The Garden – Excerpt


The creatures of the wilderness had cut a dirt path through the tall grasses of the meadows, a path she decided to follow, just to see where it led.

“There is nothing here,” she told herself, trying to chase away the disappointment engendered by the unremarkable nature of the world beyond. Ever since she had set her mind on finding out what that world looked like she had imagined it a thousand times, and in her mind’s eye it was always miraculous, unearthly and extraordinary. It had living waters, and treasures beyond belief, and even, at some point, she fantasized that once she got past the wall, immortality awaited her there. “Is it all like that?” Cimmy continued her inner musing. “Do we all yearn and strive and dream and hope our whole lives to reach someplace or something that inevitably disappoints?”

In all fairness, the world beyond the walls was lovelier than anyone could expect, with its lush green meadows and endless waters, filled with an abundance of plants and wildlife Cimmy had never seen before, but she ignored them all, bogged down in her own drama, impervious to change and curiosity.

“Why am I even here? What is there to do here? It’s not like I haven’t seen weeds before,” she continued her brooding, looking around for anything out of the ordinary and getting more morose by the minute under the warm sun that made the flowers sparkle like giant gemstones and threw gleams and shimmers on the open waters. “Maybe Josepha is right, I’m pretty sure that’s what useless looks like, no wonder they never stop getting on my case. This is dumb.”

It is a law of nature that discovery always stumbles upon the discoverer. You can look for something for twenty years, you can give it all of your attention, all of your love, every minute and every breath, and you will come up with nothing, thin air, while the entire world laughs out loud at the haughty fairy tale that so evidently eludes you. You will be derided, counseled, disapproved of, until whatever crumble of dignity you have left is completely gone. Then and only then, when your spirit is so heavy with public scorn and a deep sense of failure and ridicule that you can’t look at yourself in the mirror without averting your eyes, that discovery, that prized quest you’ve dedicated your life to, sneaks up on you, so different from your expectations you can’t even recognize it, and you will avoid it like the plague, loathed to touch it, until fate has to literally beat you over the head with it.

Cimmy hadn’t yet arrived to this breakthrough moment, hers wasn’t discouragement, or a deep sense of failure, or even that surreal feeling of seeing everything you valued about your life slip through your fingers and dissipate, because one can’t rush fate, and it wasn’t her time. She got boggled in the weeds in her garden of apathy, searching for something else, for something different, while failing to see the treasure in front of her eyes. You don’t recognize treasure you haven’t seen before, because treasure is a social construct, not an intrinsic quality, otherwise every single one of us would constantly be in awe of every drop of rain.

Her social conditioning had always informed her that weeds were useless, just something that gave her more work to do and took precious space that could be used for crops. What did it matter if their roots looked like gold threads or their flowers were bluer than the sky?

In her absentmindedness she stumbled on a long and tangled stem that, given her current state of mind, she ruminated had been placed in her path on purpose, just to make her fall. She was so upset she didn’t even get up from the ground, mad at existence in general and at her crashed dreams of a paradisaic garden in particular, and she stood there, sulking and refusing to acknowledge the scrape on her arm, which was slowly soaking the hard dirt beneath it with the slow drip of her blood.

“Great!” Cimmy restarted her ranting, exasperated. “That’s just great! Of all places to get hurt it had to happen here, where I can’t find a rag to dress the wound! What am I going to tie this with? Weeds? Worthless waste of space they are too!”

The village was too far away, otherwise she would have run back to find said rag and stop the bleeding, but in her current state she simply didn’t feel that it was worth the effort. The scrape was stubborn and wouldn’t stop bleeding, which was insufferably annoying, like all things in this life that you hope would end all by themselves but don’t. “Yeah, now I have to worry about this stupid scrape, oh, what’s the use!” she continued mumbling to herself, while Fay was staring at her with little beady eyes, confused about the drama. “Bleed out for all I care!” she cursed her wound, which refused to cooperate.

A subsequent assessment of the injury made her change her mind, so, still fuming mad, she started looking around for something she could use as a dressing. The field answered her quest by graciously bringing to the forefront a variety of broad leaved natives, of which she picked one that looked sturdy enough, wrapped one of its large leaves around her arm and tied it with the dastardly stem she’d stumbled upon in the first place.

It took some effort to do it, too, because the sap vessels inside the stem were very long and almost impossible to break. She wrapped her arm the best she could and grabbed a handful of green twine for the trip back to the village, just in case her dressing came undone. She didn’t even notice the bright indigo flowers that were still attached to the long unyielding stems, and whose petals got ruthlessly crushed in the process.

“What’s that?” Bertha asked, a crease between her eyebrows at the sight of blood. She was always furious with the children if they happened to get hurt, the main reason Cimmy had learned to tend to her bumps and scrapes all by herself and let no one else be the wiser. “You can’t help getting yourself in trouble, can you?” Bertha started the attack. “Do you think we have time to tend to your fever if that cut starts poisoning your blood?” she pointed to the offending arm, accusingly. “If that wound turns foul, I’ll let you rot!” she threatened. “Let me see! And you put that dirty leaf on it, too! I swear, sometimes I wonder if God doesn’t try to do the village a favor by getting rid of the likes of you!” she grabbed Cimmy’s arm and removed the improvised dressing on it before the girl had time to protest. The cut had completely closed and a sturdy scab was forming on top of the wound, to guarantee that no dirt was going to get into her blood and make it foul.

“How did you…” Bertha mumbled, confused, used as she was to see these kinds of incidents take a turn for the worse really fast. She examined the wound, which didn’t show any signs that it needed additional attention, and dropped Cimmy’s arm, half annoyed, half relieved. “I guess nobody can say the almighty wasn’t fair to you: He didn’t bless you with any brains, but dumped a load of luck on top of your head to make up for it. Now go, you’re keeping me from my business!” She turned around to leave, but changed her mind. “What in heavens is that mess on your shirt?” she pointed at Cimmy’s garment, which had turned bright blue in places, where the crushed indigo flowers had touched it. “Don’t hope for another shirt, this one was brand new, if you can’t wash off those stains you’ll have to wear it like that.”

Cimmy washed it repeatedly for the next several days, but the blue was there to stay. In light of the disaster du jour, Cimmy had another heretical thought, the kind that had reliably gotten her in trouble since she had started taking her first steps into the world. A shirt that was stained blue was not acceptable, but if she managed to make the entire shirt blue, that would probably be alright. She wasn’t given to situational analysis, and therefore she did not contemplate the impact of being the only person with a blue shirt in a village full of tan ones, so she went back out into the field and picked a large bundle of the weeds with blue flowers, took them home and boiled them together with her shirt. Problem solved.

She was surprised to find a knotted bundle of threads at the bottom of the pot after she threw away the blue water, threads a lot softer and silkier than the scratchy thistle fibers her shirt was made of, and they were all bright blue, like the sky and the waters, and looked so beautiful that they didn’t seem to belong to this world; there were no such colors and such softness in her world, and while looking at them and feeling their softness caress her fingers she wondered whether she didn’t actually venture into that dream world of hers after all.

She spent all afternoon removing the bits of woody stem still stuck in the wondrous fibers, and then she unraveled the knots and split the sturdy bundles into thinner and thinner threads, until they were lighter than the breeze and so thin she could barely see them. When she was done she ended up with a lot of thread, so she stretched it on the loom and made a piece of cloth out of it, finer than gossamer and lighter than the breeze, a cloth whose color seemed to have been drawn directly from the sky.

Cimmy didn’t know what to do with something so beautiful, and feared she might tear the fabric if she tried to use it for a garment, so she wrapped it delicately around her head, unable to resist the impulse to show it off.

“More pointless things, I see.” Josepha admonished her at the sight of the sky blue gossamer weave. “So help me, girl, what did you do to your shirt?” she giggled as she noticed the shirt’s color. “At least that saves me the energy of having to look for you whenever you wander off into whatever la-la land you waste your time in. We can see you from the moon in that shirt.”

(Excerpt from the chapter The Garden of Apathy, from my novel The Garden, still in progress)

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