October 23, 2013

The Flower Garden, By Sabrina Zbasnik

"Summer Roses," by Edmund B. Leighton

Editor's note: I am devoted to flowers and gardening, so this story, more of a fable than a fairy tale, was an easy choice. The dark little twist a the end is a reminder that all "enchanting" stories have a touch of death in them.

Hidden behind the castle walls grew the sublimest garden in the whole of the kingdom. Braving miles of bandit festooned-road people traveled just to get a glimpse of the inviting and exquisite flowers, many never wishing to go back to their own humdrum verdure back home.

From this garden each day the princess would pick one flower to adorn her hair. The people loved their little princess, remarking upon her beauty nearing full bloom, "She is more elegant than a rose and fairer than a lily."

The early morning sun drifted over the castle's high walls to reach the sleeping flower bed. In her own time each lovely flower would stretch and awaken for a new day. As they worked on their primping and sprucing up to face the world so would begin the same old argument.

"I think today the princess shall choose me for her fair hair," started the Lily as she straightened out her petiole. No one wants a curled up petiole on their flower.

"Oh don't start that again, Lily," pricked the Hibiscus, messing up the rouge on her stamens.

“My goodness, the sun certainly is bright today," the Gardenia exclaimed as she pulled up her leaves to provide some shade. "The princess would certainly refuse me if I were to accidentally burn. You're so brave, dear Lily, proudly flaunting those freckles of yours. I know if I acquired them I'd be positively mortified and never show my face."

The Pansies giggled, "Yes 'fair' Lily, do try to shade yourself or you could give the princess a real fright."

"Oh and dear Pansy, do you delude yourselves to think the princess would favor any of you?" The Gardenia was on par this morning despite the heat.

The Pansies passed around their purple, blue, and yellow paints to emphasize their petals, taking great strides to get each wrinkle, "Well, why wouldn't she? We are by far the most vibrant of all you old stick in the muds. We'd fit in perfect at her parties."

"Such a shame about the beard though. Maybe if you painted over it then the princess would happily wear you," Daffodil snorted as she crimped her own yellow petals.

The Pansies looked down and mumbled, "We can't help the way we were born," and tried furiously to paint away their once beloved and now despised black petals.

Baby's Breath began to giggle to herself, "Poor Pansy, no one likes a flower that reminds them of their dirty uncle."

Finished fluffing herself, Daffodil turned to face the sun and opened wide, "I bet the Princess shall pick me today. Nothing compares to a bright daffodil on a sunny day."

"Truly, Daffodil? I see why your Latin name is Narcissus," called down the Cherry Blossoms who are usually above such petty arguments, but could never turn down a good pun. As none of the other flowers caught their joke they muttered under their breath about the uncouth and went back to being the most sagacious flower in the garden.

"Forgive the intrusion from your sun bathing Daffodil, but while the princess has enjoyed the company of your lovely sisters we all know that despite your machinations, you shall never hold a candle to them," Hibiscus said, brushing some pollen off her petals.

"What makes you think that, sweet Hibiscus?" Daffodil asked, her roots churning deep beneath her.

"You know I never lower myself to point out another's faults," Hibiscus cooed, before responding, 
"Your little stamen discoloration is barely noticeable and I am sure that some people are charmed by your disturbingly long nose petals."

"Daffodil, Daffodil; a nose as long as a bill. Hide from the rain under pretty Daffodil," twittered Baby's breath.

Pulling herself up to her full height, Daffodil turned to face Hibiscus but making certain to keep her extra long nose in the shadow, "Well, I'd much rather have a larger nose than be as corpulent as you, Hibiscus. The princess would need a head larger than a wagon wheel to fit you."

Sensing the new change in ridicule the Baby's breath altered their jibes, "Hibiscus, Hibiscus; watch out or she'll eat all your biscuits."

"Beloved fellow flowers, must we delve into the same argument every morning? It's unbecoming of us. We must set an example for the commoners in the kingdom," pleaded the Peony as she smoothed down her ruffled petals and added a dash of pink to her edges.

“We can always count on dear Peony to be the voice of reason," chimed in Gardenia, bringing a bright smile to Peony's face, "After all, it isn't as though she's beautiful enough to ever adorn the princesses ear, and being pleasing to the ear is almost as good as pleasing the eye."

"If I were not a lady and taught to hold my tongue, I would share exactly what I think of you Miss Gardenia."

"Now now, Peony. No offense was meant. I certainly don't want you to overtax you poor mind. Why don't you just think about something soft and pink while we have an adult discussion?"

"You may think me simple minded, Miss Gardenia, but at least I am not as backwatered as Miss Daisy." Peony was feeling rather smug for coming up with her first quip and had to write it down in her diary right away lest it should vanish from her little brain.

Hearing her name, Daisy looked up from her happy patch of newly fertilized earth, "What's up your stem, Peony?"

Feeling up for some fun, Gardenia jumped onto the thread, "Daisy, do not tell me you have dreams of entering the palace? Your rural, wildflower roots are sure to rack the delicate sinuses of the princess."

"Sneezy sneezy; watch out for Miss Daisy," giggled Baby's Breath, giving Peony another pun to jot down.

"Psh, who cares about looking beautiful all the time? I'm out doing things, seeing the world and soaking up the sun. While you, Gardie, just hide in the shadows afraid of a little sun. I don't have time for all those paints and rouges you girls rely on so much. Good old fashioned colors are just fine for me." Daisy turned away from the other flowers and smiled, for in her heart she just knew the princess would one day only admire the Daisy's natural beauty and spurn the charlatans.

"Why sweet Gardenia, I dare say this morning you have been positively incomparable. You mentioned every flower's short comings but have been kind enough to misplace your own. I fear your modesty has overcome you and that I shall have to step in and alleviate this misgiving." All flowers turned to what many of the garden's visitors claimed was the most perfect rose in all of history. Due to this high mantle thrust upon her, it was required of Rose to wait until everyone was awake and bright eyed before she herself rose, so they could watch her alluring display spinning apart her petals each morning to reveal their crimson beauty.

"Rose, I was so concerned you were going to forget to open today and completely miss your adoring public. It's so hard to enjoy a rose's beauty in the night, your color vanishes into the background."

"Yes, dear Gardenia," Rose said with a thick smile, "But white stands out like a magnificent beacon even during the owl's time." Gardenia beamed from the compliment, even daring to let herself drift into the light. Rose continued, "It is such a shame those black spots on your back mar the light."

"What? Where?!" Gardenia spun around on her stem so quickly she heard a crack, causing her head to droop.

"I am loath to state poets have never felt it compelling to compare the flush of a pretty girl to a spotted gardenia. Perhaps if you took care of those they might."

The Baby's Breath plotted a new taunt for Gardie's spots when a shadow passed overhead and the garden fell silent. A large head peered down among the flowers. They recognized him immediately as the head gardener who came to pick a flower for the beloved princess.

Each girl prepared herself for this life altering decision. Lily masked her freckles, the Pansies did their best to smile through five layers of paint, Daffodil turned her head to the side to hide her large nose, Hibiscus pulled herself in a bit to appear smaller, Peony frilled up her skirts and tried to look smart, Daisy secretly rubbed herself against the smaller roses to have a pleasing scent, and Gardenia and Rose battled to see who could have the dewiest petals.

"Why, each flower is the most gorgeous reflection of nature I've ever seen today," exclaimed the gardener, "I have no idea which the princess would prefer." So he picked every one and carried them to the princess to let her decide.

Holding his arms out proudly to her as she skipped past, "My dearest Princess, which of these beauties do you think can live up to your own and decorate your hair?"

But the princess looked up at him and pulled a face, "Do not talk to me of flowers. Don't you know they are no longer fashionable and all the beautiful women wear silver and gold in their hair. Go and fetch me a silver hair clip or I shall never be happy again."

"Yes, right away my Lady. But what should I do with these flowers?"

"Throw them away for all I care. No one is interested in flowers anymore."

The flowers were left to rot and die on the table, without the princess once turned her gaze upon them.

Sabrina Zbasnik is mostly human and mostly harmless. She has two fantasy satire books available from Amazon, Tin Hero and TerraFae.


Laura B. said...

A charming and entertaining fable.

Anonymous said...

The flowers in this garden almost remind me of Cinderella’s step-sisters! They’re so caught up in their own appearance and proclaimed superiority that it’s almost comical; however, the true irony arises from the materialism of not the flowers but rather the princess. Like in Cinderella and Snow White alike, the characters fussing over being the best and most elegant looking are the ones who meet some sort of sad fate in the end (I argue Cinderella’s step-sisters have a bittersweet sad fate because the prince doesn’t choose them). In reality, fairy tales are often cautionary tales of beauty, warning of its dangers and celebrating its importance. Beauty often makes female protagonists capable of obtaining the things they want in their respective stories, but other times it can also hinder them, making them targets of predatory-like antagonists. In this case however, the story warns us to be careful what we wish for and that beauty is a inevitably fleeting quality.

--Dylan Richardson