STORIES is a new series to document moments of life, as well as works of fiction, by myself and fellow contributors. I believe that words in themselves are works of art and can move a person in ways that other mediums cannot. I don’t claim to be a profound writer, but I want to share these stories, and so here they are.
The Girl and The Gardener
By: Chandler Hackney of The Voyage of A Vagabond
She was six years old when she started chasing butterflies. They should have been named flutterbies and not the other way around. Still, they were the most beautiful creatures she’d ever seen. She would go out to the garden each day after school to see which ones would be there this time. If she weren’t already in her blue dress – the one with the yellow daisies – she would pull it from the end of her bed, smoothing out any wrinkles with her littlest fingers. That dress made her feel like she could fly alongside her pretty winged friends. The colors even matched a few of her favorites.
She needn’t ever bring a jar or a box, for she didn’t want to catch them. No, they belonged amongst the trees and the wildflowers. She would spend hours in that garden behind her house, the curls in her hair getting caught up in bushes, hiding, as not to fluster any of the flut–butterflies. She would hold her breath and watch, wondering if their families were somewhere close by. She didn’t ever name them, fearing that someday she might confuse one with another by accident.
One night, she lay in bed crying, not because her parents were fighting, but because she wouldn’t ever get to be a butterfly. She draped the sheets over her eyes, letting the tears make her tired enough for sleep. She would skip breakfast when she woke and head straight to the garden.
As she neared her usual spot, (the place perfect enough to crouch down and wait) she saw the silhouette of a man approaching. He wasn’t looking at her. He was holding some sort of spout, seemingly giving fresh water to the beautiful flowers, like the very ones on her dress. When he would take a break from watering, he would use his other hand to pick some of the ugly, brown weeds that were sitting next to the daisies. She was glad he did that, because butterflies deserve a beautiful home, and it was beginning to look a little less-than. She wasn’t scared, but intrigued. Curious. She had never met anyone who spent time in the fairy garden like she did.
She advanced further from her current position in the shade and started moving towards the man. She got close enough for him to notice her young footsteps and pause for a moment. Oh, he was the most brilliant man she had ever laid eyes on. His hands were big and not very clean, but he looked gentle and wise. He wasn’t dangerous but rather kind and alluring, like the heroes she’d read about in books. He looked down at her, grinning, showing his teeth a bit. Uninhibited, she did the same. “You come to this place, too?” The first words she’d spoken for the day.
“Why, yes. My dear, I am the gardener of this place.”
He noticed her smile retreat and replace itself with a look of concern. “I come here a lot, for the butterflies, mostly. Have I ruined your garden? I try my hardest not to step on the places covered in green.”
He took her by the hand and started guiding her to a secret tree even further back than she’d ever ventured herself. “No, sweet one. You haven’t done any damage. This place is for anyone who delights in it. It’s special, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir. It’s the most special. I haven’t seen you here before.” She stopped for a second to look up at his face again. It was gorgeous.
He smiled again, tracing the lines in her tiny hands. “I walk around the garden when it needs tending to. Only the ones who really watch for me will see me.”
The tree that he took her to was big. It was the middle of summer and the leaves as green as ever. She couldn’t believe she’d never come before. He took a seat and she followed suit. She folded her hands against his knee, and he told her of all the stories he knew about his time as a gardener. His eyes held her captive for the length of their exchange. “These butterflies are something else, huh?” He was getting more and more wonderful.
Her eyes lit up and sparkled like the sun. “Oh, they are my favorite. I’ve made wishes to change into one of these butterflies many times before. Some mornings, I look in the mirror and I’m not pretty anymore, but these butterflies, they’re always pretty.” She noticed her dress had gotten dirty, and embarrassed, covered the spot with her hand in a hurry. It was time for another wash.
He lifted her chin with his finger. Her eyes were downcast, and he waited until they met his gracious gaze. “Do you not know that you are more beautiful than they? Perfect and precious you are, more so than the birds and flowers and butterflies altogether. I take care of the butterflies, but I assure you, you will be taken care of, also. They flit their wings and you twirl your dress, different but the same. Listen to me closely. My butterflies are captivated by your splendor.” She hadn’t realized the sun setting in the background. “Now go on your way and rest. I’ll see you soon.”
She did what he said and walked herself back home, although she could have slept right there under that big, safe tree. She lay awake for a bit that night, thinking back on the day, on that strange encounter with a man who she felt she’d known her entire life. Why had he said that? Did he truly believe that I was more delicate and cared for than they? Had he meant it? Surely he hadn’t. She wrestled a lot, and then finally, was caught up again in another night’s sleep. In the morning, she would take her mother to go see the butterflies and meet the gardener.
She tugged at her pant leg. “Mom, I have something I’d really like to show you.” Her mother was rushing about, like she always had. No time for nonsense, only she promised she would go this once. She let out a sigh and followed her daughter to the garden of butterflies. They spotted several, perched on branches or pieces of grass, each one uniquely similar. Her mother acted amused, but hurried her along, as she had work to be done back at the house. Forget the butterflies. There was something else her mother had to see.
There he was in the distance, spout in one hand, dirty weeds in the other. The girl grabbed hold of her mother’s arm tighter than she had in awhile and carefully dragged her through the thistles. She knew her way around by now. He was even more charming and graceful than yesterday, or maybe just more than she remembered. She let go of her mother and allowed her to stand in awe, too. “This is the gardener. Isn’t he magnificent?” She knew her mother would think so.
Her expectant eyes drifted over to her mother’s only to be greeted by frustration. “I knew you were taking me out here for no good reason. There’s nothing here to see. I don’t know what you’re asking me to look for. You’re making it all up. Isn’t who magnificent? I really don’t have time for foolishness today. You should stop wasting so much of your time here, anyhow.”
She followed her mother’s gaze to make sure she wasn’t somehow overlooking the gardener. Wait. Was she serious? He was standing less than five feet from us. How could she not see him? Besides, he was just beaming. There’s absolutely no way she could miss him. “Mother, he’s right there,” she pointed and noticed his disappointed expression staring back at her.
“He’s fantasy, sweetheart. Come home for lunch soon.”
She kept her eyes on him until she felt her mother disappear and then ran into his arms. She started to cry, but buried her head into his ribcage, hoping to quiet the sobs. “Let the tears come, my girl. Those tears make you strong. Stronger than you can imagine.”
She backed away from him a little as soon as she had cleaned herself up. “I will never leave this place. This place is for you and me and the butterflies.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the prettiest, shiniest necklace of pearls. She hadn’t ever seen anything like it. He slid them around her neck, and brushed her hair to one side to marvel at the sight of how lovely she was. She looked down shyly at her newest addition. They matched her blue and yellow dress perfectly.
The girl and the gardener walked hand in hand back to the big, safe tree. She started to believe that she was as beautiful as the butterflies.
I have loved you with an everlasting love. Jeremiah 31:3
He crowns me with grace. He crowns me with love, and I’m satisfied. Psalm 103
Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. Hosea 2:14
If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in. Revelation 3:20
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13
Don’t you think God cares just a little bit more for you than for the birds of the air? Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26
The King is enthralled by your beauty. Psalm 45:11