This story was written for the May 2016 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!
Dr. Jasmine walked a street she seldom traveled. At the corner stood a garden full of deep red hollyhocks, blue irises, purple pansies, magenta roses, and, in the middle, a willow tree whose green boughs touched the ground.
“What a magnificent garden,” she said to an old woman who bent amongst the plants.
“Thank you, dear,” replied Rowenna. They talked about the roses. Were aphids a problem? Not really–a strong blast of water washes them right off. And how did she get such deep hues from the hollyhocks? Oh! They were heirlooms from the gardener’s grandmother, so many, many years ago.
“That was the first garden I knew,” Rowenna said.
“Really?” said Dr. Jasmine. “Tell me about it!”
“Oh, that will require a pot of tea!”
As the afternoon sun settled behind the willow, Dr. Jasmine sat at the table surrounded by blossoms with Rowenna, two cups of Makaibari tea, and a plate of oatmeal cookies spiced with Ceylon cinnamon.
Never had I seen such flowers!
The city where I lived as a little girl was asphalt and cement, smoke and fog–maybe a patch of daisies or peonies, but nary a bloom except for stragglers. When I was eight, all that changed.
My mother and aunts decided I needed fresh sea air and open spaces. I was a sickly little thing, so they shipped me off to my gran’s in a last-ditch effort to bring roses to my cheeks. With so many flowers around me, I was bound to bloom, too!
I spent hours among the snapdragons and pansies. These were my friends! I loved to pinch the snapdragon blossoms to make them talk, like purple puppets, and each pansy, with its blue lion’s face, seemed to chatter in reply!
Gran knew to let me be for long hours every summer day. Oh, the adventures I had! Rescuing princesses, fighting pirates, living with tigers! In Gran’s garden, I found worlds full of friends and foes!
I didn’t know then the concept of labor: everything, even tidying the garden, home to so many fairies and wood elves, was play! Gran loved to say, with a twinkle in her eye:
“Fairy gold, and fairy wine,
Catch and hold this child of mine!
Stay today and always play
Keep woe and worry far away!”
Sometimes, I think that Gran was half fairy herself! And for me, as a little thing who’d been lost in the harsh city, the freedom of the wilds combined with my gran’s own magic to help me grow strong and well.
“What a magical childhood!” Dr. Jasmine said. “And I think that your grandma must have passed her fairy heritage on to you!”
“Oh,” laughed Rowenna, “Mortal and mundane, I belong in the every day! But at least, with my garden, I can still play with the fairies, can’t I?”
Daydreams replaced adventure.
Early summer afternoons, I lay on the grass beneath the willow tree and looked up at the catkins dangling their full pollen sacks towards the hungry bees. At the bee’s weight, a cloud of pollen burst into the air, and the sun dazzled each tiny golden orb. Those long summer days opened inside of me, too, with a heart that ached for something undefined, and eyelids that felt golden and heavy, as if I were covered in the shower of pollen.
That was the summer I met Len, who’d come to the island to work for the fisherman.
I felt his shadow, first, before I met him. I opened my eyes, and he stood in a halo of sunlight. “Are you real?” I asked, full of drowsiness.
“I was going to ask you the same thing!” he said.
In the afternoons, after Len delivered the catch and stowed the nets, he came like a hungry bee to the garden, to find me lying on grass, full and heavy with the weight of the sun. We spent long hours lying together, not saying much, not touching, just drinking in the midsummer warmth of the garden and spinning together our dreams.
“You were lucky to fall in love in a garden,” Dr. Jasmine said.
Rowenna laughed. “It would have been impossible not to–the sun, the grass, the heady scent of flowers. And Len. If you could have seen that boy! He was made for falling in love with.”
iii. Pussy Willow
After Len and I moved to the mainland, I missed Gran’s garden so much.
Oh, we were happy and very much in love, but I still had a deep homesickness lodged within me all through our long first winter.
One summer day, Len took me back to the island, and Gran loaded us up with starts, cuttings, and brown envelopes full of seeds. Len helped me dig out the garden, and we planted it by moonlight.
Len and I couldn’t have any children of our own, but we ended up raising the half the family’s children: nieces and nephews and second-cousins and shirt-tail cousins–all the wild or sickly kids who were too much or too frail for their parents. When that wasn’t enough, we took in foster kids.
They grew well. The wild ones gained discipline, and the sickly ones gained strength.
“They’re all our children,” Len used to say. And he was right. He was right.
“You must have been very happy,” said Dr. Jasmine.
“I can’t think where those years got to,” said Rowenna. “One day we were planting our garden under the full moon. The next, the children had grown and moved out, and Len stood with his back to the house, watching the sun as it set, and my! How his shoulders did stoop. Where had my fine young boy gone?”
iv. Weeping Willow
After Len passed, all I could do for well over a year was dig.
Couldn’t clean house, couldn’t cook, couldn’t wash dishes. I’d neglected the garden during his long illness. A few stubborn irises still grew. A few snapdragons self-seeded. But mostly, the garden lay choked in weeds. I couldn’t do much, but I could dig. And then, after a day of digging, I could sleep at night, if I was lucky. When I woke, that pain would shoot itself through my heart, but digging helped it soften. This went on for well over a year. One day, I looked out over the yard and everywhere were beds of rich dark loam, waiting for seeds.
That’s when I took the ferry to the island, and I found my grandma’s old cottage. Nobody lives there anymore, but the flowers have self-seeded, all over the island! Hollyhocks, daisies, irises, and pansies, and more! I gathered baskets full of rhizomes and seeds, and brought them back here, where I planted them one by one.
I must have watered my garden with tears, but they were the cleansing tears, that leave you feeling healed inside.
“Can I have a cookie, Auntie Ro?” a tiny girl with long dark braids asked.
“And who is this?” asked Dr. Jasmine.
“Oh, this is Rebekah,” replied Rowenna, “my cousin’s granddaughter. She lives with me now, don’t you, Becky?”
“Yes, Ro,” said the tiny girl.
Dr. Jasmine smiled. “What a good life you’ve lived, Rowenna,” she said.
“It’s a gardener’s life!” laughed Rowenna.
“It’s a good life,” said Dr. Jasmine. They sipped their tea, and the sun set. A full moon rose to spread her silver light over the willow tree, and Dr. Jasmine looked into her new friend’s face, with its furrows and paths and hazel eyes that reflected moonlight and the wisdom of fairies.
Credits: Rowenna’s Newcrest home and garden were created by Pronterus. Rowenna’s grandmother’s island home and garden were created by TheKalinotr0n. Both homes are available on the gallery.