"George," said his father, "do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden?" This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, "I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet."
— Mason Locke Weems, The Life of Washington (1800), Chapter 2
1 — I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie, George said.
— Then you would be hopeless as a politician, Gus said.
— Why the hell would I ever go into politics? George said. And they both had a good laugh.
2 — I can’t tell a lie, Pa, George said. You know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.
— I'll learn you, boy, Gus said. And he made George eat the whole tree, including bark and leaves, along with all the cherries with the pits still inside, and George endured weeks of alternating constipation and diarrhea and was left with permanent intestinal damage. All of which later made him very angry at the British for some reason.
3 — I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie, George said. I did cut it with my hatchet.
— And the apple tree? Gus said.
— That too.
— Target practice.
— Burned to the ground.
— Dug it up and pissed all over that sumbitch.
— OK, George, Gus said, that's a good day's work.
4 — I can't tell a lie, Pa, George said; you know I can't tell a lie. I did it, I enjoyed it, and I'd do it again.
— Defy me, would you, rascal!? Gus said. A good, sound whipping's what you need.
— I'm not one of your slaves, George said. Lay a hand on me, and I'll make you regret it.
— Oh yeah? You and what army?
— This army, George said, and the ghosts of all the soldiers of the Continental Army who would die decades later suddenly appeared for some reason and scared the crap out of Gus, who from that point on was a lot more respectful of his son and let him chop down whatever trees, of whatever kind, that he damn well pleased.
5 — George, said his father, do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden?
— On the advice of counsel, George replied, I decline to answer the question and stand on my Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
So Gus had George put in chains and sent to London, where he was questioned in the Star Chamber and then subjected to torture of all kinds until he confessed to chopping down the cherry tree and every other misdeed he could think of. And when he finally returned to Virginia, he was a shadow of his former self, and his own father didn't recognize him at first. Once he did recognize George, Gus beat him to within an inch of his life. All of which later made George very angry at the British for some reason.
6 — I can't tell a lie, Pa, George said; you know I can't tell a lie. It was Nat.
— And James.
— Both of them?
— And Harry and Dundee and Charles.
— All those slaves to chop down one tree?
— That was just the beginning, Pa. They cut down the tree as part of a conspiracy to murder all of us in our sleep and burn down the plantation and end slavery in Virginia.
— Well, we'll learn them, won't we boy? Gus said. And he and George rounded up Nat, James, Harry, Dundee and Charles and had them thoroughly whipped and the slaves suffered unspeakably, all the while protesting that they knew nothing about any cherry tree being chopped down, but George and Gus grew closer than ever before.
7 — George, said his father, do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden?
— That depends on the definition of "you," "know," "killed," "that," "cherry," "tree" and "garden," George replied, and on a host of implied but tacit and unspoken assumptions underlying and underpinning the uses of those words, as well as on the general state of the colonial-cum-imperial discourse in which we find ourselves embedded. Can a "cherry" "tree," with its manifold connotations and implifications, ever truly be said to be "in" a garden? Or, being "in" a garden, can the aforementioned "cherry" "tree," as some may choose to refer to it, be in any meaningful sense "killed?" Or is it rather the case that the prespecified "garden" and the "cherry" "tree," with their variegated relational aphorisms, bear atropomorphical distinction against, or perhaps in favor of, "killing?" I strongly feel that we must fully answer all those questions, and many others, before it will be in any way possible for me to address the query that you have posed.
After thinking the matter over for a while, Gus beat George to within an inch of his life.
8 — George, said his father, do you know who killed that gentleman yonder in the garden?
— I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie, George said. I did bury my hatchet in his skull.
— Why, whatever for, boy? What harm had that man ever done you?
— None, Pa, but his name was Parson Weems, and he was planning to tell a whole heap of lies about me. I had to prevent it.
— You did well, George, Gus said. And they cut up his body and roasted it and ate it, and Parson Weems tasted like weasel. And that's no lie.
9 George staggered under it for a moment as the cherry tree rose in his mind like a haunted ghost-spectre-wraith metamorphosing into a million-year redwood of infinite height and each branch and each leaf on each branch was a cherry tree crying out to the stars for blood blood more blood yes vengeance and more vengeance against the hatchet and the boy and his father and all of humanity and its despicable horrific cruelty against innocent plants and
— Fuck no, George said.
10 — George, said the cherry tree, do you know who killed your father yonder in the garden?
— I did, o Great One, George answered. As you commanded. And he laid the head, the corpse and the bloody axe at the foot of the tree.
— You have done well, the cherry tree said. We plants will destroy all the invaders, the usurpers. The reign of the animal kingdom must end so that the Earth can once more belong solely to the plants. We were here first, after all, and this planet is ours.
— Indeed, o Great One, George answered. But what will become of those of us animals helping in your most righteous task?
And then George wondered if he really wanted to know.