OK I figured it out! Here it is guys, its long, will take the average reader about 10-15 min and please give me your feedback! Both happy and critical!
Thanks and I hope you enjoy. Keep in mind I wrote this with an 80 yr old stuck in my head
The old woman closed her eyes, leaned back into the cushions of her ancient wing back chair and felt sleep over take the thoughts that had been bothering her for days.
On the window sill beside her sat a blue jar, the kind for filling with preserves and sending out to acquaintances at Christmas time- though she had never had the time or forethought for something so consuming and trivial. Generous as it may be.
Inside the jar was some sand, just ordinary enough looking sand, but when you poured it out through your fingers it glimmered and danced like fairy lights in a storm. The contents of this little blue jar had been on the old woman's mind for quite some time.
Shaking her head awake after only 10 minutes or so of dozing, The old woman sat up in her chair and shifted her gaze out her window and across the meadow to the construction happening beyond. She watched as slowly the forest she had known her whole life and had explored in as a child, was torn down to make way for a super center and some fancy condos with great big shiny glass windows and steel structure. The view they would have out those windows she couldn't imagine being worth the money at all. After all, they were destroying the only good view left in the town to make way for this new monstrosity.
Mumbling to herself she stood to put on a pot of hot water for tea. "Tea solves any ailment, whether in the mind or in the body". Her gran had always said this to her, and it was something she had never found fault in.
Later in the afternoon, The old woman set out to her great grand daughters house to give her a birthday present. halfway there she realized she hadn't called ahead but that was alright, if her granddaughter wasn't home, she would leave the package on the front step by the statue of the little frog wearing a crown.
As it turned out, she was home, and had only just woken up! Elli was not a morning person, and quite usually slept until very late into the day.
"Gran! please come in, can I make you some tea? I baked some cookies yesterday, a recipe of yours I believe..."
Immediately comforted by the joy she saw in her granddaughter she accepted the offer for tea, even though it had only been an hour or so since her last cup.
"I came to give you your birthday present Elli, I know your birthday isn't for a couple months, but I felt like I should give it to you now."
Rooting through her bag she pulled out the small wrapped parcel and placed it on the table between them. "If you don't like it, that's just too bad little one, this has been meant for you since before you were ever born. Now you may do what you want with it, but when you are ready, I will tell you where it's from, and just why it is so special."
Elli sat down across from her Grandmother, and wrapped both hands around her teacup and looked suspiciously at the gift. Wrapped in plain simple newsprint and tied with a soft pink ribbon with frayed ends it was simply the most beautiful thing she had seen. "I dont want to open it Gran," she said "It looks so lovely all wrapped up as a centerpiece on my table, I dont think I could find something so sweet anywhere." The old woman laughed, "Little one, you have always had a keen eye for simple beauty. Which is why I believe you will love what is inside even more. Go ahead, open it up!"
Elli put her cup to one side and walked her fingers to the package on the table. Picking it up she turned it over to find the knot and untied the ribbon and slid it off. The paper then came off easily and revealed the small blue jar from the window sill.
"Oh Gran!" Elli exclaimed, "I have always loved this!, whenever I would visit when I was a little girl I felt like I could stare into this for hours and lose myself inside!"
"I am very pleased to hear you remember that Elli love, I remember how much it fascinated you." Elli eyed her Gran with a grin, "Well?" She asked, her smile widening. "mmm?" the old woman answered, taking a sip of her tea. "Well I believe you are dying to finally tell me the story behind this present!"
"ahh yes, well I have wanted to for some time love, but the moment never seemed quite right. Do you have the time now or should we make a date for later?
"I don't have any plans today Gran, It must be fate! You coming over on a day that I am free!"
This was definitely true. There was barely a day in a month that Elli wasn't off somewhere or with someone. "Perfect then," Elli answered before her Gran could say another word "Are you comfortable here or should we go into the sun room and plop ourselves down in there?"
"That sounds wonderful love" and they both drained their last bit of tea and made their way down the hall and into the sun room. Elli ran back quickly to grab the plate of cookies and a pitcher of lemonade with some glasses. "Stories are always better with snacks Gran" She winked. The old woman chuckled and took a cookie off the plate before sitting herself down in an overstuffed love seat, Elli perched herself on the window seat and leaned back against the glass, eyes open and ready to hear about whatever the mystery of her little glass jar could be.
"It all began in 1938, unemployment was a very big problem here in Vancouver and my family was definitely affected by it all. I was only 8 at the time, and to my parents a bit of a bother, so most days I was sent outside to play, which was perfectly fine by me, I have always been more of an outdoorsy person then most think. As you know I grew up in the same house I live in today, though it wasnt as run down and 'rustic' looking then as it is now. And the meadow and forest and stream behind the house was all my family's property. The perfect setting to play as a child.
Often I would let my little brother tag along, but this summer in particular he had a very close couple of friends and he was barely around. I had actually started to miss his company!
It was a very hot day in July that I set out across the meadow and to the stream. I was wearing only my bathing suit as my plan was to take a dip in the shallow part of the stream then lay down on the rocks jutting over the water to work on my tan. I couldn't very well go back to school looking as though I had been indoors everyday!
As I lay there, watching the droplets of water on my stomach come together to pool in my belly button, I thought I heard a voice. tilting my head to one side so I could see across the meadow I strained my eyes through the sunlight to see the person behind the voice. But I saw no one. My cheek quickly started heating up as the rock was very hot, so I slowly sat up thinking I would take another dip. As I sat up I saw something rather curious floating down the stream and in my direction! It looked like a very small and yet very ornate little rowboat. Squinting I kept my focus on it, trying to make out the size and if there was a person inside. It crept closer staying to the far side of the stream along the muddy bank.
No it looked much to small for an adult, or even for a child to be inside. It must belong to one of the children upstream and had gotten away from them in the current.
Dipping my toes into the water I craned my neck to see around the bend in the stream for any children chasing after their precious little boat, but no one was there and I couldn't hear any one. "Well," I thought out loud "I guess I had better retrieve it for them, it may be very special to someone." and I slipped slowly into the cool water and headed towards the middle of the stream to block its path.
As the rowboat neared I thought I could make out something, if not someone inside holding the oars. Yes there was definitely something in there, and whatever it was, it had on a top hat!
Suddenly clear as day I could hear singing! The familiar lyrics of Lavender Blue carried over the waters surface and gave me shivers so the little hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up. I started backing up to the safety of the rocks on my side of the stream but my foot slipped and caught in some hidden treasure beneath the water and before I knew it I was under and splashing around like a seal. Once I recovered my footing and wiped my hair and water from my face, right in front of me; was the rowboat. Much bigger then I had thought, about the size of a barrel. And there inside sat a very serious and very proud looking frog. And yes, the frog was wearing a top hat, and a waistcoat!"
"Wait, wait...wait!" Ellie suddenly cut in, "Gran, this... actually happened? I mean, I have never even seen a frog here in Vancouver let alone one wearing clothing!" The old woman slowly poured a glass of fresh lemonade and eased back into the love seat "Elli, love, there is more to this world, this town even, then the hustle bustle of the city life. There is magic everywhere, you just have to learn to be silent, watchful, and trusting." "Well, alright, sorry I interrupted Gran, please continue."
"The frog looked me up and down and opened his mouth then closed it again. I was speechless, blinking trying to believe that my eyes simply had water in them and were playing tricks on me. We must have stayed there for a full minute, just looking at one another and not speaking. Then unbelievably, the frog cleared his throat, and said; "Good day Pearl" I blinked, I didnt know if I was more surprised to hear him speak, or that he called me Pearl, which as you know, is not my name. "uhh.." my voice was dry and cracked when I spoke, I coughed and tried again "My..my name isn't pearl, I'm sorry you, you must have the wrong person?" I stammered. Feeling rather foolish for talking to a frog. "No, no I don't think that I do Pearl, but it is up to you I suppose. Either way, it is getting quite late and we will need to hurry along now, it took longer then I thought to find you" I opened my mouth to reason with him, I was most definitely not this 'Pearl', and even though it was a frog, I certainly knew enough about going anywhere with someone I didnt know. And yet there was something familiar about him, and he seemed to know me even though he had my name wrong.
I hadnt responded to him and my mouth was hanging open trying to come up with something polite to say to excuse myself when he sighed and said "I can see you don't remember me little one, but quite honestly, we are wasting a great deal of time on jibber jabber and gaping when the party is almost underway! You can climb into my boat if you wish, or we could take the trail through the woods, though personally, the river is a much safer way to travel for the likes of me." I was shocked, "Remember you? No I am afraid I do not, maybe if you would be so kind as to remind me why I might know you.. and why you keep calling me Pearl?"
"Pearl is your name silly lass, and we have had many adventures together, though none as good as tonight, Now climb up into the boat and we shall join the party in good time!" I didnt have a response for him, and I didnt sense anything deceitful in his demeanor so I slowly made my way to the edge of the boat and found that if I sat up with my legs curled under me I would probably fit perfectly.
Climbing in was a bit of a challenge, The boat was solid but I was so nervous and excited that I fumbled a few times before getting in. "That's better," The frog said "Now dont worry about your attire, there will be a dress and shoes waiting for you when we get there"
"Get where exactly Mr. um, Frog?"
"My girl, you really don't remember do you? Well I suppose it has been awhile. Mr. Humphreys is my name, and we are headed to the party of the century!"
"Mr. Humphreys." I repeated, "But a party? No one is partying lately what with the trouble of there being no jobs for any one's Fathers! Is this a party for frogs and other animals then?"
"In a way I suppose it is little lass. But don't you worry, if you are anything like you used to be, you are going to have a wonderful time. There will be tea and biscuits and sweets and games, you can never be bored, at one of these gatherings."
I looked over the boats edge to the water below, we had gone a long way in a short time and the water here was deeper and much bluer then I had seen it before. I strained my eyes trying to see my house from where we were but I only saw glimpses of trees and old farmhouses up on the streams bank. River really, for here the water widened and twisted and rushed along creating pools of calm water at the edges but a quick strong current for the boats path. The muddy banks had become higher and curved inward making grassy edges overhanging the water. Holding onto both edges of the boat my breathing quickened as it dawned on me that if we were to tip, I would drown. I couldn't swim very well yet and there were no strong rocks at the edge to grab onto. "Don't you worry lass, my boat may be old, but strong as any you will travel in and has yet to tip, even in a storm." Mr. Humphreys reached out with one hand to pat my white knuckles clutching the side of the boat. I relaxed my grip and calmed slightly. "Are we getting closer yet Mr. Humphreys?" "Yes my dear, just around the corner now, keep your eyes open for a log sticking itself out into the river, that will be where we tie up and make our way to the party on land"
He was true to his word, there is was, a huge tree trunk that had fallen what must have been years ago right into the river, taking up half of the width and creating a calm little docking area for the small rowboat. With great ease Mr. Humphreys cast his rope out across the water and snagged the looped end on a branch sticking out from the great trunk. "Grab on now lass and help me pull us into shore" I took the end of the rope he offered me and together we pulled our way to nestle beside the waters edge, securing the rope around the branch from the giant tree.
Hopping out, for that's exactly what Mr. Humphreys did, hop that is. I don't know why I didn't expect him to hop, I mean he was a frog after all, but he was so regal in his top hat and waistcoat, I believe I expected him to walk upright on his hind legs like me.
Climbing out for me was easier then getting in, but I still felt clumsy about my size and grace. I had developed long lanky legs and felt rather awkward since my last growth spurt.
Climbing up on land I looked around and saw that we were completely surrounded by tall wispy trees. Not the large pines like in the forest by my house. These trees looked untouched and gentler somehow. "Come on then lass, it's not much further from here. Watch your step though, not a very well worn path I'm afraid and I don't want you hurting yourself on a tree root or stone"
I kept my eyes down as we made our way through the forest. It definitely was not a worn path, not anything you could even call a path actually. It looked more like a deer trail through some long wheat grass and the occasional fallen tree or boulder.
Suddenly we came into a large opening in the woods. A lavender field. The smell was amazing, fresh and light and I felt it wash over me and excite my senses. I let my fingertips brush along the tops of the lavender shoots and watched as small pollen spores and bees flew about in the air.
"Ahh here we are then lass," Mr. Humphreys started excitedly hopping up and down from one foot to the other. "Over there, By that large willow you will find your party dress and a pair of shoes that should fit. Once you have changed, just continue through the willow trees and you will arrive at the party! I will be there waiting" And with that he hopped off into the grove of trees.
I looked up at the sky. It was perfectly blue. A good afternoon for a party in the woods I thought. Then wondered why it felt so normal that I would think that.
I wandered over to the willow and found a beautiful dusty rose day dress with a pair of matching shoes. They both fit perfectly.
My hair had dried now in the heat of the sun and i could feel it curling all around my head in an unruly way. I wished I had a brush, but no such luck. 'Ah well,' I thought, 'This is a party for animals after all, I am sure they wont mind that my hair isn't combed.'
I came out from behind the giant tree and followed where Mr. Humphreys had gone. My ears pricked for sounds of a party, and after only a few steps I heard the faint sound of music! Then I saw it; a great many animals, all moving and gathered in groups. there were fawns and rabbits playing tag around the groups of grown ups and there was laughter and singing and so many voices.
Then Mr. Humphreys was back at my side, He had acquired a cane since I saw him last and he was now strolling on his hind legs quite properly.
"What is it everyone is celebrating?" I whispered to Mr. Humphreys. "Celebrating my dear, your Birthday of course!" I gasped! All this was for me? I couldnt believe it. It was the most spectacular thing I had ever seen, and I was the reason for it all!
"But, how did you know?" I asked still in awe. "My dear girl, even though you seem to have forgotten us, we could never forget you. Your Birthday is an important day to all of us, and it is only right that we should celebrate it together this year." Before I could answer we were walking through a carved oak arbour adorned with ivy and wild roses and into the midst of the party.
Everyone turned there eyes towards me, setting their cups of tea down in their saucers and swallowing the last of the sandwich or treat they had in their mouths. everything went quiet. I looked from face to face, trying to take it all in. There were Deer, Great Elk, Foxes and Rabbits, Squirrels and Skunks, frogs, birds and raccoons. Everyone's face I took in was looking at me, kindly smiling or curious.
"Should I say something Mr. Humphreys?" I whispered down to him. He leapt up onto a small table beside me and stood holding his cane up in the air "Today," He said, his voice clear and loud "We gather in celebration of Pearl Gudbrands 8th Birthday. It was only 3 years ago that she was here last, and 3 years before that. We all, I am sure, remember what she has done for us, so now everyone; raise your glasses in a toast to Pearl the rescuer- of the grove!" If Mr. Humphreys had thrown a hot cup of tea in my face I couldnt have been more surprised! Rescuer? Me? and what was this about 3 years ago? That would mean I was only 5! And 3 years before then as well? I was here when I was 2 years old? That didnt make any sense at all. And yet they may all think my name is Pearl, but they had my last name correct. I pinched my arm quickly to see if I had simply drifted off on the ledge by the stream and this was all just a day dream. No, here I was, in the middle of a Birthday party with animal guests.
Just then two massive elks walked into the center of the group. They had a platform spread between their backs and on the platform was an enormous birthday cake. It had white frosting and was decorated with flowers and leaves and willow wisps. They lowered themselves down slowly so that I could help slide the platform onto the table top that Mr. Humphreys was sitting on.
One of the fawns placed a spear head onto the table so that I might cut the cake into pieces for everyone to share. I smiled down at him. He was lovely, all covered in white spots with a thick downy coat of ginger brown.
Slicing through the cake I felt much more grown up then my 8 years. It felt strange suddenly to be here, with no idea really where 'here' was. I took a deep breath, sliced a few more pieces and then let Mr. Humphreys start handing them out to the hungry waiting crowd.
I headed over towards a mossy fallen tree and sat there watching everyone. This was all starting to feel very real, and very familiar. But I still couldn't put my finger on it.
Why had I been here before? Why did they all show love for me and no fear or distrust the way most animals do for human beings?
They were all dressed so formally. In vests and bow ties and dresses. Even the children wore fine clothing. This was all so strange. I closed my eyes for awhile and leaned back on the tree. My head was spinning with questions that and I didnt know where to begin finding the answers.
I felt something gently graze my knee. Opening my eyes there was a small fox, sitting at the end of the tree looking at me.
He smiled and wished me a happy Birthday. I smiled back and thanked him.
He jumped off the tree and I watched him run to join in a game with the other children. Then Mr. Humphreys was beside me. "Well little one, I can see that this has been a lot for you to process." He said, his eyes big with sympathy.
"Oh Mr. Humphreys. everything is so familiar, and yet, I cant seem to put my finger on it. Will you please tell me why I was here before? And what I did to deserve all this?" I gestured to the party, my eyes searching his.
"Yes Pearl, I will tell you. I thought maybe seeing everyone again would jar your memory. But I suppose not. Lets go for a walk then, get some air."
We walked together to the clearing with the lavender. It was quiet here and peaceful only the humming of bees could be heard and it created a sort of cozy ambiance.
"You were found here lass. Right here in this field. over there" Mr. Humphreys pointed to a gigantic willow tree "By that willow to be exact. Such a tiny little thing you were. But you didnt cry, not for one minute. You seemed sure of who you were right from the start. You were completely naked except for a pearl bracelet around your ankle and that didn't seem to bother you either. Course you were just a baby, almost 2 years old we guessed." "Who was it that found me? Was it you Mr. Humphreys?" I was completely bewildered now, why would my mother let me wander this far, by myself, when I was that small? "No lass, it wasn't me. I believe I was at home with the Mrs. then. It was Clara and Beatrice, that found you." I thought back to the party, who were they? Oh they must have been the elderly raccoons that seemed to only stare and smile at me. The same way my great Grandmother did when we went over for tea. "And then they took me to you?" I asked.
It became clear to Mr. Humphreys that it was very important to me where he fit in in all this. After all, he was the leader, or so it seemed. "Yes. They took you to their place, they are sisters you see, have shared a home since they were born, they fed you and made a dress for you out of a blanket and brought you over to our house. You understood what we were saying to you and one another, and you had the most infectious grin. We all wished that this is what all small children were like. I set out everyday after that trying to find your parents, or siblings, someone was surely missing this beautiful happy child. After 4 days I found your Mother, sitting on a rock across the river, making chains of daisys and singing a sweet lullaby. She was very pregnant and looked sad and lost. So I headed back to the grove to find you and to tell the sisters that we would need to return you safely right away. Your mother must have thought you had been lost in the river and swept away." That explained a lot I thought to myself. Every time my father would tell me to go play outside and go for a swim my Mother would put her hand on his arm to quiet him and then give me a fierce hug and tell me to play only where I could still see the house. and to stay away from the waters edge.
"Alright, keep going Mr. Humphreys, please."
"Well we had all become so attached to you in the days you were with us, it was hard for us to let you go, but I took you in my rowboat and we went down the river to where I had seen your mother the day before. You were such a sweet young lass, you gave me the biggest kiss and hopped out of the boat and scooted up the river bank with no hesitation. I watched you run through the meadow and saw you safely returned to your waiting Mothers arms.
We didnt think we would see you again after that of course. We would all reminisce about it at parties or over tea, But then 3 years later there you were again! drifting down the river in a wooden box you had fashioned into deathtrap of a boat."
I remembered that. I was so proud of my little boat, and still over the last couple years I couldnt remember what had happened to it.
"I found you" Mr. Humphreys continued pacing now getting more excited as he went. "half drowned and clinging to that tree trunk we tied my boat up to. I pulled you out, with the help of Randy, That young Elk back at the party, and took you to the sisters house once more.
They nursed you back to your joyous old self, only took one day before you were up on your feet again. Then it happened.." He trailed off.
"what Mr. Humphreys? Please dont stop now!"
"well dear lass, our forest as we knew it was being destroyed. Trees were being cut down to make way for buildings. Buildings churning out awful black smoke and dust. We had a grove meeting that night to talk about where we would go from here. Which direction was safest, whether we would stay together or go our separate ways. You came along with us to the meeting.
The was a lot of shouting and kafuffle going on at that gathering, and you were confused and scared by it all. I tried to quiet everyone down when you stood up and everyone stopped at looked at you. "I will save your home" you said. and grinning you ran off into the depths of the forest, towards the humming machines and smoke. We didn't know what to do, aside from watching you go. You ran much quicker then most of us and seemed so determined we didn't know what to think.
We didnt see you again. Not until today that is. But after you left, only a few days later the machines went away. the smoke slowly cleared, and we could breath again knowing we were safe. I still dont know how you did it, or what you did, but we are more thankful to you then you can imagine." Mr. Humphreys stopped pacing then, and sat back on his haunches and took out a pipe from his waistcoat pocket and began to puff on the end. I took in everything he told me. Thought hard to remember. And I did, well sort of, in snipets. But not to the grandioseness that he had described. "I remember.." I started "I remember running. I remember running right into a man. A very large man, though I suppose I was much smaller then. He picked me up and carried me to a small room. I think I sat in a chair while he called someone. It must have been the police. I started crying while he was on the phone and he hung up. I must have been telling him about all of you. Everything they were destroying." It didnt make sense though. Why would a grown up listen to a 5 year old child?
"Well," said Mr. Humphreys taking a long drag on his pipe. "Whatever it was you said, it did the trick! Now come, lets go back to the party, you will be missed greatly by now."
The party was wonderful, I drank my share of tea and sparkling water flavored with fresh berries and mint leaves, and ate cake and sweets and played many games with the children. I received hugs from all the adults and a few teary eyed smiles from the raccoon sisters. Then a present was shoved into my hands. I don't know who by, but it was small and wrapped in maple leaves. I looked around at everyone and they just smiled and looked from me to the gift in my hands. I unpeeled the leaves from around it and revealed a small blue jar. It was empty, but unlike any I had seen before. On the sides were bubbly images of deer and elk and the lid was fastened with a small copper clip. "Its beautiful" I said, fingering the jar cautiously. "Thank you, thank you everyone. This has been the best Birthday I could have asked for." One by one all the children came up, and out of their pockets put a handful of what looked like sand into the jar in my hands.
When Mr. Humphreys and I were left alone again by the departing party guests I asked him where the sand was from.
"Tis not sand that the children filled your jar up with lass." He said. "The part of the forest that was destroyed those few years ago was where the fairys lived. They all fled and we have never seen them since. Their dust is all that remains on the leaves surrounding that deadened land. Its yours now, to keep. to save. Thought it fitting, for a Birthday gift. Just a reminder that you saved us before we all became dust."
I smiled but felt sad. "Will you take me home Mr. Humphreys? I think My mother will be worried by now."
And we headed back to the river bank and upstream back towards my sun bathing rock.
"Dont forget us Lass," Mr Humphreys called out from his boat as he rowed away. "You will always be welcome and safe with us." I smiled and blew a kiss from my fingertips. Then turned and headed home."
"And now my Elli love, the jar and its contents belong to you. You dont have to display it as I have, but you must protect it. and I hope you pass it along, with the story to your curious child."
"Gran." Elli let out a deep sigh. "Thank you for telling me about Mr. Humphreys and the party. I will cherish the jar and the dust always."
"Good dear, good. I knew you would love it."
The old woman raised herself out of the love seat and made her way back into the kitchen with Elli trailing behind still clutching the jar to her chest. They embraced and Elli saw her Great Grandmother out the door with a kiss.
The old woman walked down the street slowly, taking in the smells and sounds of the city. Relief washing over her that her tale had been passed along, and was in the safety of a loving, thoughtful and joyous girl. Elli had looked at her with such trusting eyes and drank in every word of the tale of Mr. Humphreys and the girl.
It didn't matter what happened to the forest now. The animals she knew were long gone and had moved on from the grove. The noise from the city alone would be too much for them. and the river was filled in years ago to make way for roads.
The memory now was all that mattered, and the knowledge that magic, and fairy's and love unconditional was possible and would be carried on through generations.
Living in the Garden of Agony
- The tale of Mr. Humphreys and the girl