It had been a time of drought and the plants of the the towns central courtyard and garden needed extra care to help them survive until the rains could come.
The town had a fine gardner with a gentle and deliberate nature to tend the gardens and carry water to those who needed it. He had a strong back and a rich inner life
that could keep him occupied should the work day become tedious, and allowed new thoughts to cross into his awareness for consideration. He loved his work and the time it allowed him to watch things grow.
He trimmed with a light hand and watered with a special care to listen to the plants' needs. It was on a warm day. His sun weathered face glazed with perspiration, squinted at the weight of his water buckets across his shoulders. When returning to the fountain in the ring of trees the man took rest and that is when it began.
The woman with pale blue eyes who lived in the shrub had come unseen into the courtyard to collect water for herself and her shrub. She carried it with her everywhere. The heavy cluster of roots tangled at her feet under the self similar branching of its interior world.
Life in the shrub was safe. It moved with her and covered her. It had begun with a branch that she used as a child to shade her eyes from the burning and dulling of the sun. The branch grew and as it became a shrub it was the envelope of her life and now it seemed to have always been this way.
though she cared little to venture backwards into the past or contemplating points of origin, the branches of her precious shrub were scratch with the stories of how they grew and the burnished places where her body rubbed. Her legs and body were strong from carrying such a burden.
A carapace and a veil laid between her and the cold wilds and rocky places of the world. Branches are softer than stones.
She had seen the gardener before but always through the litter of leaves. She had been aware of him in a peripheral way as she entered the garden but she always traveled unseen and so there was no thought of him. She bent to gather her water, as she had done so many times before, from the clear fountain in the ring of trees.
This was not like other times. Her reliable shrub caught in the branch of one of the trees as she bent and it exposed her to view. It was a golden glow coming from an unfamiliar plant that the gardener saw. An arm's reach away. His hands were kind and familiar with the soil and one was on it's way to lightly inquire after this otherworldly glow in this bush. The woman's eyes sparkled back at the water and she felt the chill of the open air just as the touch of the man found the edge of her spine. She jumped and their eyes flashed one to the other in equal astonishment as the hung branch of the shrub came free and knocked them both into the fountain. The woman with the pale blue eyes now wore a welt over one of then from the returning branch, and some branches of the shrub were broken. The man had fallen squarely on the tip of his right elbow. It found the stone interior of the spring fed fountain and left the taste of pennies in his mouth.
The tangle of branches and bodies struggled out of the fountain as one mass and seated on it's edge. The woman's second nature mending of her branches was interrupted by the mutual shyness of the man. She was very beautiful and the man was trying to find himself.
He had just released the support of her arm as she was righted. "You care for the garden" she said blandly because so much else was happening.
"Yes, Trim and water" he said and they both laughed. "The garden is beautiful and somewhat wild but I do my best to see things grow healthy and straight so that the plants are not stealing the precious light from one another." They shook hands and made introductions both wrapped in wonder. Skin is softer than branches.
The dry brittleness of her home had softened but become much heavier with absorption of so much water. The roots tangled at her feet and the shrub seemed to grow in response to her feeling of vulnerability. Not to the man but to what else there way be past her shrub.
The places where the branches had broken here sharp and uncomfortable though she mended them carefully. She was forced to take special care when walking downhill so as not to drag the root most corespondent with branch over her right side. And though the shrub grew to cover her quickly it would never be as comfortable as it once was. The injury to the gardeners elbow was slower to mend and impaired his ability to carry the same quantities of water but though his work was ofter slower it allowed more time for his wondering mind.
They saw each other often in the garden after that. Though she saw more of him than he of her. Sometimes she would remain unseen and watch as he worked or stopped in the midday to enjoy the sandwich made for him by the bakery. Sandwiches always taste better when someone else makes it for you, she thought as she watched his eyes wander over the casual preoccupations of lunch time. Other times she would show the sparkle of her blue eyes from the shrub and he would see her and smile and they would walk together and talk about the beauty of the garden and the various predictions of the townspeople about the arrival of the rains.
He had discovered her once fast asleep in her shrub at the end of his day. She had been watching him work and had rested on one of the soft gnarled limbs at her shoulder and had dozed off. He had heard her heavy breath while trimming her very shrub and saw her, smiled to himself, and used the greatest of care and a light hand to clear some of the beak brush of her home without leaving her open to the elements. They had come to care for each other greatly. He had once in his work found a nest of humming birds in a sapling not far from the fountain and he wondered at the guest she might host in her foliaged world. This beautiful woman who lived in the same world as him of green growing things, though from perhaps different perspective, was in his thoughts always. Like a bird in her own tree looking out through the leaves, he thought. But does not a bird leave it's tree to the air? The man loved the plants but it seemed to him the singular view from the inside of one could be like wearing sunglasses forever. He wanted to see her more and did his best to make her feel safe. Still he was happy to see her when she came to the garden and when she didn't he looked at all the plants differently. A steady smile enduring the mystery of the hidden or vacant woman.
There were large beetles found crossing the paths in the town moving away from the dry stream beds and the old women of the village were certain the rains would arrive soon.
This was a good omen for the coming wedding to be held in the courtyard. The young couple with fresh faces equal parts excited and nervous glanced at each other and walked slowly about their encampments awaiting their special day and musing at their social importance.
It was a practical arrangement as well. The families involved were anxious to cement their solidarity. Whatever their businesses were the gardener didn't know or care. Theirs' was a different world. He was happy to do his part to prepare the garden for the special day and hoped the
congregation would tread lightly and see the beauty therein. The day came and the rain looked to come heavy during the ceremony. The old women prepared their laundry and pales to catch as much water as they could and the whole town was in an air of celebration. The woman in the shrub and the gardener were there
standing near the fountain and laughing to themselves at the adornment of the procession as the rain broke. It was beautiful. It fell in sheets and raised a music out of everything it touched. It looked to be the finest of celebrations. The villages smiling in gregarious hair-streaked hellos and hugs.
The woman's shrub grew heavy and her roots sucked at the wet earth, making it difficult to walk. They were each reminded of the day they met in the fountain. She let him hold her hand and the rain fell. As the ceremony came to it's most important rights and the piano in the greenhouse began to offer its soft tones under the rain, the wind came up fiercely and sent two of the tall straight trees crashing down into the congregation. The loud snapping of branches matched the shapes of the splinters sent through the air. There were cries of concern and relief as loved ones found their others unharmed. No one was injured or so it would have seemed. The woman in the shrub had pushed the gardener clear of the falling tree and it had crashed straight through her protective home. She stood shining and exposed before everyone. In the rain. The gardener on his elbow again looked up helpless to cover or protect her. The crowd was silent and aghast, what was afoot here? Before anyone could speak a thunderclap raked fire across the one of the remaining trees. In the rain the garden burned. The people scattered. The woman unhidden by her shrub ran faster than had ever been seen before. Even through the rain the man could see her glow tracking up a hillside and then disappear. He followed as well as he could but she was gone. The villages retired from the celebration that had tried to consume them. What remained of the woman's shrub wilted from glowing amber to ashen as the final light of the village went out.
The dull pain of the following day hung in the smoky humid air. Inescapable to many. Even the piano in the greenhouse had been burned and looked from the outside unsalvageable. The man who had been the gardener woke aching in a puddle of ash and soot. He had been excused from his job and had set out over the hill hoping to find this woman again that he most certainly loved. He may never know even if he did find her. She could be hidden in some larger and rooted shrub, far away from any path, deliberately woven in brambles. Would she sparkle her eyes at him again?
There was no way to know. There was only the things he could do.
There was one man un-effected by the pall of grief and disorder cast by the storm. The shipwright was a rugged man always with his hands in his hip pockets. He knew how long it took to build a boat and how quickly they could be run aground and and sunk. He had been to sea but found he loved it better from the shore. When he met his wife that was it. He loved her and the sea from the land. The fallen trees were to be his. Tall and straight and easy to work. At least one would be the mast of his next ship. A knockabout carried by the splinters of a storm. He liked the idea and in a chuckling stride mused at the word "Windfall". He felt such gratitude for the arrangement of his world that he disrupted his stride so as not to disrupt a crossing beetle. It scrabbled across the path and under a stone.
And so the ship of our story has passed over the horizon and out of view. Surely in some respect it is still being told, though it out of reach of our weary yet sparkling eyes.
Though all vessels are sinking ships, a story can live forever. Some are even more soft and real than skin.