Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Playground Sadist

The Perils of Hansel and Gretel - Bryan Baugh's Cryptlogic

I started writing a Hansel and Gretel inspired tale last night, but was quickly led off track at the memory of a playground game from elementary school called "Growing a Rose Garden" It was a strange exercise of sadism even for children, who at that age are still exploring what it means to be mean. Now I'm not sure where the story is going, but here it is so far:

“He began by growing me a rose garden,” the young woman who called herself Piper said, candlelight plumping the sunken curve of her cheekbones and warming the blue hollows beneath her eyes.

The old woman who had wrapped her in a blanket, fed her bread and broth, and offered her a narrow pallet by the fire in exchange for help in and around the cabin placed her furrowed palm upon the girl’s forearm. “That doesn’t sound so bad.” She caught herself, knowing all too well that stories never end where they begin. “For a beginning, I mean.”

Piper shook her head, twisting her arm beneath the old woman’s grasp so that her inner arm was exposed. “It’s a game children play. Cruel children, kind children. Some like to grow the garden, some like to have the garden grown. Some don’t know any better that rose gardens are nothing but ornamental thorns until it’s too late.”

The old woman frowned. “How do you play?”

“Hold out your arm. Like this.” Piper held out her arm, soft inner flesh upwards. Her companion held out her arm.

“First, the farmer goes to the store,” said Piper. She walked her fingers up the woman’s arm from palm to inner elbow. “He buys some seeds. Then he goes back home.” She walked her fingers back down to the woman’s palm; the older woman shivered. It had been so long since she had felt another human’s touch.

“Then he digs holes to plan the seeds.” With the half moon of her index fingernail, she scraped the woman’s arm six times, as if digging six small holes in her flesh. She was gentle.

“Then the farmer plants the seeds.” She tapped her fingers against the other woman’s flesh, burying the imaginary seeds. She struck a slow pattern up and down the arm.

“Then the farmer waters the seeds.” The tapping quickened, fingers raining tiny blows back and forth across the forearm a number of times. “Watering is the trick to the game,” Piper said, whispering to indicate her words were not part of the process. “The watering lulls you, fools you, dominates you.”

Piper grabbed the woman’s palm with her other hand, the one that had not been playing the game until now, holding the arm straight out. “Then the roses bloom.” She pinched the arm hard, terribly hard, so hard that a pink bloom rose upon the white flesh. The woman cried out but Piper held the arm, refusing to let her pull away. She pinched her again and again until five more pink spots rose like welts. “There is your rose garden,” said Piper, finally releasing the old woman from her grasp.

Tears of unexpected pain had welled in the woman’s eyes but she did not let them fall. “Someday I will tell you of another rose garden, but not tonight. Not tonight, my dear.” She stood then, leaving Piper both embarrassed and afraid.

“Will you still let me stay?” Piper asked.

“You may stay as long as you like,” said the woman. “For now, and forever after, if you so desire. But stories are meant to be shared, and a beginning is a stranger to a story‘s end. Tell me more of your tale tomorrow and we will see where both our endings lie.” She leaned over, dimming the candle with her bare fingertips. “These old hands of mine,” she said. “They’re so dry and withered, I’m not sure I would know if they were to catch on fire.” With that, she left Piper to her doubts, the darkness, and dreams.