The Lilac Tree is a short story included in Marion Husband’s short story collection “Six Little Deaths” dealing–as the title suggests with the subject of death.
The only gay historical story, The Lilac Tree, is a reminiscence of an elderly man–in a care home, or rented accommodation, being looked after by non-relatives who has nothing much but memories to bring any sunlight into his life. A child asks him an innocent question, and although the answer to that question is “no” it triggers bittersweet memories of a fleeting but intense first love with an officer in World War One.
Husband’s writing is always a delight to read, and this is no exception. It creates an atmosphere with the lightest of touches, says just enough and no more. We are taken from the old man’s life:
me, in my slippers and cake-crumbed cardigan
and transported, by the smell and sight of lilac, to that love affair, long long ago:
He waited for me beneath a lilac tree, the cigarette between his fingers sending its frail grey wisps of smoke to the pale blue sky. He smoked cigarettes until there was nothing left of them except the stain on his fingers and when he kissed me the taste was pure tobacco.
For a short story it packs a punch, although one expects the sadness, it doesn’t make it any less poignant. The saddest part was the young man living his life and still remembering this as such a vivid memory. I wanted him to have more vibrant memories to erase it.
There are five other stories in the collection, and all are beautifully written, and for the price this is well worth getting and reading again and again.