Norma looked outside towards the old factory. Her parents used to work there but since the Once-ler ran out of resources, everyone abandoned it and moved on to start different lives. Norma’s parents were some of the last people to leave. Her mom had worked in the packaging center and prepared the Thneeds to be shipped out across the land. Her father on the other hand, was the Once-ler’s personal cook. Norma had met him a few times.
She occasionally helped her dad with the cooking during the holidays and when there was an event. At those times, all the spare hands were needed for the preparations. She would help out with the desserts. She had an artistic streak in her that no one in the family knew the origin of. No one else had that talent. An obscure uncle could apparently play a Thornagon which looked kind of like your bagpipes but was a brass instrument. But that was all a rumor and no one had seen him in years.
The times that she did help, Once-ler was always very kind to her. When she would be serving the table, he would help her lower the heavier dishes so that she didn’t spill. He’d also defend her if anyone teased her about her hair colour. Norma was in her twenties and in college. At the time, she had been going through a phase and had dyed it white with black tips. It made her hair look like it was made of feathers.
After a while, he started sending someone with a message for her asking if she could make a pot of tea for him. She would always immediately start making it and rush to his office. Not because she had to rush to him or anything, he was usually very relaxed with the people who worked for him and didn’t rush them while they worked. Unless they were factory workers, then they had to meet a certain deadline. And with Norma, he wanted her to hurry but never said so.
You see, when he asked her to make him some tea, it was usually because he was having problems with his depression and could be found on the balcony of his office with his guitar. The first time he asked Norma to do this for him, she was a little nervous. He rarely ever asked anyone to his office unless they were in trouble, being promoted, or there was a meeting. When she had brought him the tea he asked her to pull up a chair and sit with him outside.
She had shakily found a chair and sat down across from him. He didn’t say anything to her but just sat and stared out at the forest, absently strumming his guitar. There was a sad faraway look in his eyes, making him nearly unreachable to everyone else. After a while, Norma relaxed and just studied him a bit more casually, rather than like she was about to be reprimanded. His confidence was gone with his shoulders sagging in defeat or maybe from the weight of what had happened to him sometime in the past. This made him look younger, almost childlike. His clothes seemed to be too big, too bold for his slight frame. This wasn’t the case when he was on top of the world. He stood taller, more erect and almost cocky.
This wasn’t how it was when it was just the two of them. She often wondered if anyone else ever saw this side of him besides her. After an hour of sitting in silence, drinking tea with him, she finally bucked up the courage to ask him if he was okay. He shook his head ‘no’ and said nothing for a time. He continued finger picking his guitar.
After a short while he finally spoke, causing Norma to jump. ‘Have you ever wished that you could take something back?’ He looked over at her waiting on a response. Norma nodded and he continued, ‘I had made a friend. My very first friend. We bickered a lot but I wouldn’t have traded that for the world. Despite my silly dreams, he encouraged me. I re-payed him by breaking a promise to appease my family. Have I ever told you about them? No? Well, they never treated me right growing up. They never encouraged me, never really loved me. Always verbal abuse. All because I was different, because I had a dream. And at the first sign of success, they acted as if they loved me all along. I was fooled by their treatment of me and turned on the only person who had ever actually cared about me. The acceptance I had always craved and longed for was right in front of me but I was too blind to see it. Good grief I wish I could take it back. I hurt him deeply which in turn tore me to shreds. I’m such an idiot!’ He exclaimed.
Norma jumped at his final exclamation then calmed herself down a bit. They sat in silence for a bit before she refilled his tea cup, smiling. ‘It’s never too late to make amends. You can start fixing it now. It’s better late than never to be honest with you. I’m sure that your friend, once he sees that you really do regret your decision, that he’ll forgive you. It will take time. You’d have to be patient.’
They sat in silence for a short time while he thought it over. ‘Why have I never invited you over before?’
‘Because I’m a lowly college girl who occasionally works in the kitchens and you’re a big time business man,’ Norma quipped.
‘Well forgive me for not doing so sooner. The next time we do this, is there anything you would like to do while we sit in silence?’ he asked hopefully.
Norma thought for a moment before answering, ‘Well, I love art, so if I could paint or draw or something, I’d be so happy.’
Once-ler smiled, ‘I’ll start a stash of art supplies for you for the next time you come. Then you may paint and draw to your heart’s content.’
Norma panicked, ‘Oh no! I couldn’t possibly let you do that for me, I can buy my own supplies when I have the money.’
‘It would be no trouble for me. Besides, you have to pay for school, am I right?’ He grinned devilishly, knowing he had won.
‘Are you sure? I mean, you already pay me for events and the holidays and now you’re wanting to buy my art supplies? I feel like I’d be asking too much of you.’
‘Look, I enjoy your company. When you smile, I smile. When you’re content, I’m content. Honestly, your happiness has been infectious today and has helped me out tremendously. Thank you.’ He smiled. His eyes were bright again and it looked as if nothing had ever happened.
Norma smiled, ‘Then thank you. That’s very kind of you.’
They bid each other farewell and went about their business.
This went on every week or so, just whenever Once-ler was down. When he was, he called for Norma and her tea. He would have a few mediums pulled out for her so all she would have to do is just sit and begin. Some days it was a canvas with oil or water paints, others, it was just a sketch pad and pencils. She would create life-like pictures of the forest that the balcony looked out on, or at least what was left of them. She used her imagination to fill in the gaps. Some days she would draw Once-ler in his depressed state. Capturing everything she observed about him, seen and unseen. Occasionally she would create a fantastical picture of him when he was younger, happier, and more alive. Slowly, the whole mansion plus the offices in the factory were filled with her artwork. Staff and foreign dignitaries would ask where they came from and he would only smile and say an old friend.
He and Norma started to become closer. He wasn’t much older than her, maybe five or so years difference. He always perked up when she came in. His face would light up and he’d hop out of his chair and pull her into a hug. ‘Hello! Thank you for coming again. Do you have any homework today?’
‘I have a bit of piano practice left but other than that, no. I’ve finished everything else.’ She sat down and started mixing her paints.
‘You never told me that you played.’ He was still standing but Norma could picture the fake, hurt look on his face.
‘You never asked,’ she replied simply.
‘Do you mind playing something?’ He asked hopefully.
Norma hesitated before answering, ‘I guess I could.’
‘Come on then!’ He took her arm and half dragged her to a large room that was connected to his office. It was a secret room that she didn’t know existed. There was a grand piano along with a collection of guitars stashed neatly in there. The room had beautiful, cedar floors that emitted a sweet, woodsy fragrance. He led her to the piano and then went to sit on the floor against the wall, watching and waiting for something that he deemed to be exciting.
Norma swallowed nervously before deciding which song to play. She chose a piece that was slow and a bit somber but that ended on a lighter note. At one point she glanced over and found that Once-ler had closed his eyes and had a slight smile on his face. He was rocking his body from side to side in time with the music. Norma grinned at the effect music had one him and went back to staring ahead as she played. It was a bad habit (or was it?) that she and the Once-ler shared. They didn’t watch what they were doing when they played. They just stared off into space and lost themselves in their minds. Norma knew the keys well enough that she never had to look anymore. Not even when she was sight-reading something. Her teacher worried that her habit might cause her to forget that she needed to add emotion into it. She did. Every time. She put all of her worry, stress, anger, pain, and happiness into each piece. Her mind was always a swirl of emotions and always leaked out in a flood through her music and art. Her teacher just couldn’t see it. Maybe it was just too confusing for her to keep up.
She didn’t notice it at first but she had finished the song and had stopped playing. Her foot was still weighted on the sustain peddle and her hands rested on the final chord. She took a deep breath and sighed. This time, the song was filled with her confusion about why Once-ler had been so depressed as of late and also her pain from her past experience that was similar to his problem. She glanced over at him again and found that his eyes were still closed. Did he fall asleep?
‘Why’d you stop?’
His voice startled her and she jumped, ‘Uhm, I finished the song.’
‘Can you play something else?’ he asked; eyes still closed.
She thought for a second, ‘I can. Any requests?’
‘Play something that expresses jubilation.’ He commanded.
Norma shrugged and immediately jumped into a cheery, fanfare sort of piece that always brightened her day when she was having a bad one. She glanced over at him again and this time he had a wide grin on his face as if he remembered something funny. ‘Are you laughing at my song choice?’ She teased.
He chuckled, ‘No. I rather like it. It reminds me of that friend I told you about. He and I got into some crazy situations. I’m just reminiscing.’
They were silent for a few measures until Norma worked up the courage to ask, ‘May I ask what happened between you two? What led to the issue? Tell me about him.’ She said cautiously.
He hesitated, smile fading before returning as a sad one. He opened one eye and looked at Norma sadly. ‘Well, his name is the Lorax. He speaks for the trees. I guess he’s some sort of woodland spirit or nymph. A hairy nymph though. He had the biggest mustache that I had ever seen in my life. He was like what a mom is supposed to be, gentle but firm. I cut down my first tree and made a thneed out of it. Just as I was finishing it, he came out of the trunk of the freshly cut plant and knocked on my door. I opened it curiously and found his upset face staring at me. He reprimanded and pestered me for days about leaving and wanting me to never cut down any trees. I promised him that I wouldn’t cut anymore down. After that he and the animals stayed in my tent house and encouraged me as I went into town and tried to sell my first and, at the time, only thneed. He and I started to get along a little better and actually became friends. It wasn’t until someone finally realized that my thneed was worth something that I started getting a high quantity of buyers.
‘I needed help. I couldn’t do it alone. So I called my family and told them that I was becoming a success and needed their help to make more. They were finally “proud” of me and agreed to help. Thieves, all of them. Well, the work was slow because I told them that they were not to cut down any trees. They could only harvest the tufts. Well, my mother came to me one day and suggested that it might be easier to just cut them all down. Wanting their love and approval, I finally gave in and said yes. That was when the Lorax and I got into it, shortly after that conversation with my mother. Our falling out was horrific. It wasn’t until after that I realized how cruel, selfish, and heartless that I had been. Like I’ve told you before, I only wanted my family to love me but I was so blinded by their sudden affection that I completely missed what was in front of me. The Lorax and I had become friends. He was my first friend. I had never had anybody growing up because I was the weird, day dreaming, eccentric kid. Nobody likes the strange and unknown.
‘Well, after that, I ignored all thoughts of him for months, not wanting to see my own faults and try to make amends. He still visits me to ask how I’m doing and beg me to stop the tree cutting. I’m so ashamed and scared of his rejection that I’ve never been able to ask for forgiveness and talk to him, so I just kind of ignore him and pretend that I’m still consumed with my work. The days I call you here are the days he has visited me. The depression and loneliness has gotten worse since the falling out. You’ve helped me a little when we talk. You’re frank and to the point. You don’t try to sugar coat everything like everyone else does in order to gain my affection. You probably think that I’m the worst sort on the planet.’
‘I do.’ His face fell at my words so Norma continued, ‘but that doesn’t mean that I don’t care for you. I know that you regret what you’ve done. You haven’t wronged me in any way so I have no reason to be mad at you. I do understand though, that you didn’t see what was in front of you and therefore made a huge mistake. That’s what makes you human. We all make mistakes, even I do. I know that if you could do it all over again, that you wouldn’t have made the same decision. Or if you did, you would have made a deal with the Lorax so that you two could both get what you want. For example, maybe have offered to plant tree trees for every one that you cut down or something, that way, the forest and its inhabitants could still thrive.’
They were silent for a bit as she let her words sink in. He looked up at her, with a small hopeful look in his eyes. ‘Do you think he’d go for a compromise like that? It’s been three years since the fall out and I’ve ignored him every other time that I’ve seen him since.’
Norma sighed, ‘I’m sure that he would be willing to compromise. You’ll have to make up with him first. And you’d better do it soon because you’re running out of forest.’ She was right. Three quarters of the forest was gone now and they didn’t know when the Lorax would be coming back for a visit, if he ever did. ‘Do you think he’d meet with me? I could be a go between until you two feel comfortable enough to talk without the regrets and awkwardness. Besides, I love nature. I could probably relate to him easily.’
‘You could? How?’ He stood and joined her on the piano bench.
‘I don’t like you cutting down the trees either but I tried to avoid making you feel worse. The only times I see you are when you’re down. What right do I have to make it worse? I hate it. I think that there are other ways to get the tufts without cutting them down. You’ve got the money to fund the research, so I don’t see why you haven’t yet.’ Norma shrugged and started to play out a random, slow melody.
Once-ler stared down at the piano and soon joined her playing by adding the undertones. It sounded different from what they had ever heard. They had two sets of feelings being played out in the same song; Norma’s curiosity and pleasure and Once-ler’s sadness, drifting, far-away thoughts, and hope. It had an eerie sound with their mix, happy yet sad. It echoed around the room that they were in and Norma could hear the overtones. It was beautiful. They stayed like that for a few minutes.
‘I never thought of that,’ he said finally. ‘I’m a musician, artist, and creative person.’ He stomped his foot in frustration on the floor causing Norma to jump, again. ‘Why is it that I miss everything in front of me?! How blind could one person be?!’ He shouted while smashing clash chords on the keys.
Norma shot her hands in front of him to keep him from beating up the piano, ‘Once, stop, stop, stop. The piano hasn’t done anything to you to deserve this.’ She giggled a little, trying to lighten the mood.
‘Then what’s wrong with me that I can’t do anything right?’ he turned on her, glaring, but Norma saw a deep wound in his eyes; a lot of pain that he couldn’t seem to express. ‘Norma, you always know what to say to make me feel better, please help me.’ He begged softly. His voice cracked as he held back the tears that he had so desperately wanted to spill since his fight with the Lorax. ‘I don’t―I can’t see to do this. Why is it that this happened to me? Why can’t it have been someone else? Why didn’t I see the care that the Lorax had for me the first time? Why have I let it go this far?’ Once-ler choked back a sob before stomping his foot in anger again.
Norma felt her eyes start to water a little. She wanted to help him feel better but she was unsure of what to say. How do you respond to something like this? He was in so much pain but her usual wisdom didn’t want to come out. So instead she pulled him into a hug and held him as he cried. She didn’t tell him that everything would be alright. She didn’t tell him that he would be okay. She didn’t tell him that she didn’t know what to say just yet. They sat there at the piano and took in the comfort of another human being. Norma decided to tell Once-ler her past in the hopes that he would see that they were both in pain but that they didn’t have to do it alone.
‘When I was young, my parents abused me. They beat me, cut me, forced me to eat bad food. I was malnourished, in severe pain, both inside and out, and down hearted. I was so broken. My teachers finally took notice of it when I was ten and something was done about it. I was saved from them and given to the parents I have now, who couldn’t have children of their own. I flourished. I picked up art and music and used them to convey what words couldn’t for me. They taught me everything that they could. They spoiled me with knowledge, wisdom, and most importantly, love. Do I still hurt? Yes. Every day. Do I have regrets? Of course. I was scared of my new family when I first moved in with them. I didn’t trust them. I thought that they might hurt me. It took me a long time to trust them. So long that I ended up hurting them.
‘When I was a teenager, mom was supposed to pick me up from the movies. She had been busy with grading papers and had lost track of time. She was late in picking me up. I sat at the theater for an hour before I figured that the worst had happened; that they hated me and didn’t want me anymore. Because I misjudged the situation, I ran away for two days before my dad found me at the store trying to steal some food. He cried so much that I realized what pain my actions had done to them. I regretted it so much. I’ve since made up with them and have put full trust in them but it hasn’t been easy. They forgave me and throughout my life, they’ve taught me to forgive others.
‘You have no idea how hard it is and how much courage it takes to forgive someone who has hurt you. I say all of this to let you see that you’re not alone in your pain and misery and also to let you know that the Lorax will forgive you but it might take time. A lot of time. Wounds heal but sometimes, the deeper ones, like from trust, take longer. Not only do they have to forgive you, they have to let you build up their trust again. Trust is not a gift. It’s earned. Slowly.’
Norma finished her story and let Once-ler finish crying. By this point, it was dry sobs and hiccups. She felt him sniffle a little from his runny nose, ‘Oh gross!’ she exclaimed. ‘Now you’re snotting on my shirt!’ Norma teased him and she heard him laugh a little bit. ‘That’s better. I’m glad I got you to laugh for a change.’ She snorted at the memories that she had made with him. Every time she turned around, he was making her laugh. It’s funny because that was supposed to be her job. She was the supposed to be the one cheering him up, not the other way around.
‘You know that helping other people makes me feel better right?’ he asked softly, reading her mind. ‘Why do you think I’m always trying to make you happy and laugh?’ He looked up at Norma and smiled softly. His face was red and wet, eyes puffy, and his nose a little runny.
Norma pulled a handkerchief from her back pocket and wiped his face then held it at his nose for him to blow. ‘Sorry, it’s a bit warm.’
He chuckled, ‘It could be worse.’ He blew his nose into it and let Norma fold it and hold it up again. After blowing the second time, he felt that he was better now and sat up. He held his hands above the piano and grinned, ‘My turn.’
‘Good heavens, you’re bi-polar.’
He snorted, ‘So are you. Have you seen all of the facial expressions that you make at the oddest of times.’ He started playing as they continued talking. ‘So what interested you so much about cooking that you had your dad teach you?’
Norma threw her head back and laughed. ‘Well, I’m no stranger to food and I also see it as an art form. To me, art is something that can bring some kind of reaction out of the audience. It’s supposed to be an emotional experience for them. So when I make dish and use simple plate décor, I get the pleasure of seeing the surprised and excited faces of my audience. Then I get to watch their pleasured expressions as they let out a contented sigh after the first and last bite. It’s just as much of an emotional experience for me as it is for them.’
‘You’ll have to teach me how to do some of that stuff. I can only make pancakes, eggs, anything that’s a boxed mix, and sandwiches.’ He snorted, causing him to hit a wrong note.
‘Maybe the next time I come, we can do that instead.’ Norma smiled then looked at her watch. ‘It’s getting late. I’d best get home before they start to worry about me.’
‘Need me to walk or drive you home? Or if you don’t want me to drive you home, I could have someone take you home.’ He offered.
She smiled at him, ‘No thank you! I’ve got to do something on my way there. I need some alone time.’
They shared a few more words as they started to clean up the untouched art mess on the balcony before Norma left the back way. There as a set of stairs leading down the balcony that she normally used to leave. It was to avoid the secretary or any of the other staff that would pester her about what was going on in his office. She and Once-ler knew that they weren’t doing anything wrong but other people might think that they were. People have a funny way of twisting people’s words in the name of gossip.
She headed east towards town. She walked until she saw that the Once-ler had stopped watching her and go back inside before she veered off to the woods. She had to find the Lorax and talk to him. When she was far out enough that she wouldn’t be seen or heard by passersby, she started to call for the Lorax. A few tired looking animals came up to her curiously.
Norma bent down to them, ‘Have you seen Mr. Lorax? I really need to speak with him.’ They nodded and took her hands in theirs as they led her towards a small river. She heard it before she could see it. The loud rushing sound was soon becoming deafening. When they reached the river, the barbaloots changed directions and started going up river, pulling Norma along with them. They reached a small hole in a hill and they knocked on the wall before entering. It was dark but they could see just fine. They would tap Norma’s hands when she needed to step up or down or when there was a rock or root in the way. The barbaloots were kind to a human stranger like her. She was surprised considering it was the humans destroying her home. She expected them to be hostile or fearful of her but they seemed too tired and sickly to care or maybe it was because she mentioned the Lorax that they trusted her.
She tried not to over think it and instead focus on what she needed to say to the Lorax when she reached him. She didn’t have long to think before she saw a dim light ahead. As they neared it, she thought that she heard a sigh. When she and the barbaloots reached the room with the light, she found that the light came from a jor of fireflies and luminescent mushrooms growing on the walls. The Lorax was sitting in a corner mending an injured humming fish. Its left fin was torn. Norma almost cried at the sight of the pitiful creature.
‘Are you here to ignore me again? Or maybe you want to rub it into my face that I don’t matter and that you don’t have to listen to me.’ He mumbled without looking back at us.
‘Neither,’ I said softly.
The Lorax looked back at me then rolled his eyes before turning back to the fish. ‘Oh great! Another human to poke fun at my warning and mow down more of my trees.’
Wait, what? Norma thought to herself. Why would she do that? ‘No. Mr. Lorax, sir. That’s not why I’m here. I’m Norma and I speak for the humans that still care. And I also speak for the human that doesn’t know how to say that he’s sorry and is sinking lower and lower into his depression from his shame, guilt and loneliness.’ The Lorax looked back at Norma when she started to say that she spoke for the humans. He looked a little curious until she started describing Once-ler.
‘Hmph! That man only cares for his money.’
‘That’s not true. Well, at least, not any more. He told me that he’s ashamed of what he did. He’s distraught that the only person who really cared for him, he turned on and ran into the ground. He regrets it every day and sinks even lower each time you come to check on him and continue to beg him to stop production. Please, I’m begging you, find it in your heart to forgive him and let him try to earn your trust again. He has been beating himself up over what he did. He hates that he turned on you for the family that played him. He’s sorry for ignoring you every time you some but he’s so deep in his depression and shame that he can’t bring himself to look you in the eyes and ask for forgiveness. He believes that he doesn’t deserve it. He’s also realizing that there was another way for the two of you to have what you wanted most without ruining your trust in him. He sees that he could have asked you to amend the promise in order to save the forest and his business at the same time.’ Norma went over to the Lorax, placed a hand on his shoulder and kneeled on the ground next to him. ‘Please know that he does care about you and misses you terribly. He misses your friendship more than he loves anything. I know that that might not make sense to you but please believe me that he would do anything to take it all back and try again.’
Norma stopped to let the Lorax think about it. He sighed and it took her a moment to realize that he had started crying. The barbaloots and the fish came over and pulled him into a group hug while he wept. ‘This is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. Why would you tell me this? Why do you care about me, the trees or our friendship?’
‘Because I do care about the trees and the Once-ler and in a roundabout way, you.’ She pulled out a scrap piece of paper that she had sketched what she believed the forest looked like before the company started. It was an elaborate, emotional piece that she wished she had done on canvas and painted. She had tried to recreate it but nothing came close to this picture. She couldn’t reproduce those same emotions.
The Lorax looked down at the paper then back at her, ‘You did this?’ Norma nodded. The Lorax looked back down at it and started crying again. ‘This is beautiful. It’s just like I remembered.’
‘You can have it if you want,’ she offered.
The Lorax hugged the drawing close to his chest then passed it around to the barbaloots and the fish to see. They all seemed to brighten a little at the picture of their home; what it used to look like anyways. ‘Thank you,’ he said. He motioned for her to sit on a log across from him while he finished working on the fish.
‘How do you meet him?’ he asked absently.
I thought about it for a moment before answering, ‘My dad is his personal cook and my mom works in his factory. During the holidays or during special events, I help in the kitchens and with the serving. I usually only do the desserts because of my artistic abilities. One day, after you visited him, he asked for me specifically to bring him some tea and had me stay there a while. He played his guitar absently as we sat there in silence. He looked so young in his downcast state. He eventually opened up to me and we started talking. He found out that I am an artist and so every time he called for me, there would be art supplies set up for me and we’d talk while he played and I painted or drew. We’ve started to become friends and he opened up to me earlier about the guilt he had been bottling up inside about the fight you two had. He cried for a good thirty minutes before he finally stopped.’
‘So what, you’re his new shrink or something?’ The Lorax asked gruffly.
Norma laughed, ‘not intentionally. I honestly don’t even know why he chose me to be his comforter but I’ll be honest with you. I’m glad he did. I finally have made a friend that understands the pain that I’ve also gone through. It’s comforting, in its own weird way.’
‘I chose you because you were always the happiest person that worked for me. Everything you said and did was genuine.’ Norma and the Lorax turned to see the Once-ler coming into the light from the dark tunnel. ‘He had a sheepish look on his face. ‘You see, I was so depressed that I’d lost my only friend and that the people around me only bent over backwards for me in order to get attention and hopefully profit from it that when I saw how genuine you were and how much it reminded me of him,’ he pointed at the Lorax. ‘It was comforting to find someone like that and I knew that I wanted to be part of the reason that you were so happy.’
‘That sounds like a confession of love to me,’ the Lorax said sarcastically.
Norma didn’t miss a beat though, ‘Oh, you do mean for you right?’ She grinned at his shocked face.
‘What do you mean by that?’ he sputtered.
‘Well, if I remind him of you, then maybe he’s actually confessing to you.’ She snorted at both the Lorax and the Once-ler blushed and started denying it. ‘I’m teasing. Gosh.’
‘That was not what I meant by that. I’m sorry.’ He grimaced.
‘So why are you here?’ The Lorax asked gruffly as he continued to work on the fish; he was almost finished.
‘To try and make up with my friend. To apologize. To ask if there’s any way that he could forgive me. To hope and pray that maybe we can come to an agreement so that we both benefit.’ Once-ler smiled nervously at the Lorax who only scowled at him.
‘An agreement? Id that what you think this is about? You broke your promise. You broke my trust in you; in their trust in you!’ he motioned towards the animals. ‘You were selfish, heartless, and a piece of crap to us. Why do you think we’d want to come to an agreement with you?’ he spat.
Once-ler winced at the harsh words, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Please let me explain why I did it.’ He pleaded.
‘Why should I listen to you? The only words that come out of your mouth are lies. All of it!’ The Lorax stood up and faced the Once-ler. ‘The only human in the world who seems to care about us it her,’ he motioned to Norma. ‘And she’s the only one who seems to want to make things right between us and the humans.’
The Once-ler held up his hands defensively, ‘Please, I promise that I didn’t do it out of greed initially. All I wanted was acceptance from my family. When I finally got it, I didn’t realize that they didn’t mean any of it. They just wanted to make money off of me. I was too stupid and blind to see that you encouraged me every time I turned around and actually cared. Yeah, we got off to a bumpy start but then we became close. I’m sorry that I was too thick headed and had my head up my butt to see that. It wasn’t my intention to hurt you. I was blinded by my family’s praise.’
Norma noticed that he wasn’t in his normal green suit. He had changed into his old blue striped plants, white shirt, grey vest and hat. This wasn’t an outfit that she had ever seen him in. He looked, normal; less stuffy and out of place. He looked more like a grown man who was trying to go back to his roots.
The Lorax looked him over, ‘What is it you wanted to make an agreement on then? Out with it!’
‘Because I couldn’t keep my promise to you and still keep my business growing, I chose to cut down more trees. I think what I should have done is asked you if for every tree I cut down, two or three more would be planted in its place. That way, the forest could still flourish along with my business.’
The Lorax huffed, ‘Took you long enough to think up that plan did it?’
‘Actually Norma suggested it to me. Again, I was too stupid to see what was right in front of me. Lorax, I’m sorry.’
The Lorax looked over at Norma, causing her to gulp nervously. He then looked back at the Once-ler and glared. ‘Get out. I need time to think.’ He turned his back to the Once-ler who sighed sadly, looked over at Norma then left. The Lorax looked over at Norma. ‘That means you too Sweetheart. I’m not mad at you; quite the opposite. But I really do need time to think.’
Norma nodded and started to leave but paused in the doorway. ‘Do you think you’ll ever make up with him or forgive him?’
‘I forgave him long ago but I wanted him to actually see how he had wronged us. I needed to hear him say that he was sorry. Whether or not we’ll ever be able to be friends again, I don’t know. It will take time.’ He sighed.
Norma chuckled, ‘That’s what I told him.’
‘Then you’re one of the few wise humans out there. Thank you again. Really. Thank you so much. I’m actually very happy. My old friend is slowly coming back to me. That was you. Thank you.’ He came over and handed her a seed. ‘When he’s ready, have him plant this.’ She nodded, sticking it into her pocket.
Norma smiled at him then left. When she emerged from the cave, she found the Once-ler sitting by the river staring up at the moon, or what could be seen of it. She went and sat down next to him, pulling her legs close to her chest.
‘Do you ever miss the stars?’ he asked absently.
‘Everyday. They were one of my favourite parts about nature when I was young.’ I smiled and looked at the faint glow peering out from behind the clouds and smog.
‘Mine too. I used to have a telescope when I was a kid. I would sit on the roof of our house with it and my guitar. I’d be up all hours of the night writing songs and stargazing. I miss that.’ He looked out across the water and threw a rock into the flow.
‘You could get it back you know. Close the factory and if not that, at least make it more nature friendly. Also plant more trees.’ They sat in silence, enjoying what they could of the dirty night sky.
After an hour of this, Once-ler put his hand over hers. It wasn’t a romantic kind of touch, but it was a friendly comfort to the two of them. After another few minutes, the Once-ler looked over at her, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be getting home?’
Norma laughed, ‘Yeah, I really should. Or if not, at least text them and tell them where I am.’ She pulled out her cell and sent a quick message to them. After a minute, she got a response from them. They were okay with her being out and were glad that she was alright. They continued to sit there before Once-ler pulled out a note pad from his back pocket. He tore a sheet out and began to fold it. When he was finished, he gently placed the paper flower in the river. They watched it float out of sight before staring back out across the water. Norma started picking at the tall wild flowers around them and began to weave a wreath. When she had finished, she removed Once’s hat and set it around his hair, using two or three locks to hold it in place. She weaved those into the wreath then grinned.
‘You should have been a flower child.’ She then snorted trying to fight back the laughter. Once looked down into the river water at his reflection.
He stared for a moment in shock at the sight before throwing his head back and letting out the purest laugh that Norma had ever heard him utter. For a moment she thought he had cracked before she started laughing with him. The fell back onto the grass, laughing uncontrollably. What a day they had had. An emotional rollercoaster at every turn. They let every bit of stress and tension that they had left out in five minutes.
Once motioned that they should probably go and Norma nodded in agreement. They brushed themselves off and started for the main road. It took them a while to find it but eventually they made it.
Once looked down at her, ‘Will you be okay going back on your own or do you want me to walk you?
She thought for a moment, ‘Sure. It’s what, two am now? Probably isn’t safe.’
They walk in silence towards town, still thinking about the problem with the Lorax. ‘Hey, Once?’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘I don’t know yet. I’ve apologized, offered a way to make up for it, and told him what had caused my decision. It’s up to him now. I just have to wait.’
Once-ler got Norma to her home at the other end of the city. He hugged her good night and thanked her for trying to help him. ‘Really. I appreciate what you said to the Lorax.’ He gave her a reassuring smile before setting off for the night. Norma had told him to text or call her when he got back.
The next day after Norma got out from school, she decided to head for the Once-ler’s home. She thought to surprise him with a tray of musical cupcakes. She had created little guitars, pianos, and music notes out of baking clay. She was mighty proud of them and couldn’t wait for him to try one. She didn’t have to be called to know that he would be depressed that day and had spent the whole night making them.
On her way there, she noticed that there was a man made path leading into the woods that wasn’t there when they had left that night. It was a faint one but the signs were there. She looked around and found a large boulder that she could set the container on then set off to figure out who it was. There were mussed branches higher up so the person must have been tall. She thought about all of the tall people that she knew but only the Once-ler would have a reason to come out here.
She found Once-ler asleep in the grass, snoring softly. There was a barbaloot that had snuggled up to him. Norma grinned and went back to the road to get his cupcakes. When she came back, he had rolled over and the barbaloot was giving him an indignant look. He looked up at Norma as if to say, ‘now what?’
Norma motioned for him to go on Once-ler’s other side and burrow in again. The barbaloot did just that and Once-ler instinctively threw an arm over him.
Norma stifled a giggle and sat down in the grass next to him. A few humming fish came out of the river to sit with her. They started to hum a lullaby for the Once-ler and after Norma caught on to the progression, she joined in with a few words. She played in his air and rubbed his back as he slept.
After a half hour of absently playing in his hair, she noticed that Once was awake and staring out. His eyes were a little puffy from crying and his face was a bit red.
Norma handed a few cupcakes to the humming fish. They stopped their humming to start munching and flashed smiles of approval. She the. Handed one to the barbaloot that had sat up. He looked up at her longingly.
‘Okay, fine. You can have one too.’ She winked at him and handed him a cupcake with piano keys on it.
Once-ler rolled over, ‘Where’s mine?’
‘I don’t have any for you.’
‘What? That’s rude.’
‘The whole point of making them was for you. Of course I have some for you.’ She handed him one with a guitar in it.
He sat up and started licking the frosting off. When he had finished that, he started peeling the paper off to bite into it. ‘This is good. Better than what you normally bake.’
‘Really? But I can make such elaborate desserts.’
‘Yes, however, the simple ones, the ones that you spend a lot of time on for someone that you care about, those are the best ones. You can taste the person’s love and care for you.’ Norma nodded and they sat in silence for a while.
‘Why did you spend the night here?’
‘The office was feeling too stuffy.’
‘Wasn’t it cold?’
‘It wasn’t too bad. I had this little guy with me the whole night.’ He ruffled the barbaloot’s fur. ‘I’ve missed you Pip-squeak.’ The barbaloot grinned at him and continued to lick the frosting off of his paws.
Norma tapped on Once-ler’s shoulder, ‘Let’s get you back to the factory. Time to get to work, eh?’ Once-ler nodded and they bid the animals farewell before leaving.
‘Thank you for the cupcakes. That was very kind of you.’
‘You’re welcome. Figured you would need a pick me up.’
‘I appreciate it.’ He smiled, ‘really.’
Norma and Once-ler’s friendship continued long past his final fall. She visited him every chance she could and when the walls were built and people were no longer allowed to leave, she and the Once-ler built a special tube system to visit each other. Once Norma married however, they couldn’t do this. She still sent him food and pictures of her daughter and eventually her grandson. He was always happy to respond, since he was lonely out there by himself, and would occasionally send her pictures of the animals he rescued. He still fought to do the right thing. To make up for his wrong. It wasn’t until Ted changed things that he and the Once-ler were finally able to make up.