She had devised the question herself but had been staring at it, written at the top of the page in her small, neat handwriting, for an hour without the slightest inclination to give an answer. What is the significance of the tree in Waiting for Godot? The essay was formative, not summative, so perhaps, simply, she did not care enough. Or maybe she really had no idea. She had liked the play, she thought, had even laughed out loud while reading it. She couldn’t understand why people found it depressing (perhaps she should have written her essay about that instead). But the tree? In all honesty, she hadn’t thought that much about it.
She turned to the first page of the play. A country road. A tree. Evening. She remembered Mr Nelson, her drama teacher, telling her how strict Beckett’s estate were about productions of the play, that you had to abide by the stage directions to the letter, couldn’t fuck around with any of it or they’d fuck around with you (he may not have used those exact words). Surely, she thought, that was how you killed a work of art, stripped it of potential new approaches and meanings to the point of lifelessness (perhaps she should have written her essay about that instead). She did not have much respect for the estate of Beckett who, she thought, should probably just write their own plays and put them on how they wanted and stop murdering the magnificent artistic legacy they had been fortunate enough to inherit.
She turned to the first page of the second act of the play. The tree has four or five leaves. Next to this, in the margin of the book, she had scrawled: a symbol of hope? She pulled out her phone and Googled the idea, checked out a few of the hits. On a not very professional-looking website someone had written: As critics of Godot, such as Emily Atkins, have suggested, the tree’s very obvious presence in the beginning of the second act is an “indication of the characters’ impending salvation.” She copied this sentence onto her blank page, not intending to plagiarise – she would, of course, excise it from the final, typed-up version of the essay – but in the hope that doing so would shake something loose, spur her to some insight of her own. Nothing.
She looked up at the clock. It was almost seven, and she had agreed to meet a friend in the park at quarter past. Perhaps they could swap notes, she thought, but then remembered he did not do English or drama – he was a science type, which was basically why she liked him. He would understand if she texted, told him she had not finished – started – her homework, and that they would have to hang out another time. As she thought this, her phone buzzed. It was him. He was tired, and had not finished his homework either, and could they meet in the park another day? She tried to think of a witty reply but could not, so texted back a thumbs-up emoji (medium skin tone) instead. He did not reply.
Vladimir is not willing to allow Estragon’s forgetfulness to distract the audience from the tree’s newly formed leaves. He insists that the tree has significance, that the seasons have changed, that time has passed. This, too, was from the not-very-professional-looking website. This, too, she copied into her notebook. Nothing. A play in which nothing happens, twice. Hadn’t a critic said this about Godot? Was it Emily Atkins, she of the “indication of the characters’ impending salvation” observation? It was a good line anyway, she thought, a line a stand-up might have come up with, a line that, in a way, Beckett himself might have written. She wrote this down, hoping it would sound – if it made it to the final draft – as clever to Miss Somasundaram as it had to her when she had thought it. Miss Somasundaram was a fan of metatextuality, and she remembered her saying something about Beckett’s theatre (she always talked about ‘Beckett’s theatre’, rather than Beckett’s plays) being ‘alinear’. Maybe, she thought, she should just hand up two blank sheets of paper, and call her work ‘An Essay in Which Nothing Happens, Twice’. Miss Somasundaram would probably, at least, laugh before failing her.
She looked at the clock again. Curiously, it had stopped, the second hand ricocheting sadly between the same two indices. It was the last day of summer, and she would have had to change the time the next day anyway so took the clock down and put it on the kitchen bench, unable to remember where her mother put the spare batteries since they moved house a fortnight ago. Now that she was up, she could not bare to return to the essay. It was the last day of summer, and she wanted to go to the park to look at the trees before their leaves changed colour and fell away.