Memories of Trees

Marianne Villanueva

I’m one of three people still living who can tell them what a mango tree looks like. I’m important because they think they can learn how to make more.

Apples and peaches—they think they’re close. But mangoes have proved more challenging. I’m not sure why.

Before they found me, they spent so much time examining the records. You can tell which people have been searching the longest, because the artifacts are covered with thick layers of dust. Dust wreaks havoc when it enters the lungs. Those people die faster than the rest. They wheeze even when they’re walking on a perfectly graded street. Everyone tries to avoid them as much as possible, because bad luck is contagious.


In the time before, there were trees and plants. Imagine a world with everything green. Now green is so precious, applied sparingly.

The hills are dry and brown. I still remember when there were orchards here. The younger interviewers have to ask me to spell that word: o-r-c-h-a-r-d-s. Their faces are always carefully blank. They are very polite. I wonder whether they truly believe me.

I wouldn’t mind helping them if they didn’t keep asking me to repeat. They always phrase their questions a little differently each time, and they’re quick to note inconsistencies.

Remembering is no easy thing. It seems to take all I have. By day’s end, I’m stooping; I have to be helped to my bed.

They worry I might die on them. But, not yet.

Lately, they’ve been focusing on what a mango tastes like. They ask me to think of something that’s close to the mango in taste, but I can’t think of anything.

Smooth, smooth, I say. I gesture expansively with both hands.

Warm. Wet. Stingy sometimes on the lips. My fingers wander to my lips, trace.

I say, this is a mango tree and then, in the middle of the night, I wake up and realize what I’ve described is actually an avocado. It’s stupid to have mixed them up, because an avocado is a short tree, and the mango trees I remember—what I feel pretty sure are mango trees—were so tall.

As a child, I played underneath them. My favorite game was one where boys stood on one side, girls on the other. We called to each other: come and break the chain of our linked arms! In my memory we always played this game late at night. Never any grown-ups; we were completely alone. And that girl — what was her name? Maya or Mara, something like that? Her eyes burned when mine met hers. Her lips held the promise of fire.


They record my memories on little round metal discs that flash silver in the light. Imagine how many have come before. I wonder how many there will be after.

The wind down the bare avenues sounds so mournful. I look at the tall buildings on either side and think of ghost trees. Trees that live only in me.


Marianne Villanueva has received fellowships from the Stanford University Creative Writing Program and from the California Arts Council. Her work can be found on Eunoia Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Threepenny Review, and Zzzyva. Born and raised in the Philippines, she now resides in northern California.