‘To open the trunk’

I’d never normally go into the bushes like that. But Dev kicks ’em high, and this one went straight over the fence. There’s a bit where it’s all twisted up, the wire, and you can crawl through. Now I wonder, what if we’d played cricket instead? What if it’d been him in goal? Perhaps I’d never have wasted those five years.

I spotted the ball buried within a sprawling bramble. I ducked under, over, contorted myself as if the thorny branches were laser beams. Once I’d retrieved it, I shuffled back towards the fence. An ancient oak tree rose above me. The trunk, all tumourous and cracked, must have been wider than I was tall. It took trees hundreds of years to get this big. Then I noticed the door.

One crack ran straight up from the ground to shoulder height. It was so unnaturally straight that I couldn’t miss it. Wedged mid-way down: two hinges. And strangest of all, where the handle should have been was a brass plate with a continuous dark line engraved on it. The shape: an oak leaf.

‘Found it yet, Roo?’ Dev’s impatient voice called out from the field. ‘Yeah mate, got it,’ I replied, ducking back through the hole in the wire.

‘Full of thorns back there. Lucky the ball’s not gone flat.’

For the rest of the day I couldn’t stop thinking about the shape: slightly imperfect, gently curling to the right, those effortless in-out curves, its delicate elongated tip… I thought about it the next time we played on the field, and every time after that.

That October, I convinced myself that the trunk door would spring open if I pressed a dried leaf that exact shape against the panel. It began as a fantasy, and I repeated it to myself so often it became a truth; a quest – one that would take five years to complete.

Every autumn, I went back to the field to look for the one. It was like searching for a piece of a jigsaw puzzle; a very particular piece, but at the same time, one that looked just like all the others. It just depended how you looked at it.

I continued like that until the year I turned 14. I knew as soon as I saw it, fluttering head over tail through the sky. This was the leaf that would open the trunk.