“A house of dreams. That’s what it was called. Surrounded by smiling, dancing gardens, little laughing brooks, and the most grand weeping willows you’ve ever seen, it was a picture. Climbing wisteria twisted around the archway and along the old wooden fence. Delicate pink roses bloomed contentedly against the front wall, satisfied to offer that small world all the loveliness they could give. Nasturtiums, violets, and alyssum waved in the breeze, nodding their heads to the fragrant jasmine tree that crawled up the old stone woman. She had been there every day, tending the garden, singing to the streams, and swinging under the willows. She loved this cottage more than anything else in the world, and for that she had many admirers, many men who vainly sought for the affection of this beautiful lady.
“Seasons passed, years flew by, and the fair maiden still lovingly tended her garden, whispering what words of wisdom and light she knew to the lavender and lilacs. Her admirers one by one drifted away, telling people that she was a useless hag that shamed her family name. Her reply that was only heard by the birds was, ‘But I have no family, save the flowers and the trees--and I am happy with that. For though I see love in that bond, I do not seek what I do not lack.’ Yet still there was one lad--a cheery, yet solemn, curly-top chap--and he found the maiden remained steadfastly in his heart. She would speak to him from a distance, keeping him beyond the wisteria-laden fence. Try as he might, the young lad’s rank never rose above a passer-by.
“But his love was true, and so he would write the maiden letters, ones that had the village girls held in their hands, would become the envy of all. With each passing day the maiden read the letter found buried in the jasmine, and she would laugh at the beautiful words written to her, storing them somewhere secret until she would have herself be amused again.
“Now this, of course, dampened the young lad’s spirits considerably, but he still cleaved to that one blissful hope: that one day the maiden would care for him as he cared for her. No attention would he pay to any girl of the village; what they spoke of was fickle, foppish, and utterly crude in comparison to the sweet, honey-like voice of his beloved. No amount of fabric, feathers, hats, hairpins, or paint would entice his intrige. Temptation was not foreign, but his love to him had more worth than all the girls in the village.
“And so it was, that on the first day of spring, the young man made himself known to the maiden again, and she rejected him. For all her songs and sentiment, she had not the heart to truly love. But the young man was not deterred; till the day he died he wrote stories and sonnets of her, and the last great feat of love was made clear when the perfect stone likeness of the maiden stood gracefully over the place her body lay, surrounded by the jasmine he would place his letters in. And thus it was, the stone lady of the house of dreams never knew love, and was the young man’s poor passion to his last breath.”
“Bravo! Christy, you should be an author!”
The young woman at the wheel smiled and shrugged happily. “Nah, I can’t do every story justice; just think Anne of Green Gables. Besides, I didn’t make that one as tragic as it should have been; it should have been desperately romantic and hopelessly uh… Hopelessly…”
“Tragic?” Nicole offered. Christy shrugged again and squinted her eyes for a moment. “Sure, but I already said tragic. Repetition just rubs me the wrong way, you know?”
“Ever precise, ever regal.”
Christy smirked. “Whatever. I got Anne on the brain, okay? Cut me some slack.”
“Oh, don’t worry about me, your ever-loyal listener. I quite enjoy your primness and proper-ness and poetic-ness. Not once have I ever truly discouraged it, right?”
“You just said ‘ever’ twice after saying it twice before, Nic,” she deadpanned. Nicole shot her a side-glance and laughed. “But really, I love listening to your stories. And if this cottage is what you described it as, that story is sticking with me. This is just like that time when we went to the cabin and you told me the story about the land on the other side of the river.”
Christy smiled at the memory. As cousins, she and Nicole were glued together for life, and as such, Nicole listened to all Christy’s whims, and Christy had some of Nicole’s casualty knocked into her. The cabin was family owned, and in the summer, family-occupied. In the backyard ran a deep, swift river, and across lay tall grass and towering cottonwoods that captivated Christy. Ever the dreamer, as Nicole would put it, she spun an almost-Narnian yarn from the breezes of those trees. Although Christy was known to be eloquent and fanciful, Nicole was perhaps nearly the more romantic of the two, despite her difficulty in communicating it. However, Christy saw this and believed it was through her artistic abilities Nicole best expressed what she could not say.
Sketches and paintings cluttered her room, and nearly all of a man and woman, clearly romantically involved. Unfortunately, the girls’ romantic inclination resulted in the abandoning of other subjects in school--such as arithmetic and physics. So their parents, like-minded in many ways, offered the girls a summer vacation all paid in advance on the condition that they acquired no less than a B- in every subject. When Christy found the cottage for rent, it was just a matter of paper, pens, numbers, and symbols before the house was theirs for the summer--and just as it should be, the dreamers kept on dreaming and forming their little fantasies.
“Take this right on Elderberry Lane and then the second left onto McElroy Road,” Nicole listed, eyes on the electronic device in her hand. Christy gave a slight nod before turning and craning her neck to see beyond some of the trees. Judging from the resident’s gardens, she promptly decided that flowers must be the currency there. So as soon as she and Nicole were snugly moved in, she would cut a few herself and offer the lovely centerpieces as friendship offerings to their summer neighbors.
When at last on the dusty dirt road that belonged to the cousins’ summertime haven, Christy immediately thought of the Stone Woman. It was true enough that there was a statue in the shape of a lovely celtic maiden with jasmine adorning her gown, but… what if this once… could it be possible that her story was true?
No. Stories like that didn’t come true, and even if it were, how would she know? At least a little fantasie for the remnant of their stay wouldn’t be harmful. It would be a welcome breath of fresh air to forget everything else in the world, save the childish dreams that still occupied her mind. And Nicole; everything was better with Nicole around.
The driveway soon led the little Accord through a tangled archway of willows and roses. Geraniums and petunias waved gracefully at the willows’ feet like dancers, and the songbirds roosting in those sweeping branches sang as skillfully as operatic wonders. Tulips and lavender swayed in the breeze above a carpet of myrtle, but it was the rose garden that caught Christy’s eye.
A beautiful, black, wrought-iron patio set lay to the right of the cottage, described very particularly in the first paragraph, in a blossoming courtyard of roses. Petals lined the ground, and all the different bursts of colour--wine, ivory, peach, pink, white, yellow, coral, and deep fuchsia--conveyed an impressionistic aura and an elegant lounge.
“Hey Nic, we might have to stop by the general store for some tea… I wonder if there isn’t china already here?”
“Honestly it wouldn’t surprise me if she left some for us. I wonder who’s kept all this up. I mean, these bushes are huge. It would take years and years to grow all this. And look, Chris,” Nicole quickly maneuvered past a bush and led Christy to the backyard. “I saw the jasmine through the cracks. Here’s your Stone Lady living in the house of dreams. But look at the jasmine… it’s braided and woven, from the very beginning.” Nicole ran her fingers down the vine and felt the pattern. “That landlady can’t be doing all this herself, and you said she didn’t have that much money, so who does the gardening?” Christy mumbled an agreement as she plucked some blossoms and tucked them in Nicole’s hair, suggesting absently, “Maybe a relative?”
“You said that she said she only has a grandson working for Microsoft and no one else; that’s why she’s renting out the cottage: to get income that adds on her retirement for a nursing home.”
“Oh yeah… Maybe a friend, then?” Christy suggested again dreamily, twisting jasmine into her own hazel braid. Nicole turned to her starry-eyed friend, frowning. “Christy, you don’t find this at all suspicious?” Christy furrowed her eyebrows. “No. Why? Do you?”
“Actually, I do.” Nicole placed her hands on her hips. “We don’t know what creep might be tending these gardens and spying on us while we’re here.”
“Nic, an old lady lived here before us and she had hardly any money. And she’s hardly able to do anything this incredible by herself. It’s probably a friend that won’t come by anymore now that we’re here and she’s moved out.” This answer satisfied Nicole for the moment, and she and Christy returned to the car to unload, unpack, and then scope out the surrounding area. It wasn’t until late that evening that either of them found anything odd.
Nicole was in the basement, discovering an eerily hollow space in the wood floor. Christy was in the master bedroom, gawking and delighting in the antique furniture that was left for them to enjoy. She pulled open the closet door--a beautiful whitewashed piece of carved pine--and to her astonishment, found a series of paintings leaning against the back wall. Her eyes grew wider at the discovery that they were all of the same woman--a beautiful, Irish lass, tending the roses here, watering the hydrangeas there, swinging beneath a willow, and dancing beside a stream. Her hair was long and dark, often braided with ribbons. Her gown was a lace or muslin shirtwaist coupled with light, airy skirts. And she looked exactly like the Stone Lady. The gentle curve of her eye, the structure of her face, the gratefulness of stance all echoed what stood in the garden. Christy began to run down the stairs when she heard Nicole calling her.
“Nicole! Nicole, you’ll never dream of what I’ve found!” But when she reached her cousin kneeling on the ground beside an extremely antique trunk, with stacks beyond stacks of folded paper tied with ribbon, Christy realized that maybe she was the one who had dreamed… maybe?
“Nicole, what are those?” she questioned shakily. Nicole turned her head, wide eyed and almost alarmed. “They’re letters. They’re letters from him. I think I know who tends the garden. Listen:
When will you turn your head to me? Do you not truly know what love is? I offer you everything I have, everything I am. I have painted you, love. My eyes are going blind from staring at your picture--and you--day after day. All I hear in my ears in the sweetness of your voice, your rippling laughter and delicate song. Heart’s dearest, I implore of you, will you not meet me? Will you not even see what I have to offer? You speak to the birds and the flowers, but they cannot respond. How do you think it is better… How do you think it is better to live without love? For that is all I am offering you: my love and my heart and all I own.
Affectionately, M. S.
You have always been my confidant. Since Kate has departed, I have left her likeness growing by the jasmine. I will be here everyday in the garden henceforth to pay my respects and tend the garden. I will train someone after me to do the same. Out of love for you and your sister, may she rest in peace.
All my love,
“You see! Christy, your story came true!”
“I--I can’t believe it’s real. I mean, not exactly, but it happened. There was the lad and the lass… and he loved her, and oh… NICOLE!”
“Still here, cuz. You have some genius idea?”
“I can write something! In my notebook. I’ll show it to Charlotte. She’ll like it. And she won’t believe it’s true, oh Nicole! We found a piece of history. This is a landmark in our life. Be it small and somewhat personal and meaningless… well, it still counts for something, you know?”
“Yeah. Who knew? I mean, it’s crazy that we could find this!”
“I’m going to dream again--I mean make a story.”
“Why? Cause this is the House of Dreams?”
“Well, you might not be totally thrilled with the results, but it is always nice to live in a fantasy. Especially here.”
“You got that right.”