pages Una Palma

by Karen Ackland

Published in Issue No. 73 ~ June, 2003

Every year Noelle goes on vacation with her palm tree. After putting her suitcase in the trunk, she straps the palm tree into the passenger seat of her convertible, and drives to the coast. At night she leaves the tree on the balcony of her hotel room where the palm fronds make a comforting rustle against the sliding glass door. Sometimes she takes a beer from the mini-bar and sits outside with the palm tree. She likes a bit of conversation before bed and a palm tree is a good listener.

During the day she puts the palm tree over her shoulder and walks to the beach, one arm around the palm tree, the other carrying her Kate Spade tote. Once they are settled, Noelle leans up against the palm tree and reads. Her friends wonder what kind of vacation it can be, taking a palm tree to the beach, but Noelle can name several advantages. A palm tree offers both shade and a backrest. It never insists on swimming when she wants to finish her book. It doesn’t get hungry for French fries or gawk at teenage girls. She knows women who travel with teddy bears stuffed into their luggage, but Noelle considers that childish. A palm tree is a substantial traveling companion.

At breakfast in the hotel coffee shop, Noelle meets two women who invite her to drive into town and go shopping.

“Thanks, but I’d rather go to the beach.” Noelle replies.

“Maybe we’ll meet up at dinner,” one of the women suggests.

“I’d enjoy that. At home I get so tired of cooking.”

“You should do what I do. On the weekend, I barbeque a big package of chicken thighs and eat them all week long.”

A palm tree never suggests chicken thighs. A palm tree may not solve any problems, but it doesn’t get in the way either.

“I leave the palm tree on the balcony,” Noelle explains when the man she meets on the beach comes to her room.

“Did you get it here?” he asks.

“No, I brought it with me.”

“Having your own palm tree is eccentric. Do you go everywhere with it?”

“Just the beach.”

“I had a friend once with a pet goat. Followed him everywhere. He bought the goat when his wife complained he needed to mow the lawn. Eventually the wife left him alone with the goat.”

Noelle does not find this story particularly funny or interesting but she and the palm tree listen to it while the man undresses.

The next day a woman comes up to her while she is reading under her palm tree. “I’ve noticed that you’ve been here for the last several days. I’d like to sit under the palm tree now.”

“Oh, it does look like you are getting burnt. Would you like some sunscreen?” asks Noelle.

“I can’t stand the way that stuff feels. I need shade. Could you move somewhere else?”

“Actually, it’s my palm tree.”

“But my children are getting sunburned. And the baby.”

“You’re welcome to sit here for a while if you like.”

That afternoon Noelle has a hard time concentrating on her book. She stays to one side of the palm tree while the woman and her children stay on the other side. In the late afternoon she politely says goodbye to the woman and walks off with her palm tree.

“Really!” she overhears the woman exclaim. “There is only one of her and four of us. You’d think she would leave the palm tree. There is probably a law that says once a palm tree is on the beach it’s public property anyway.”

That night on the balcony Noelle says to the palm tree, “I’m scared.” She knows the palm tree will never reply, “What do you have to be scared about?” The palm tree will never say, “Let me tell you what happened to me” or “I know what you should do.” A palm tree will let her tell her story all the way through, and maybe by the time she gets to the end she will understand what it is about.