Here’s the next installment of a short story based on a tiny North Carolina farming community at its peak, circa 1880-World War II. While short stories typically don’t cover a period of years, this one does, as it’s told from the perspective of a wisteria vine that may have lived through the entire period, and may be living still; I will have to visit the area again, just to see . . .
I grew up on my grandmother’s stories of long ago. Here I am basically just having fun weaving bits of them together, taking liberties, watching the story unfurl with the long tendrils of the wisteria vine.
Another source of inspiration was an article posing the question, “Do plants have memories?” That’s all I needed for fact and fiction to take root in my mind; the wisteria sprouted then and there, and began to speak.
In the previous two installments (Wisteria and Wisteria, part 2), the vine relates its beginnings on the Griffin farm and its attachment to a little girl named Jennie Jay. Sent to the Griffins to escape diphtheria at her home, Jennie Jay is miserable. Mr. Griffin (Thomas) offers comfort by reminding her of her first encounter with the vine, which vows, whenever it blooms, that its blossoms will be yellow—Jennie Jay’s favorite color. Now we discover that plants, as well as people, harbor secrets . . .
I couldn’t bloom at all.
The seasons came and went again, one after the other, on and on. I grew thickly over Jennie Jay’s arbor, but I was all leaves, spirals, and shoots, without flower. I made a nice shade, however. In the dead of summer, when nothing but mosquitoes, dragonflies, and snakes desire to move, the Griffin children—six of them—sought refuge under me. I was strong and healthy. Every spring I woke back up to the world, sure my flowering would come. Every autumn when I began ebbing away, it was having failed to flower.
Mrs. Griffin had no such trouble. She budded out yet again.
One black summer night, as lightning flickered and flashed, and thunder shook the earth, Mr. Griffin drove the mule and buggy up the Mixon road. He came back with Miss Aurelia. Bowed against the pounding rain, the wind whipping hard enough to rip away a portion of my leaves, he ushered her into the house. He set off again, yelling at the mule when it shied at the thunder. After some time, he returned with Doc Martin.
The storm raged all night. As it subsided, and the morning dawned gray, Miss Aurelia left the house. She ran toward her home, holding her skirts up from the muddy road. Within moments, she came back with Jennie Jay.
How she’d grown. Taller than her mother, now.
Holding onto each other to keep from slipping, minding their skirts against the mire, they hurried back to Mr. Griffin’s.
They stayed all day, washing, cleaning, cooking, consoling the sobbing Griffin children. Other neighbor women arrived with more food and husbands for Mr. Griffin’s chores. Jennie Jay’s Papa, Mr. Mixon, took the doctor home and returned with a pine box on the mule cart.
Late in the evening Jennie Jay came outside and rested her head against my frayed leaves. I felt her warmth, her energy; she radiated aliveness. Strong and healthy, like me. Always like me.
Wisteria, she whispered, I wish you could know what’s in my heart.
Tell me, I longed to say.
I’m not a good person.
Oh, but you are.
I wasn’t fond of Miss Rachel. She wasn’t especially kind to me. But I didn’t want her to die. Honest, I didn’t.
It comes to all of us sooner or later, Jennie Jay.
And the baby, that poor baby . . .
I had no words for that.
Mama says Mr. Thomas wants them buried together. They’ll be together forever and ever.
Jennie Jay fell silent for a while. Then she sighed as deeply as any human ever did, I am certain.
I can’t stop thinking about Mr. Thomas. He’s so good and gentle. I will never forget how he comforted me when Papa nearly died, how he got me to help him build this very arbor. Look at you now, how great and green you are.
Thank you. Look how tall and strong you are yourself.
Why haven’t you ever bloomed, Wisteria?
Alas, Jennie Jay, you cut me to the quick!
Can I tell you something I can never tell anyone, any person, ever?
Yes, of course; I can never divulge your secrets, you know.
I’ve loved him ever since.
I think she—Miss Rachel—knew. It’s part of why she didn’t like me much. Do you know she told Mama once that she wanted to tear this arbor down? She despised it. She’d have gladly destroyed you.
She is dead and gone now. She cannot hurt me. Or you.
Y-yes, Mr. Thomas?
Please come eat a bite before you and your Mama go home. The children are asleep now. Don’t know how we would’ve gotten along without you today.
Jennie Jay’s long fingers lingered on my leaves, caressing, as she turned to go. I caught her parting whisper: Well, I owed you, didn’t I.
Tell him, Jennie Jay. Tell him every bit of it.
To be continued, in two more installments … here’s Wisteria, part 4.