Lessons from the Garden

Congratulations to the MYTHOS SHORT STORY WINNER

Lessons from the Garden

by

Lisa Vickers

The shepherd walked across the field, his crook in his hand.  The grasses rustled in the gentle breeze and the blackbird sang a sweet melody from the oak tree.  All was peaceful in the early summer morning.  He crossed the stream and was surprised to find a girl sitting on the bench, alone, staring into the low trees.  He touched his cap,

“Bore da” he said politely.

“ I’m sorry, I don’t speak Welsh” she replied.

He considered this.

“No matter, communication isn’t necessarily only by words” .

The girl looked up.  “That is so true,” she replied, and then,  “I’m not communicating with anyone very well at the moment”.

“Now why would that be?”

“ I’m supposed to be spending the weekend getting to know my fiance’s parents, but I’ve run away.”

“Indeed?”

“I panicked.”

“Were they unkind?”

“No, quite the opposite.  They were….are quite perfect.  Everything was very restrained, quiet, gentle.  I felt that I was being assessed.  I couldn’t cope. I needed to escape”.

The girl looked down at her hands.  Two large tears ran down her face and dripped onto her lap.

“You see?  My mother-in-law to be would always have a clean hanky in her pocket”.

The shepherd smiled.  He cleared his throat, making the girl jump.

“Walk through the wood. Take it slowly. Breathe deeply.  Listen.  See what happens.”

The girl wiped her nose on her sleeve and gave a rueful smile.

“I’ll give it a try.”

The shepherd walk on into the wood.

The girl looked across at the pond.  The insects were rising and the swallows danced after them on the breeze.  Damsel flies hung, then alighted on the reeds. Across  the meadow plumes of meadowsweet shimmered in the sunlight.  The girl remembered the shepherd’s advice and took a deep breath.

“What a lovely summery scent.” she thought.

When she opened her eyes, she saw an older woman with fair hair approaching.  She could see that she was beautiful, in the way that some older women are, and she carried a sheath of lilies.  The girl moved aside for the older woman to pass, but the woman took a seat on a nearby bench and motioned for the girl to join her.

“Eistedd i lawr, cariad,”  she said.

The girl began to say again that she didn’t speak Welsh, but the woman interrupted her.

“No matter,” she said, “What I have to say is for all. I will speak plainly, as time is short.  I speak from my own experience, you understand.”

The girl nodded.

“All relationships are like flowers. They should be tended as plants are. When a relationship is  young, it needs especial care, until it has grown strong roots.  You are young and you have time to learn to nourish relationships.”

The woman rose and gave the girl a hug – a hug which smelled of the meadowsweet and lilies themselves and flooded the girl’s senses. When she looked up, the woman was striding away over the grass.

“What a strange morning this is”,  thought the girl, “Perhaps I’d better try to go somewhere less lonely.  There are some odd people around here.”

As the girl walked onwards, the ground under her feet grew damper and her thin shoes began to get wet.  She became aware of a new scent, one that was somehow familiar. Bending down, she studied the leaves that she was trampling on. She picked a few and sniffed.

“Mint,” she thought, “Fancy finding mint in a wood.”

The path became less distinct as the trees closed in low overhead. Twisting branches bearing moss and lichens reached down to touch her face.  She shuddered, holding the mint leaves close to her face, as if to ward off unfriendly spirits.

A thin, hissing sound drew her gaze and she found her path blocked by a large snake, coiling and writhing down from a willow tree. Its eyes were level with her own and its mouth wide open.

“Aros….”, it hissed and the girl didn’t need a translation this time,  as she had already stopped.

“Welcome, girl.  What have you learned on your walk today?”

The girl hesitated.

“Sniff the mint to think clearly, for goodness sake!” chided the snake.

The girl took a deep inhalation.

“ I learned from the shepherd that you don’t need to speak the same language to understand each other. I learned from the flower woman to look after new relationships, so that they grow strong.”

“Yesssssss….” hissed the snake.

“And I learned from the mint how to think clearly.”

“Exxxxxxactly…  Why don’t you now return and try again. Try to do better this time.”

“I will.”  and with a glance over her shoulder, to ensure that the snake wasn’t following, the girl ran back the way she had come that morning.

Near the wood called Hopeful, she saw her fiance approaching, swinging a small branch of leaves in his hand.

“Hello, we were all wondering where you had got to. You’ve discovered Dyffryn Fernant then?  Did you enjoy your walk?”

“Hi,” said the girl, then, remembering the flower woman’s advice, gave him a warm hug.  “What’s that you have in your hand?”

“I think it’s myrtle,” he replied.

 

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