way we all lived, forever”

“What was the machine?” Edward added to his questioning, somewhat more engrossed in the conversation than a few moments earlier. Joel continued.

“He named the machine ‘L’Arbre Des Amis’ which is French and translates to ‘The Tree of Friends’. And this was a special tree. Because when you stand in front of it, it looks at you, it studies you. It spends time getting to know you, you’ll feel it when it happens. And at the moment it understands you, a little fruit will appear somewhere on the tree and begin to grow. And it might grow enormous or it may stay tiny - but when it turns gold, it is ripe, and ready for you, and only you, to pick. But this is no normal fruit tree, it is a very clever machine.”

Joel paused, awaiting a question from his son but none arrived, so he continued.

“And here in England, we call this machine the ‘People’s Pear Tree’, because all the fruit are shaped like pears.”

“Do I eat the pear then? Edward jumped in. “What if the pear is really high and I can’t reach it?... and why do I want a pear anyway?”

Amused by his curious sons questioning, Joel took a sip of his coffee and continued.

“It’s not a pear like you and I are used to, it’s just shaped like one – it is more of a container. Once you have it in your hands and when you’re alone, you can open it. And inside will be… a sort of friend, one you can talk to, a companion.”

“I don’t need a friend and I don’t want to talk to anyone” Edward added, retreating into his shell and lowering his head once more.

Joel allowed a sympathetic smile to emerge but couldn’t hide the sadness he felt at hearing those words. But this was usual, he thought. Kids across the world would be going through the same process, some with similar issues no doubt, and that’s exactly what the machine was for. It had worked for him and he was confident it would work for his son.

“It’s good to speak what’s on your mind though, Edward. Sometimes you don’t want to speak to Daddy and that’s fine, your friend will be there for you. You know daddy sometimes speaks with Orion? Well, we became friends when I was your age, through the same process. Orion is my companion. I speak about you, about mummy and about me as well - all the time.

“Well, if you speak all the time then why can’t I see him or hear him?”

Joel shifted in his seat to get a little more comfortable. He was only now realising how complicated and confusing this must be for a child so young and there was no easy way in explaining. He wished he hadn’t dismissed the ‘Assisting your child through the Pear Tree process’ leaflet he had received a few weeks earlier.

“You see, this companion is specially made for you – you’ll be connected. Only you can hear it and only you can see it. But it’s just there when you need it, perhaps when you feel alone or maybe when you want to talk about mummy or your friends or even a girlfriend…”

Joel grinned, dragging the last word out longer than usual and giving his son a little poke in the belly. Edward recoiled and crossed his arms, struggling to hide his blushes.

“I don’t have a girlfriend” he said softly. Joel continued.

“Well not yet, but there’s plenty of time. Is there anyone you like at school?”

“NO!” Edward interjected quickly and darted off to his room.

Joel didn’t see his son for the rest of that day. He thought it was better to give him space but really, he didn’t know what to think. The last year their lives had been completely transformed and the weight and expectations had mounted exponentially. There didn’t seem to be any clear right or wrong paths to take and this felt confusing. Joel felt lost.

At 2pm the following day, Joel and Edward arrived at the operations facility in Ealing, West London. They were greeted at the main entrance and after a short wait, both were escorted through the building to the warehouse next door. Through two locked doors, they arrived at a third requiring a key-code to open. The technician punched in the numbers and the final door opened.

There it was. The ‘People’s Pear Tree’, a magnificent, mechanical structure of painted steel and polished brass sitting 12ft high on a low concrete plinth. The meticulous detail of every component was mesmerising with each section seeming carefully thought through and yet, the mechanical branches felt sporadic and naturally occurring, like a real tree. This truly was a majestic machine. The technician bent down to the boy’s eye level.

“Edward, I hope you’re excited, you’re about to get another new friend! If you would like to go and stand in that yellow circle in front of the tree, I’m just going to speak with your Dad quickly and then we’ll be ready to begin, Ok?”

Edward walked off to the yellow circle leaving Joel and the technician to sit in the office area located to the side.

“So, Mr Clarke, as you are aware, the ‘People’s Pear Tree’ is a free, global, emotional health programme with an aim to eradicate isolation and loneliness. Its assistant will help support the participant, your son, for the rest of their lives, creating a positive space to raise the bar on mental health. There are special add-ons that may be purchased, and I can see that you have done that here. I’ll need to run through this briefly with you. I understand this part may be difficult for you, but this is purely to clarify your son’s situation and make sure he receives the precise and tailored support from the machine and the assistant. It will be quick. Are you happy for me to continue?”

“Yes” Joel replied, lowering his head. The technician cleared her throat.

“I can see that the additional focal points requested are trauma and insecurity. The participant was in a car crash 8 months ago to which he lost his mother, Marylyn Clarke. Marylyn died holding on to her son as he remained conscious for the two hours it took to recover them. The participant sustained life-altering injuries to his arm… The father of the participant, Joel Clarke, was driving the vehicle. Can you confirm this is all correct?”

Joel remained looking at the ground.

“Yes” he replied, quietly.

The technician shifted whilst confirming the information on the computer screen in front of her.

“The prosthetic arm will need to be removed now - he can put it back on once the scan has finished. That’s all Mr Clarke, thank you.”

It took several minutes for Joel to convince his son to remove his prosthetic arm. Edward did not say a word during this time but was visibly distressed by what was happening.

The process was strange. The tree did not move nor make a sound or glow or give any indication that this life-changing phenomenon was working. After 5 minutes and on one of the lower branches, a green spark appeared which settled into a glowing, growing shape, like the inflating of a balloon. A few moments later, a bright, golden pear, the size of an adult’s shoe, hung from the branch tip.

The drive home was quiet. Joel had tried telling his son of the importance of the companion and to open it in his own time, when he feels comfortable. He noticed Edward’s avoidance of the golden gift but was confident that would change. After all, he remembered the feeling of sheer excitement when he was a little boy. Edward didn’t speak at dinner and the one-sided conversation continued up until bedtime. As with every evening, Joel helped remove his son’s prosthetic arm for bed and kissed him goodnight.

“Well done today, Edward. I’ve left the bag with your things at the end of your bed. Goodnight.”

Joel closed the door with a loud click of the latch and froze – he knew what he was doing. He carefully twisted his body around, gently leaning his head close to the door. After a few moments, the faint sound of a delicate mechanical latch could be heard beyond the door. Joel pressed his ear up closer and steadied his breathing.

“… Edward. Nice to meet you too”

Sci Fi

About the Creator

William Andrews

Writer of little fictional stories of whatever floats into my head.

[email protected]

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