The copse of trees in the southeast corner of Donna Park isn’t the same these days. The Shademaster branches have been pruned to expose a rug of pale-beige treated mulch underneath. The wooden fence behind the trees shifts abruptly from decaying walnut grey to white oak. The trees seem exposed, discarded, and isolated. And on the fence and on the trees a bruise of charred wood remains. It reminds me that adolescent angst is combustible.
The copse of trees in the southeast corner of Donna Park was once lush. They blanketed and sheltered. They formed a barrier to the world against a walnut-grey panelled fence. Inside, teenagers—myself included—huddled together. Our shoes would squelch amidst the copse’s scattered segments of soil, so we stood still to not stain our sneakers; the soles still sunk in place. We would surround each other and spark spliffs. The copse of trees inhaled slender fingers of smoke. Together, but separate. Despite it all, the trees felt seemingly happy to be there, like they belonged.
I recall on one occasion, a tall teenager beside me grew bored of lighting just cannabis ablaze. Instead, he took his recently stolen Bic lighter and played with its flame. He’d flick flaming pieces of agitated yellow mulch towards the walnut-grey fence. The copse of trees in the southeast corner of Donna Park probably felt helpless to intervene. I felt rooted in place, except more shallowly. Another helpless stick in the mud.
Before that, the group of teenagers and I were at the Ruth Avenue Plaza. I argued with the tall teenager who had lit a candy wrapper on fire and threw it into a garbage can in front of the convenience store that we had just exited. I insulted him because starting a fire in a shopping plaza with several cameras around would draw attention, Jackass. We’d be exposed for stealing Bic lighters, sodas, and snacks from the store. And also arson. As we crossed over Ruth Avenue, I noticed a woman with a shocked expression looking behind us. I didn’t hear what she said but she pointed at the convenience store. I turned around and saw a garbage can engulfed in vivid flames. It scorched the helpless column beside it. One of the teenagers suggested that we retreat to the copse of trees in the southeast corner of Donna Park.
Before that, the group of teenagers and I were inside the convenience store. Two of the teenagers argued in front of the cashier counter about drink flavours. It was aggressive and confrontational. There was alpha posturing and insults because no one drinks root beer, Weirdo. While the altercation occurred, the other teenagers I was with took Bic lighters, sodas, and snacks from the shelves. They quietly put them into sleeves, pockets, and backpacks.
Before that, I wandered down Kennedy Road. I felt exposed, discarded, and isolated. I saw a familiar group of teenagers in front of the Ruth Avenue Plaza. I was beckoned over and told of a proposed scenario wherein two of the teenagers would begin an argument over soft drink flavours. The remainder would obtain Bic lighters, sodas, and snacks. I agreed.
Before that, I walked through the main hallway on the ground level of my parents’ home. It was a hot summer afternoon and the sun’s burning heat reflected through the windows onto butterscotch-yellow hallway floor tiles. My stepfather appeared at the bottom of the staircase. There was no alpha posturing but something confrontational apparently triggered his aggression. I was shoved onto the tiles and my head vibrated on impact. A fire erupted from somewhere behind my pupils and I instinctively kicked towards his face. He blocked with his hand, and I would later learn his pinky finger had been broken. Insults were used to indicate anything, really. My stepfather barked, Get out of my house, you ungrateful little shit. I agreed. I began to wander down Kennedy Road towards the copse of trees in the southeast corner of Donna Park.
Later, I’d notice petrichor’s calmness disappear. It was replaced by stinging, swirling smoke that singed my nose hairs. The tall teenager flicked burning bark onto dry leaves. He victimized a Black-Eyed Susan with a spark, then an ember, then a smolder. Then a fully formed fire continued onto the walnut-grey fence. The group of teenagers and I abandoned the copse of trees in the southeast corner of Donna Park and went to a friend’s nearby garage to continue burning. I looked back and saw a finger of black smoke emanating. It looked like it was beckoning for help. It was ignored.
Presently, the copse of trees in the southeast corner of Donna Park doesn’t seem to ask for anything. It seems unsociable. It’s stoic, introverted, and distant. The park isn’t even called Donna Park anymore. It’s now Lethbridge Park, which is confusing because Donna Drive hasn’t changed to Lethbridge Drive.
I want to plant something there and recultivate growth. But perhaps the copse has accepted its transformation and needless intervention would change it entirely. The fence serves as a monument to its evolution. A proudly worn scar. A gradient bruise. And while the burning of the copse of trees in the southeast corner of Donna Park has long been extinguished, I will carry its flame as a torch, looking for other fingers of black smoke to put out.
NICHOLAS MOHAMMED is an Indo-Caribbean second-year Screenwriting major, with a background in stand-up comedy. He approaches writing as a tour guide, showing the reader underrepresented variations of the human condition. He was the recipient of the 2021 John Unrau Canadian Writers in Person Scholarship and 2022 York University Continuing Student Scholarship.
You can follow Nicholas on Instagram @nickysincere.