The first rays of sun sneaked into her bedroom, diffracted into rainbows by the large panes of beveled glass. Somebody had left one of the large French doors, the ones that led into the garden, open, and the breeze that blew in brought with it the scent of the night rain. Cimmy smiled and rushed to her feet, noticed that she’d fallen asleep in the gown she’d been wearing the night before, and was surprised to notice that the delicate silk fabric wasn’t wrinkled. She loved that dress, blushing with the color of ripe apricots, and wore it often; she loved its simple cut, devoid of frills and embellishments, which blossomed amply at the waist to form a full circle, perfect for twirling. One of the straps had fallen off her shoulder and she instinctively adjusted it, while she tried to remembered where she had left her sandals the night before, she couldn’t remember which room it was, nor did she care.
She’d taken off her sandals because she couldn’t run in them, or dance in them the way she wanted to, and in the process rediscovered the feeling of soft grass under her bare feet, and the rush of the water around her ankles during torrential rain.
She opened the other pane and stood in the doorway, her back against one of the wide wooden jambs, looking out into the garden at the clear puddles that had formed, here and there, in the gravel path, after the rain. The morning sunshine touched them gently, stirring glimmers and sparkles, almost like a dare to bring Cimmy out into the open. The latter giggled, delighted by this game nature was playing with her, and rushed out, barefoot, into the garden, splashing in puddles and getting drenched from above with the remnants of the night rain that the wind brought down from the tree canopies above.
The garden was very large, but Cimmy knew it well, because she had spent her whole childhood in it. She rushed past the tall sages and bent her head, without even thinking about it, when she walked under the arbor, where the roses where in full bloom. She had the wild canes of the climbing roses tangle in her hair more than once, and by now she could bow her head just enough to avoid them, even with her eyes closed.
She wandered past the tall lilies, which reached above her head, and whose dark, pollen laden stamens stained her fingers when she brushed her hands against them. Behind them, the umbels of milkweed welcomed hosts of butterflies, which were stirred into flight by the lightest breeze, only to descend quickly upon the bright orange flowers again, in search of nectar.
The narrow gravel path ended abruptly into the main alley, which was wide, covered in flagstones and lined by linden trees. Cimmy walked in the shade of the trees, breathing deeply the sultry perfume, her soles tickled by the moss and flowering thyme which was growing between the stones like a soft living carpet which yielded its spicy fragrance under her feet.
She felt the breeze from the pond and picked up the pace, eager to reach her favorite hiding spot before the rain started again, she could tell from the dance of light and shadow on the path that a second installment of the downpour that had fallen overnight was about to start at any moment.
The gazebo was out on a narrow strip advancing into the lake, strip which broke down towards the end, into a path of stepping stones, surrounded by the water, and Cimmy skipped from one stepping stone to the next with the agility of a mountain goat.
She jumped into the gazebo just seconds before rain started again, with booming rolling thunder and bolts of lightning, thick as ropes, dancing above the trees; the rain fell hard and fast, drumming on the roof, and crumpling the placid surface of the pond with a myriad of ripples.
The hem of her dress was drenched and heavy, and had turned three shades darker, but Cimmy didn’t care. She sat down on the round bench that surrounded the post in the middle of the gazebo and gazed into the distance at the heavy clouds which were moving very fast, dropping their watery load over the heads of the cattails, and on the fleshy petals of the water lilies, and sifted it down through the tree canopies until only a sprinkling of water drops reached the ground.
The warm air over the pond turned into mist in the cool rain, and its soft white blanket padded the water plants, and the stepping stones, and Cimmy’s bare feet, while she sat there, watching, mesmerized, the intricate movements that made it feel alive, somehow, while she breathed deeply the scent of the rain, mixed with the overpowering fragrance of wet gardenias and orange blossoms.
Such was the beauty of Cimmy’s garden, and how proud she was of it! It was the most beautiful place on earth, she thought, this garden of hers, this heavenly shelter in the middle of existence, this place where everything was perfect.
She stretched out her cupped hands and they were filled in an instant by the fast falling rain, and she drank from them eagerly, to appease her thirst. She then jumped out in the rain, from stepping stone to stepping stone, shivering and giggling, and ran through the fruit orchard, stirring the wet dirt between the trees and filling the lap of her dress with peaches, whose ripe skins were almost the same color as her wet dress was now, as the rain kept falling, thick and heavy, from above.
She couldn’t even remember how many times she had made her way through the peach orchard, hundreds, thousands maybe, to find the dirt path that weaved through the wild flower meadow and led back to the house. During sun baked summer afternoons, the meadow was covered in the bright eyes of chamomile and chicory, but not now, when the flowers had shut themselves tight to keep out of the downpour that was pounding their sappy stems and releasing their fragrance.
The young girl was about to reach the flagstone path when the rain let up and the sun started shining immediately, making every drop of water sparkle. Tiny birds, thrilled by the plentiful water, gathered in flocks to bathe in the puddles, boding good weather.
Cimmy wasn’t in a rush to get to the house, but her feet carried her back to the garden in front of her bedroom, just by the power of habit. She reached the little herb wheel, with tall anise growing around the fountain at its center, and there she stopped and sat down on one of the old garden benches, basking in the sunshine, to allow her gown to dry and to munch on a peach, in the peace of this plant realm of scent and wonder, surrounded by bees and butterflies, and the smell of the heated herbs.
Clouds passed overhead, playing with the sunlight, on, off, and on again, enticing the birds to sing louder, until their collective chirping drowned all the other sounds. A baby rabbit, a cotton tail, jumped at Cimmy’s feet and startled her, and then turned abruptly, as if to distract potential predators and vanished behind a shrub.
Cimmy got up to take a look at one of the garden patches, which had not been planted yet, and spent a few minutes in front of it, trying to determine whether she should grow chives or dill, and she couldn’t help notice that the thyme seeds that she had carried on the soles of her feet had already started to sprout in her footsteps, making the whole decision process obsolete. She sighed, resigned, when she saw it happen, and allowed the garden to decide for itself, hoping that there wasn’t too much sunshine in that particular spot. She picked a few handfuls of purple pods from the pole beans, which were laden with flowers and fruit, all donning the same noble color, and smiled instantly at the sight of the huge squash flowers, whose cheery orange matched the brightness of the summer morning.
She looked at the pepper patch and regretted not planting the more colorful varieties, the purple, yellow, orange and red ones, and her thoughts seeded the fertile dirt, which bore fruit immediately, to accommodate them. Satisfied, Cimmy turned around on her heels and was about to return to the house, when a familiar voice shrieked through her beautiful landscape, ripping huge tears in its fabric and making her choke with dust.
“Cimarron!! Curse the evil moment that spit you into this world to burden my life! Wake up you useless cockroach! Are you waiting for the sun to raise you? There’ll be no food tonight, so you know, we only feed those who work to earn their keep!”
The door slammed behind her, reverberating in Cimmy’s head like the sound of a trap closing. She sat up carefully, wincing because of her bruised ribs, and coughed up the dust that was filling her nose and her mouth. They haven’t seen rain in months, and on the barren patches of thirsty dust, creased by deep cracks, crooked and swollen around the edges like scars, nothing grew anymore, not even weeds. Only the scraggly tops of bitter roots, whose sharp and ravenous filaments grasped onto the dirt so desperately that people worked their hands raw straining to pull them.
She’d been born to this place, Cimmy was, to this garden of despair, bitter and filled with harshness, this place where she was lucky to be fed and begrudged for being born, the place that hope forgot.
Nobody understood, and Cimmy least of all, where that heavenly garden of her dreams came from, for surely there was no way she could have seen anything of the sort, or even heard stories about it. Nobody in the community had ventured past the tall walls of their garden, if one could call it that, in generations. When she was very young, Cimmy had tried to describe the pond, and the peach orchard, to siblings and friends, and got a vicious beating for her trouble, so she learned to keep her imaginary garden to herself.
She slept on the dirt floor, right next to the door, a place that was drafty during chilly nights and where the door hit her in the back every time somebody went in and out of the room they all shared. It was hours before the sunrise, but everyone else was already up, trying to get to whatever roots they could find before the others came and picked them clean. Cimmy got up too, dusted herself off and went outside. She was still trying to get the powdery dirt out of her mouth, but behind the crunchy, mineral bitterness that settled in the back of her throat every time she swallowed, she could still taste the peach she had enjoyed earlier in her dream.