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Friday, August 31, 2012

Laws of Ælfred

              The elegant shop sign read: 'Waterhouse & Francis - Garden Flowers, Herbs and Sundries for All Occasions'. It swung spiritlessly in the blazing languid light of a midsummer's day. The simple shop located on a small piece of land was once the only structure built atop a small rise near a knotted woodland that had been cleared of life in recent years to build a subdivision called Pereval. The well
manicured yards on Harfield Road and its cul de sacs and stove-pipe drives were long on order and short on variety. The little store and its gardens predated almost everyone who lived in or near the community. No one living was now alive when it was newly built.

            Elder folk here-abouts recalled a lost time when they were curious and young, and made adventurous journeys to visit Mother Waterhouse and Granny Eve in hopes of finding candy jars filled with unimaginably brightly colored sweets and candies arrayed in endless rows upon shelves of childhood dreams. Children would enter accompanied by Elizabeth, Granny Eve's other daughter, who was ever present outside tending to the gardens, but, no matter how necessary the garden task, would stop to escort the youngsters into the little shop.

            "Agnes," she would exclaim, "Look who have come to entertain us. Surely, now, we have something for them in one of our special glass jars? Lookie here! These young-uns came knowing that no one is closer to God's heart than in a Garden."

            Adults would come for fragrances and cures and cooking spices, and talk of weather, frosts and storms, even while the local clergy and wealthy merchants cast disparaging commentary about the women and their family. Local ladies appointed to garden social committees would come to discuss the latest color combinations or the tricks and magic of growing the perfect tomato. Farmers came for veterinary supplies
and advice for care of their herds. Elizabeth could even be coaxed into bringing her forked dowsing rod of hazel-wood that bloomed a delightful orange-apricot yellow even in the late spring snows. She was renowned for her unerring ability to find water underground for farmers needing new wells.

            In time, when the children's children were growing up and Granny was no longer there, the landscape around the shop that once was filled with so many different flowers of all sizes, shapes and textures that none could name them all began to be talked about in furtive conversation, for at night when the wind blew, people hurrying by saw strange forms and creatures of imagination wandering in moonlit gardens. Grandparents would tell small children that Eve was weeding out the bad from the good.

            Agnes and Elizabeth hung on when the woods were cleared and they could no longer harvest secret herbs and forbes by moonlight. The gardens around the shop began to grow tall, hiding much from the road, and soon children came no more. The school children whispered rumors about the little girl Joan who, with her mother,Agnes, rarely came to church and never said much at school. When Joan was grown, she ran the store alone, and her mother and aunt were seldom seen,except as fleeting shadows scurrying from back rooms to dark recesses within the garden.

            The locals gossiped to the residents of Peveral about the women of the wild gardens down the road and told tales about the black cat to children of all ages.
            "Sathan was his name," they said glancing at nearby shadows. "He was black as the night of a new moon and when you saw him you thought he were a stuffed toy. And then you'd reach out, unwarily to touch the shiny soft toy, and all of hell would open up as the cat jumped up and screamed and scratched," the old folks explained forgetting any mention of the sweets their parents once enjoyed.

            The visit for gardening chats fell off to nearly none at all as easily-accessed science replace garden-lore. And down the road, almost 50 years ago now, on the other side of Pereval a modern pharmacy and grocery had opened their doors drying up demand for fresh dried remedies for nose bleeds,sore throats, coughs and colds. Now digitalis could be bought packaged with a prescription all neatly signed by a doctor. Witch's bells were left to bloom alone, forgotten on the woodland edge in the company of toads and  the songs of frogs.

            Judge Alfred ruled at last that the family debts were to be paid by sale of the land. A developer had secured the rights to build a local stripped-down shopping mall which he grandly called Chelmsford because it had the perfect sound to highlight and emphasize the quality of the upscale discount stores he would bring to the community. It had been years since anyone had seen Agnes or Elizabeth, and Joan
had been declared incompetent and put away. The local paper claimed that she was selling unregulated medicines and dangerous plants that could harm the uninformed. The news report even mentioned that no one actually knew what happened to Eve's husband or those of Agnes and Elizabeth or if they even ever had been married, for the court house fires had long since destroyed any records,
and they certainly had not been married in a church. "Local Ladies Cultivate Hallucinogenic Belladonna!" the headline cried in late October without a sense of irony.
            The county archeologist watched the big machine move towards the remains of the little shop. The gardens had been ground into the hard pan; the trees long reduced to stumps - a minor inconvenience to technology. She watched the walls begin to fall and saw the doorway begin to lean. At that moment she saw an inscription in the stone arch: Tha faemnan, the gewuniath onfon gealdorcraeftigan and scinlaecan and wiccan, laet thu tha libban! She translated slowly. Females perhaps - better women, she thought - those accustomed to accept enchantresses, sorceresses and witches, let them live!~ August 28, 2012

Special thanks for Cindy McW. for her tireless edits, constructive criticisms and constant support.

version September 1, 2012

revised with thanks to @BillNigh September 5, 2012 

All rights reserved. THOMPSON, John Peter, 2012. 

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