Storytime: The Orchard.

May 17th, 2017

The trees were whispering lively strong that day. Maybe it was the steady sun, giving them all the good things and watching them grow. Maybe it was the soft wind, shaking their branches and filling the air with their rustling plans.
Maybe it was something else. Passing secretive, were those trees. But they could be persuaded to share, for a price.
And oh, she knew that price, the gardener did.
Under her chime, under the bough, under the leafiest, smallest of the orchard she waited, the gardener and her cups and her little mortar and littler pestle. Aged earth granted aged flesh.
Today there would be three. Busy. But that was people for you, the ones that weren’t trees.

The first was a slight, pale thing. Torn and frayed at the edges from worries and wears on the inside. It trembled in the breeze, and would’ve trembled without it too.
“Do you have dreams?” it asked.
“All dreams,” said the gardener. “Ever.”
“I have a dream. Can I find it here?”
“What is this dream?”
“I would dream to be strong,” it said. “I would dream to speak out when my friends are slighted, to protest when asked to do wrong, to stop harm when I see it done, to witness my bad acts and stop them before they reach my hands. Can you grant me this dream?”
“Yes, I can grant you that dream,” said the gardener. She selected a cup from the old stump of her table-top, and it was a very common cup indeed – wood, plain wood, fresh wood that was almost from any tree you’d ever seen. “Follow me.”
The walk through the orchard was quiet, but that was normal whether the gardener walked with thin trembling things or boisterous loud ones or by herself. The trees induced it. Nobody likes to interrupt a long-running conversation, whether from politeness or awkwardness, and this was very old indeed.
“Here,” said the gardener, at the edge of the grove, by a thin sapling. “Lie down.”
The slight, pale thing lay down in the soft grass and looked up at the sky, which was marbled. Thick warm blue and soft cool white, mushed up like scrambled eggs. The sapling’s branches flickered at the edge of the eyes – elusive, bare, but tipped with something that could be green.
A cup intruded upon this, trailing a mild scent that could’ve been bitter or maybe not. “Drink,” said the gardener. “This fruit came from this tree, and your dream is inside it.”
The slight, pale thing drank, and when the cup was empty it fell back entirely and closed its eyes and was gone.
“A very common dream,” said the gardener in the face of sleep. “But this is no bad thing.” She eyed the tree’s branches, squinting in place of glasses. “And maybe it may be, if it not maybe not.”

When the gardener came back to her chime and her bough the second visitor was already there and waiting, which did not surprise her very much. The trees had been awfully gossipy of it – it was fidgeting as it stood there, snapping a twig into smaller and smaller pieces and picking at the bark. Its muscles seemed to jump of their own volition, like startled weasels.
“Hello there, uh, oh, hi,” it said. It dropped the twig, almost swore, then started over. “Hey.”
“Hello,” said the gardener. “Where did you find that?”
“Found what?” asked the fidgeter. “Oh, that. Not sure. Hey do you have any dreams? I was wondering if you had dreams. Do you have a dream I think I might’ve been thinking of? It was a, it was a specific kind. It was big. I got bigger, and I knew more, and people listened, and I changed the world. I changed it. I did. Because it was a big idea, so big it changed it. I made things different. Better, I’m sure. Me. Can you think of a dream like that?”
“You know,” said the gardener, “I’m nearly sure I did. Follow me.”
The path they took was bumpy and more sticks than stones and stones than dirt. But the gardener was sure-steady as a tortoise, and the fidgeter, for all its shambling gait, seemed to find out where its feet were meant to be eventually. At the heart of the orchard they halted, at the foot of a winding, wandering thing whose trunk had branched and branched and branched until its twigs were nearly trunks in themselves, and whose crown was somewhere out of sight and above mind.
“Lie down,” said the gardener, and the fidgeter did this even if it took a while for it to find a spot that made its head comfortable – the ground was littered with broken branches and dead leaves.
“Drink,” said the gardener, holding a spiraling cup in her wrinkled palm. It had two or three openings and it took a moment and a bit of spillages for the fidgeter to find out where its lips should be.
“Tastes like ash, eurgh – or wait, just clean water, or wait, maybe-” and the gardener was alone again, although this one’s eyes, she saw, did not shut.
“A good sign,” she said, “for a dream that may be good or bad. Good luck, I suppose.”

The walk back for the third was longest of all, because the gardener’s hips were passing lax in their duty by this time.
Her third was just coming up the path as she sat down. Steady of gaze, strong of stride. Bright-eyed.
“You have dreams,” it said, forcefully.
“The trees have the dreams,” said the gardener. “I just make them easier to swallow.”
“Nevertheless, you can give them. I have a most rare and powerful dream, and I want to know if it is within your ability to understand this and grant me access to it, which I want very much.”
“Please, tell me,” said the gardener.
The bright-eyed thing leaned forward, shoulders hunched in the earnestness of the deathly serious, and it opened its mouth and it spoke. “I would see a world of mirror. I would see all those who do not look like me; who do not speak like me; who do not think like me; who were born in places I was not; who were taught things I was not taught; who act in ways do not; who have families that I do not see, I would imagine them gone, all of them, forever and in all places, until I am all that is left and I am many and I am all that there is and ever will be, unchanging. Can you grant me this rare and powerful dream?”
“Oh dear, my dear, oh dear,” said the gardener, and her laughter made her hands shake as she picked up her largest cup, which was carved from dead solid stone. “That is the oldest dream of them all.”

It was not a walk. It was barely a stroll. Just the other side of the path to the orchard it lay, outside the bounds and outside all company; a solitary, giant thing. Its bark was knotted, its trunk was twisted, and its branches seemed reluctant to spread, tucked tight against its sides. Its roots spread far and wide and passing shallow, and the ground was covered with its dead needles. It was a tricky thing to approach without losing foot, especially with the bright-eyed thing refusing to look down. But they managed it, and at its base the gardener pointed at the ground and said “here.” Her voice was loud and harsh against the flat air. There was no wind here, and the silence pressed down.
The bright-eyed thing sat down, but there was a frown that marred its face. “This prickles. Is there nothing better to sit against? Do you have a pillow?”
“It is what it is, and nothing less,” said the gardener. “It’s a shameful thing, to pretend a dream isn’t what it is. I wouldn’t dare.” She reached out her arms, gripping the ancient cup two-handed and wobbling. Old pungency seeped from its sides. “Here. Drink, and dream.”
The bright-eyed thing jerked its head back. “No, no, not like this, it’s meant to be”
The gardener lifted her arms up over her head and dropped the cup, which landed home with a firm smack, and she was alone again.
But the bright-eyed thing wasn’t. She could already feel the roots creeping under her feet, eager to anchor themselves. She could hear the groan of all those buried voices, under sap and bile.
“Congratulations,” she said, as she picked up the empty cup.

The needles were sharp underfoot, and though it was the shortest the walk back home seemed oh so painful.
But the wind was still there when she returned, and so were the whispers of the orchard.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.