The Wild Garden
There was once a little girl named Esme who lived very happily with her father. Her father, however, grew very ill on a particularly cold and bitter winter’s night, and he died. Having no other relations, Esme was sent to live with an old woman whom she called Aunt Ruth. Aunt Ruth spent her days telling Esme to stand up straight, to hold her knives and forks properly, and to dust and sweep and scrub all aspects of their dark home. This would not have been so terrible, save that Aunt Ruth never said one gentle word nor offered Esme any mark of kindness. By the time Esme had lived with her aunt for an entire year, there was only one place that she could go and feel as though the joy of life had not completely run dry.
The foliage outside Aunt Ruth’s home was carefully orchestrated, a calculated affair that contained sharp spirals of small shrubs and geometrically trimmed trees. But beyond the harsh lines and stunted pruning there lay a wild garden. It was as different as could be from the outer décor surrounding Aunt Ruth’s home. For in it grew gnarled old fruit trees, ancient oaks and hawthorns, wild roses, grasses of all kinds, ivy, and a host of other things Esme could not name. It had not been touched by human hands in a very long time; the garden was so thick with growth, that when Esme wandered into it, she felt as though she were suddenly hidden, as though by magic. And it was if a little sliver of her old life endured.
Why the wild garden remained as it was, Esme did not know. Perhaps it was because Aunt Ruth spent little time out of doors where she might catch chill, or, as she said, ‘something worse,’ whatever that might mean. But in spare moments when Aunt Ruth would take her afternoon nap, Esme would sneak through the rigid shapes, make her way into the garden and settle herself under one of the old apple trees whose leafy growth bent down, covering her from prying eyes.
Or so Esme thought.
For one autumn day when she was hidden more fully under the apple tree’s fruit-laden branches, she began to grow concerned that it was getting dangerously close to the time when Aunt Ruth would wake up from her nap. She sat up so suddenly that she could have sworn she saw a pair of tiny eyes through a curtain of golden leaves. Esme did not move any further, and though time was passing swiftly and she might have heard her name harshly called on a gentle breeze, she waited in hopes that she had not been mistaken. Just as her bones were beginning to ache from holding so still, she had a fleeting sight of small sprite.
The sprite must have been convinced she was a statue, for it carried on its way until it had disappeared between the leaves of the apple tree. Moving with the carefulness of a cat, Esme crept out from under the tree, and followed the sprite.
What she saw drew her eyes open in such wonder that she could not explain why it was that she backed slowly out the wild garden, ran into the house, grabbed the hand of Aunt Ruth who was glaring fiercely and yelling things Esme did not hear, and pulled her out of doors. Slowly but firmly forcing them to make their way to the wild garden, even Aunt Ruth must have grown curious, for she followed Esme in silence, despite the fierceness of her grip that suggested a later punishment. It was clear that she was unaware of the garden, for her nose turned up in sniffs at the wildness of it, and Esme could tell her aunt was plotting its demise. But then, Esme pulled her close and directed her eyes into the hollow of an old oak tree.
There danced sprites, all together and filled with joyous glee unaware of their observers, and looking so free from care that the sight of them could not help but lift the most wearied in spirit.
Esme felt Aunt Ruth stifle a gasp, and then she felt the grip on her hand soften. As she looked up into her aunt’s face, she saw a thing more wondrous than even dancing sprites. For in her aunt’s eyes had grown a twinkle.