Once there was a gardener who made a vow to his wife that he would rip up all the wild honeysuckle to make picturesque paths under the grand maples, apples, oaks, and pines. He vowed to clear the garden beds of dandelions, thorny thistle, and rag weed, and replace them with roses, lilies, and irises in every color and variety. The gardener’s wife joined him at the beginning since she enjoyed beautiful things and being outside with her husband in the fresh air.
The garden was coming along well and the couple enjoyed their work. They both sat and drank coffee on their mornings of leisure and discussed their plans for the garden. Sometimes they agreed and sometimes their plans diverged, but they were always proud of their work when they looked back on the gardens as the sun set for the evening.
The gardener’s wife surprised the gardener one evening with three abandoned kittens. The gardener admired his wife’s good nature and made room for the kittens to live in the garden shed.
The kittens adorned the couple’s gardens like living statues. Now when the gardener and his wife drank their coffee in the morning they enjoyed the company of the kittens who would sometimes play so wildly they would tumble into a garden bed sending leaves and blossoms flying. The couple would shout and shoo the kittens out of the gardens, but neither one of them could be truly upset. They were only kittens after all.
Sometimes after the couple had finished their coffee the gardener would begin weeding and transplanting. He expected to see his wife in the garden bed next to him pulling up weeds but she was often where he had left her, still lying in the grass, playing with the cats. The gardener was happy to see his wife so contented and her happiness gave him extra energy as he worked in the sunshine.
The gardener’s wife would still join him from time to time to lend a hand or give advice about the shape of one of the gardens or the plants she felt would make the most harmonious pairings. The gardener could sometimes see the wisdom in his wife’s advice, but more often than not he was disposed to design and cultivate the gardens according to his own plans. After a hard day of tending to his plants the gardener liked to step back to appreciate his work. However, as he became more serious about his gardens, the gardener would often toil past sunset into the darkness so that he could barely see the objects of his admiration.
One late night the gardener found his wife fast asleep. The gardener looked on his wife’s sweet face as she slept and he was happy since he knew she would be proud of his work and tell him how much she loved what he had done when they looked out over the land in the morning. Morning came and the gardener’s wife asked the gardener if he might like to accompany her on a walk with the cats as they sipped their coffee. She had already walked straight past the main garden as she looked back at the gardener, awaiting his response. “You go on ahead”, said the gardener, and she and her three cats followed her down the lane as the gardener looked out at his land. He was upset that his wife hadn’t paid his new and improved gardens any attention. The gardener looked on the trees and the flowers now and saw work that needed to be done and potential gardens on the horizon that might accommodate his ever growing stock of plants. First though, thought the gardener, “I must organize the tools in the garden shed so that my work can be done more efficiently.” When the gardener entered the shed he saw that his wife had made an enormous bed for the cats and had relegated his tools to hard to reach corners.
The gardener had hitherto been tolerant of his wife’s new interests and had not pressed her about her withdrawal from the pastime that had previously brought them both so much joy. As the gardener began to sort through the tools his wife had so carelessly tossed aside, he began to dispose of the cats’ things. The gardener made a fire near the shed and one by one he threw the cats’ things: toys, bedding, food and water dishes all smoldered in the coals. With each thing the gardener threw away he was reminded of a time the cats had chewed or dug up one of his flowers. When the gardener was all done organizing the shed he dragged a fifty pound bag of wildflower seed in front of the cat door. In his haste to organize the shed perfectly, the gardener inadvertently spilled a five gallon tank of gasoline. The gardener was so intent upon his task that he didn’t notice the gasoline fumes wafting through the air. Soon though his delirium overcame the gardener as he lay down upon the freshly swept floor of his perfectly organized shed.
As the gardener’s wife returned from her walk she smelled the gasoline and opened the shed door. She tried to drag the gardener from the shed but he was far too heavy. Just then an ember, maybe a piece of burnt cotton from the cats’ bedding, floated ever so slowly, making a circuitous course from the fire to the floor of the shed where it met with an ample pool of gasoline. The gardener’s wife hurled herself from the doorway of the shed as flames engulfed her husband. He woke just in time to remember some of the joys of his life. He recalled his walks with his wife in the wild woods where they collected moss rocks and listened to the stream rush over the yellow marsh grasses. He thought of the lazy mornings when they would lie in bed and the gardener would regale his wife with absurd stories and bad jokes. He thought of a time before he was a gardener and before she was his wife and of the night he was so bold to ask for a kiss from the prettiest girl he had ever seen. Then the gardener was no more. In all of his last reveries the gardener never once recalled a single flower.
In her husband’s absence the gardener’s wife continued to maintain the gardens in her own way. She replaced most of the flowers with ornamental trees. Each day she would choose a different tree to sit under with her cats. This way the weeds never grew up. She used the boards that remained from the burnt shed to build a raised bed where she planted a handful of her husband’s favorite flowers. Each night the gardener’s wife happily and leisurely watered and weeded the raised bed before she said goodnight to her husband and to the glowing hills as the sun set. The gardener’s wife never rebuilt the shed, but she found plenty of space in her house for her three cats plus a dozen or so more which she named after the lilies and irises she had to sacrifice to the wilderness as the weeds slowly overtook them.
One day many years later while out for a walk in the fields with her cats the gardener’s wife pushed back some tall grasses to reveal a clearing. With her eyes full of tears the gardener’s wife stooped down to admire a perfect garden in the wild. All of the flowers she thought she had lost; the same flowers for which her cats were named, were all there in full bloom. There were irises which were supposed to bloom in the spring, and lilies which were supposed to bloom in summer, all blooming together at once. The gardener’s wife was so happy that she lay down in the dirt and let the sunlight and sweet smell of flowers consume her. With her eyes half opened she saw her cats batting around a perfectly formed iris bud. The gardener’s wife smiled, felt the warmth of the sun, closed her eyes, and slept for hours with her cats in the comfort of the wild garden. She only woke late in the evening when it began to rain, and even then she lay for a while, leaving her eyes wide open and trying not to blink as the heavy drops fell.